Monday, June 25, 2007


above: lower back tattoos were not out of the question during Comfest

The Art Car display included little that was new except for the decorated Porta-John
The Bike Parking Lot was a generous undertaking to relieve parking cars
The Solar Tent wasn't just political this year,
infact, it was mostly entertainment.
And it was powered by solar energy
Comfest 2007 was much like Comfest 2006, except less so. Temperatures were in the 70's and the rain mostly held-off. Most vendor booths were in the same place as last year. However, the crowd was a bit smaller and the beer and port-a-john lines were short. (except when a topless woman started organizing the beer line near the Off-Line stage) The Blues Garage was not used this year and the Arts Stage seemed to be wanting for talent. Gone were the Bettys and Mad Lab Theatre. It is a shame that the non-profit art galleries no longer take an interest in the festival or its Arts Stage. A new Healing Arts tent was added, but didn't seem to attract much interest at all. A new community radio station was broadcasting: WCRS 98.3 & 102.1 fm (only available within city limits).
Interesting enough, the High Street restaurants did a brisk business with different crowd. The new Starbucks was hardly busy eventhough nobody sold coffee at the festival. There seemed to be more dogs this year and one guy brought his pet goat. The Goodale Park pond is sporting some giant lilly pads

Monday, June 18, 2007

Antioch College and the Short North Art District

Word came this week that Antioch College in Yellow Springs, OH (one hour west of the Short North) will close their doors (at least until 2012 unless a lawsuit stops the closure). This 150 year old liberal arts college was nothing if not the personification of "progressive". It was founded by abolitionists, taught social justice, allowed students to create their own course of study, and did away with grades. After World War II there were only three places you could go to learn modern art in its most progressive form: Paris, NYC, and Antioch College with its close cousin the Dayton Art Institute.

Dayton is close to the Short North

The Direct influence on the founding of the Short North is convoluted and complicated. It seems that much of the history of Antioch and Dayton in the arts has been lost or never recorded. To understand the situation we need to go back 88 years to the founding of the Dayton Art Institute.

After WW I Dayton had grown into a large industrial city, but only good enough for the 6th largest in booming Ohio. Akron had come out of nowhere and passed Dayton and was in earshot of Columbus and Toledo in size. To meet this challenge the wealthy people of Dayton decided on art as something Akron wasn't going to beat them at. The Dayton Museum of Art was founded in 1919 while the Akron Institute of Art barely got off the ground in 1922. Dayton went one up on them by building a grand new building in the 1930's, something Akron only is now about to do, opening in July, 2007.

Dayton then changed to the Dayton Art Institute inorder to try to found an art school in its building and bring the famous Antioch College into its sphere, something Akron was not going to match. After the Second World War many creative types left Europe while the United States became rich and prosperous. America wanted to become the center of the art world. Meanshile, Antioch College had gotten a reputation as a rich kid's college where you could let your interests run wild. Yellow Springs became a center of the beatnik culture with people driving for miles to see the strangely dressed students and hanger-ons in this small Ohio village. This was the 1960's a generation early.

This spirit of progressive liberalism spread to the adult art education at the Dayton Art Institute (D.A.I.). Taking a page from the Art Students League in New York City, the D.A.I. turned into an art school where students worked on art in 8 hour shifts each day. One day might be all drawing, the next sculpture, the next painting, etc. The art students were to immerse themselves in art and push the medium beyond the current status quo. Tails are told of students spreading large sheets of paper on the floor and using their bodies as a paint brush (this at a time when most art education departments were rigid and unchanged for decades). Between the D.A.I. and Antioch College a large number of creatives settled in central Ohio. Yellow Springs saw art galleries open up and Dayton got the jump on other Ohio cities with its art inspired Oregon District.

The craziness got crazier when the hippy generation came to town and "the powers that be" closed down the art school aspirations of the D.A.I. by the early 1970's. About that same time Antioch College experienced a strike and change of spirit.

ABsolute Beginnings of the Short North

The Short North Art District was just being born at this time. The Ohio State University, being such a big institution, attracted college types from across Ohio. It had its own uptown along High Street and it was where the Community Festival (Comfest) began on 16th Avenue just east of High Street. In 1974 Comfest spawned an art institute of its own. The Columbus Institute For Contemporary Art (CIFCA) began in rooms of the Wesleyan Foundation that was one of the hosts of Comfest in its early days. The Hillel Foundation and the ultra-modern United Church Center which also flanked the original Comfest site provided a unique resource for a festival and the arts not affiliated with OSU.

In 1975 the CIFCA was given (that's right "given") an 85,000 sq. ft. 6 -story building on Chestnut Street downtown, one block off of High Street. The old R.G. Barry Shoe warehouse was part of a massive fund raising effort that brought in over $300,000 for the beginning of the CIFCA at 78 Chestnut St. Corporate leaders thought they were getting their own contemporary art museum like the Wexner Center. Unfortunately, the CIFCA was misnamed, it was never planned to be anything but the Institute for Contemporary COLUMBUS Arts. It was all local artists, dancers, musicians, and performers taking studios space and teaching workshop classes. This was also the time of the first oil embargo and the CIFCA came to an abrupt end with a huge gas bill that nobody wanted to pay.

The art gallery of the CIFCA became ARTreach, a non-profit art gallery that opened in 1978 in the Yukon Building just after Linda Apple opened APPLE STUDIO as the first SoHo-style art gallery in the Short North proper. ARTreach continued until 1994. It moved to Lincoln Avenue just before the Gallery Hops began in 1985, but lost its own space in 1989 as ACME and ROYGBIV opened as non-profit art galleries around the corner.

