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The Heart of Ohio and Creativity

Story and Images: Maggie Wehri, Web Design: Akane Ohara

As the home of our university, headquarters of major corporations and the capital and center of our state, Columbus has always been the heart of Ohio. In 2014, Columbus was awarded #1 Best Opportunity City for growing enterprise markets and low cost of living. Of course, Columbus is more than just an up-and-coming city; it’s a place of vibrancy. From artisan restaurants and coffee roasters to music halls and dive bars, amenities like museums, parks and many more are just the beginning of what makes Columbus.

This economic development begins with Experience Columbus, a nonprofit destination marketing organization dedicated to growing visitor spending generated through conventions, meetings, trade shows and leisure visitors. This past year, Central Ohio welcomed 39.3 million leisure visitors, sports and arts enthusiasts, convention attendees and business travelers.

“The data tells the story. Tourism is a big part of Greater Columbus’ economy,” says Brian Ross, Experience Columbus president and CEO. “We have the ability to greatly impact the city’s economic prosperity and quality of life by increasing direct spend, job creation and revenue through bringing more leisure visitors, conventions, meetings and sporting events to the city.”

Michael Brown, Vice President of Strategic Development at Experience Columbus, remarks how cities apply and compete for conference visitors.

“To compete you have to attractions. You have to have fun things going on and they have to be authentic,” Brown says. “People don’t want the same old, predictable attractions. They want to go out and discover things. In our business, the arts are really kind of the color overlay over the basics. You have to have hotel rooms, you have to have meeting rooms or spaces, you have to have a convention center or an arena where the event can take place. But almost every city has those. The arts is part of that authentic city. For us, Columbus is really blessed right now to have a great art scene. That helps differentiate Columbus from the rest.”

Experience Columbus not only strives to drive visitor attraction, but it also promotes the growing creative class and paints Columbus as a dynamic art community.

“The arts are really something a city can double down on and make it interesting,” Brown says. “No one wants to live in or move to or move their business to a boring city. Artists are the most creative part of the creative class and that influences your digital designers, your fashion designers, food designers or chefs. The more that we do to support the arts from the business side, in the long term, we all benefit.”

Facilitating this kind of art hub doesn’t come without the support of other community organizations including Ohio State’s Urban Arts Space and the Wexner Center for the Arts.

Located just off of High Street in the downtown Lazarus building, Urban Arts Space is devoted to showcasing university faculty and students’ artwork alongside other contemporary art. Urban Arts Space also hosts classes for the community open to everyone from small children to senior citizens with skill levels of all kinds.

“Columbus has always had an extraordinarily rich and vibrant art scene. Especially within the last decade or so it’s really really seem to have grown in new and exciting ways with a higher level of visibility,” says Erik Pepple, Director of Communications of Urban Arts Space.

Although the Short North has become home for most art initiatives and galleries, other non-traditional galleries have been able to develop through the work of Urban Arts Space and other community organizations. One example is the MINT collective, a collaborative and interdisciplinary performance space and art gallery run by local artists. Just south of German Village, the MINT collective proves to be a testament to the variety and vibrancy Columbus has to offer.

Recent graduate of Ohio State and Education Assistant at the Wexner for the Arts, Marisa Espe explains how the MINT collective was founded.

“There was a group of us who really felt like there was something missing in Columbus arts scene and while we do have a wealth of galleries and artist studios,” Espe says. “There wasn’t the niche that we were looking for that was an artist friend space where artists can both have studios and work there and also be involved in all the administrative work that goes into running a space.”

Founded in Aug. 2014, the MINT collective is the home to 20 local artists. Espe confirms the importance of artists being involved in curation of exhibitions and organizing gallery communications. Artists range in all levels of involvement from having their own studio space to helping setup and teardown exhibitions. The MINT collective provides up-and-coming artists with hands on experience to both develop their skills as artists and also provide relevant work experience for future opportunities.

Of course, local artist support doesn’t end with the plethora of galleries Columbus has to offer, but is also supported by the Greater Columbus Arts Council (GCAC). Funded by the city’s hotel and motel tax dollars, this nonprofit funds local artists and artist organizations. Most communities lack the resources GCAC provides or only offers professional development workshops.

Vice President of Marketing, Communications and Events of GCAC, Jami Goldstein says, “We recognize that it’s all tremendously tied to economic development, neighborhood revitalization, tourism, as well as creating an opening and welcoming cultural dialogue within the community.”

GCAC provides artists the jumpstart to produce their artwork through supply and other grants like professional development, travel and research. Funds range from $500 to $2,500 dependent upon the kind of grant. GCAC also leads the downtown Columbus Arts Festival each year and continues to partner with a number of organizations in the community including Experience Columbus, Columbus 2020, the Columbus Metropolitan Library and many others. GCAC continues to discover and create conversation in the community for support of the local arts.

GCAC’s recent initiative, Art Makes Columbus and Columbus Makes Art, is a campaign that focuses on telling the stories of local artists and showcasing the collection of talent Columbus has to offer. A recent funding recipient of the supply grant and participant in the campaign, Bryan Moss, is a local painter and illustration artist.

“When it comes to the arts specifically, typically you go to your Chicagos and New Yorks after you graduate. What I’ve noticed among my colleagues and friends are that people are staying because of the market and the grants that are available here. It’s so affordable to live in Columbus too,” Moss says.

Moss used GCAC’s grant to purchase art supplies like paints and canvases. He was also selected to create a mural for the New Albany Classic featuring an 8-foot illustration representing safety awareness for the community.

Attributing his success as an established visual artist to the supporting organizations in the community, Moss continues to work locally.

Columbus, of course, is not only a city in which economic opportunity advances, but it enables a creative class to thrive. The continued support of all organizations not only benefit the artists, but also the entire community.

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