When most people think of an emerging new arts complex, they usually don’t think of a vast old warehouse, especially if it’s located in a seemingly downtrodden riverside neighborhood colloquially known as “The Bottoms.” However, for more than 100 artists, vendors, small business owners and performers, that vast old warehouse is exactly where they find their livelihood.
Welcome to 400 West Rich St.
Since 2011, the warehouse at 400 West Rich St.—often referred to as 400 West Rich or simply 400—has been on the rise as a creative hub for the Columbus art community. Located west of downtown Columbus in Franklinton, the building houses the studios of more than 100 artists, as well as art exhibitions, performance areas, conference rooms and photoshoot studios.
Over its seven-year life since its opening in the summer of 2011, 400 West Rich has been home to rapid growth and development as its community and tenant base expanded. Although the building was first designed to host art studios, it has since expanded to include conference and meeting rooms, art galleries and a marketplace. 400 West Rich even has its own restaurant—known as Strongwater Food and Spirits—which opened in 2013.
“[400 West Rich’s] growth was all organic,” says art events coordinator Richard Willes. “It all started six years ago with a handful of brave tenants when [400 West Rich] was just a big empty warehouse. The early studios grew hand-in-hand along with the restaurants, event spaces and the neighborhood at large.”
Willes considers the growth of 400 West Rich to be one of the driving forces in redeveloping the surrounding Franklinton community. Over the past few years, the once abandoned buildings and lots in the immediate area have seen a slew of renovations and construction to make way for new housing, retailers and even grocery stores in an effort to revitalize the struggling community through the process known as gentrification. Even though the main building of 400 West Rich is almost completely developed, private investors have turned their attentions to the opportunities in these neighboring properties.
These expansions have also served to foster community involvement. Many of 400 West Rich’s artists and tenants offer a variety of classes in mediums such as painting, sculpting and printmaking. On the second Friday of every month—dubbed Franklinton Fridays—400 West Rich and other local businesses open their doors to the public to feature more than a dozen galleries, marketplaces, and restaurants. 400 West Rich itself puts on two different monthly exhibitions featuring tenants, a marketplace for artists to sell their goods and a changing art space in partnership with the Ohio Art League. Outside of these monthly events, the building also hosts a variety of other creative events, such as the annual mural painting festival Urban Scrawl and the Amazing Cat Show to raise awareness about stray animals.
“Artists care about the people they’re around,” Willes says. “They don’t just passively watch the neighborhood and treat it as something separate; they want to be part of the neighborhood. Part of that is lifting up the people around you when they need it and that is shown through the mediums these [artists] understand and love.”
The variety in these events is certainly reflected in 400 West Rich’s tenant base. Alongside its array of individual artists, the building is also home to several groups, such as an aerial dance company (Movement Activities), a fraud security software startup (Safechain Financial LLC), a nonprofit community service organization (BESA), and even a collaborative research and presentation group in the OSU Steam Factory. For more information on events held here, the full list of programming and other information can be found at 400westrich.com.
Architects Tim Lai and Eliza Ho are among these “nontraditional” tenants. As some of the building’s first inhabitants during its earliest days, the couple has seen firsthand how the area has evolved alongside their work over the years.
“When we first moved in [to 400], everything around us was so open and empty,” Lai recalls. “We almost felt like pioneers or settlers starting something new. Over time, we’ve really felt a sense of belonging [in the community] as we got to know more and more people.”
Lai and Ho attribute much of their inspiration to the uniqueness of the environment and the activities in the community of artists around them. For the two architects, the sense of freedom and “can-do attitude” present in the building is an irreplaceable factor of their firm.
“As architects, we draw inspiration from seeing things that are different,” Ho says. “Artists provide a different perspective of seeing the world which is very inspiring to our work. The creative energy [at 400] is something we definitely make use of.”
Regardless of what purpose 400 West Rich may serve for them, the value of this creative energy is something that both tenants and community members alike can agree on.
“I think 400 adds a lot of character to the city of Columbus,” says Lai. “When looking at the character of a city, it’s important to look at its creative center and how vibrant the art community is. The artists [at 400] really help create a positive image and feeling in this city that can be hard to find in other places.”