Other parts of the CIFCA went on to found the many dance and performance non-profits in Columbus. The art education part emerged in the Cultural Art Center of the Parks and Recreation Department. And of course, the Community Festival moved to the Short North in the early 1980's.

But WHY the Short North? ...Dayton again.

So, why would the art galleries choose the Short North over moving back to downtown or campus? Another thing happen in the mid-1970's. Battelle Memorial Institute, a vast research firm just south of OSU in Victorian Village was successfully sued for not living up to its non-profit charter. It had a huge horde of cash from cold war research projects and wasn't giving back to the community. So, looking to the west, Battelle saw that Dayton had built a small convention center ahead of other big Ohio cities outside of Cleveland. Battelle would give Columbus a convention center downtown (originally called The Ohio Center)

Nationwide Insurance was building its headquarters skyscraper to open in 1977 across from the old Union Station grounds and Battelle got an overhead walkway and park connecting it to the new Ohio Center with its Hyatt Regency hotel placed overtop. Unfortunately, to build the center they tore down the old Union Station Arcade that ran along High Street and was a National Landmark. Columbus lost tens of millions in federal aid from the destruction of this landmark, the arch of which can now be seen in the Arena District plus a mural in the Short North.

The first non-profit art gallery on High Street opened in 1977 in an unused lobby part of the Nationwide Insurance tower. Between the emphasis on art and the anticipation that scores of conventioneers would fan-out from the center to look for galleries, the Short North began. This, of course, was two decades away. The early attempts came and went with just ARTreach hanging on until the gallery hops began in 1985.

The spirit of Antioch College and its liberal, progressive, (some might say) leisure education with an emphasis on social justice is still found in the Short North. People want to change the world, even if it is with a bar or boutique. The competition from Dayton to the other big cities in Ohio is long lost to the past. Now that the Short North Art District is finding it hard to accommodate the arts with rising rents, maybe west central Ohio can find us another solution for the arts to prosper.

Friday, June 08, 2007


It's June!And you know what that means in the Short North. Festivals and body painting. People start to go wild, culminating in the Fourth of July DooDah Parade. But first, there's the downtown ARTS Festival June 7,8,& 9 plus a Rock Concert on PARK STREET in the North Market area.
June 22-24 is the COMFEST in Goodale Park and spilling into streets in every direction. Comfest is too large in terms of people as well as musical and artistic shows. No longer part of the festival, the Pride Parade has moved downtown to Bicentennial Park. Comfest will have decorated art cars, break dancers, dogs, art booths, stiltwalkers, all kinds of food and of course, women are allowed to walk around topless.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

New In the Short North

For the past several years, artists have turned to making their own limited edition toys of stuffed animals and vinyl plastic. China factories have made it easy to make small runs of custom figures. Artsy stores and museum shops have brought these artist designed toys to a wider audience. NOW, the Short North has its own store at Fifth and High Street called RIVET. They offer a starting selection of toys for collectors and some for actual kids (most artist designed toys are too fragile for play). Skateboard designers are a close cousin to this trend and RIVET offers some original art by related artists.
MARCELLA's, one of Carmon Mitchell's restaurants, just opened in the historic Yukon Building. And indeed, Marcella's opens more than most restaurants. The front window opened-up completely like french windows so that interior seating is almost like being on the sidewalk. It appears to be very popular.
Jeffery Place, a huge condo and new housing project three blocks East of High Street, is beginning to go up. To help prospective buyers a free shuttle bus was running during the hop from Studio 11 at Russell and High Street. NORTH BLOCK ONE (NB1) is their attempt at a LEED certified green building with solar panels and low-carbon footprint materials. NB1 is a long way from opening, but Kramer Place, also at First Ave. and North Fourth, is about to become the first of the new/old condo projects to open in this extension of the Italian Village housing stock.
MORE NEW: Yes, Starbucks is about to invade the Short North, but at least it is in a really attractive old development, the Yukon Building. The Yukon was once the entire art district in the early 1980's. It contained ARTreach Gallery, Off-theWall Gallery, UNICEF card shop, A wine carry-out, Functional Furnishings, and other artsy businesses back then. Originally, the Yukon Building opened in 1929 just as the stock market crashed and languished for years as a low-rent apartment building with low-rent retail eventhough the building was had luxury amenities.
Today, STARBUCKS and MARCELLA's join a UPS Store on the first floor with small, but attractive condos above.

June Gallery Hop: Lots of People, Little Good Art

Lots of people came out for a warm, fair weather gallery hop June 2nd, including one in very high heels.
The OHIO ART LEAGUE showed pop art by Michael Owens
A realistic painting of a bored woman looks out onto the crowd.
Levent Isik got a show at Lindsay Gallery due to one of his collectors. He wasn't there, but it is refreshing to actually see one of the Short North's best.
Circus du Soleil was handing out 1/2 off coupons to their third show in Columbus.

The Short North Arches NOW ALL LIT (again)

The Short North Arches are now fully lit for the first time since December, 2002. Originally a Fibre Optic system, the lights shorted-out within weeks when the arches first took their place across about two miles of High Street. After much finger pointing and finding a Las Vegas company to do the job right, the arches now sport LED lights that can even be connected to the Internet.
For now, only plain white light shines from the arches at night. However, they can change to any color and do any kind of pattern, something that is only being tested in the middle of the night. Eventually, the Short North will be able to do an evening light show. Remembering the tests back in 2002, this could mean lots of fender benders and twisted ankles as cars and pedestrians strain to take in the light show.