By Jennifer Sadler and Jami Goldstein

Columbus is quickly gaining a reputation on the global stage as a sophisticated, smart and open city. The Intelligent Communities Forum announced in January its annual list of the Top 7 Intelligent Communities of the Year, and Columbus is the only U.S. city on the list, selected from among the Smart21 of 2013. Much of this year’s nomination focused on workforce development efforts in the region to build a knowledgeable workforce capable of competing in a 21st century economy.

Columbus has done a great job weathering the economic strife of the past several years. In fact, when it comes to rebounding from the recession, the On Numbers Economic Index shows that Columbus currently ranks no. 4 among 102 cities for its economic vitality.

So what’s art got to do with it?

The arts and culture sector of Columbus constitutes a major industry in its own right. Creative organizations and businesses employ workers. They pay bills and utilities. They support their local communities. And they bring more people downtown than other types of organizations. Like other businesses, the arts sector has become wiser and savvier as they’ve had to adjust to doing more with less. They’ve willingly embraced the power of partnerships and collaborations, have become better organized, more fiscally responsible and more conscientious about communicating their value and attracting a broader audience. The arts sector has learned to consider new approaches to programs and initiatives that have existed for many years but have not been well-funded or given the priority they deserve.

Columbus’ arts and cultural assets are important components of our economic development and are a good investment—not only because they serve as a catalyst for economic vitality, but because they contribute significantly to the quality of life which has become one of the distinguishing strengths of our city. It’s no surprise that Columbus rated among the strongest cities in Creative Cities International’s 2011 "Vitality Index.” Creative Cities International, a New York-based consulting organization that values local culture in urban planning, looked at a balanced mix (for geography and size) of 35 U.S. cities including New York City, Chicago, San Francisco and Boston.

More recently, Columbus ranked at #13 in AmericanStyle magazine’s June 2012 issue list of the Top 25 Big Cities for Art. Columbus is in a great place.  Clearly the time has arrived for the arts in Columbus.  By creatively promoting the assets that draw crowds and attract successful businesses, the arts and cultural sector sharpens our city’s competitive edge.

Let’s take a quick look:

$226 million in economic activity and 8,500 jobs*

The Columbus arts community generates tax dollars, wages, spending and jobs for our region. It's an economic force of artists, museum and theatre workers, arts administrators and more. When we add in the for-profit creative sector, Columbus is an arts powerhouse with $3 billion+ in annual receipts and 25,000 jobs **. Every $1 invested by the city in arts and culture results in $34.57 pumped back into the local economy**. In 2011 there were more than 5.8 million people in attendance at arts and cultural events in Columbus and nearly 325,000 school children served by GCAC grant recipient education programs***.

Tourism, local and convention business

From theater performances to our many popular museums and galleries, Columbus is a go-to place for families, couples, young professionals and adults. Increasingly we are a must-see town that attracts tourists and conventioneers. Many businesses, like restaurants, benefit tremendously from the influx of visitors who come downtown for theatre, gallery hops, concerts and dance performances.

Elizabeth Lessner, CEO and president of Betty’s Family of Restaurants, is one of the most successful entrepreneurs in Columbus. She opened her first bar and restaurant, Betty’s Fine Food and Spirits, in 2001 and has since maintained a steady stream of success with five additional establishments: Surly Girl Saloon, Tip Top Kitchen and Cocktails, Dirty Frank’s Hot Dog Palace, Jury Room and Grass Skirt Tiki Room.

Lessner said that when she opened the Jury Room in 2011, she was especially discouraged by others about the location—right in the middle of downtown. They were discouraged by others and told that the area was a “ghost town” at night and on weekends.

“What we didn't know then is that there's a huge demographic of hungry visitors flowing daily through the city: arts patrons,” said Lessner. “We've found the arts are keeping the hurting parts of downtown alive. We welcome thousands of visitors to our restaurant all year long, many local and many from all over the region who are coming in to enjoy our arts scene. For a long time, visitors would come downtown to a venue, gallery or concert but then quickly leave the area and go to eat and play in the surrounding neighborhoods or suburbs.”

Lessner said that the arts have served as an “anchor store” for those entrepreneurs who have invested downtown.

“We now see the faces of arts patrons during our slowest times and late nights, they are now making a whole day of their visit downtown. The arts effect has been a boon to those of us downtown and has allowed many businesses to keep their doors open even during the most brutal of recession years.”

Columbus' arts scene is also a draw for convention business. 

Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens partnered with Dawes Arboretum to secure the 2012 American Public Gardens Association (APGA) Annual Conference for Columbus. A partnership with Experience Columbus coupled with a host committee, phenomenal community assets and the friendly community spirit for which we are so well-known, resulted in a conference that generated more than $1 million in economic impact for the community and a world class experience for 600 public garden professionals from across North America. When the results of the post conference survey were tallied, Columbus had a satisfaction rate of 95 percent.

Entrepreneurship and neighborhood transformation

From the Short North Arts District and German Village to the emerging Franklinton neighborhood, the arts are pioneering places where people want to live, work and play. The arts are visible in shops, restaurants, homes and walkways adding color and liveliness to the city. Our artists—visual artists, performers and musicians—are an essential thread in the fabric of our community.

Local businesses are taking note and some are taking bold and exciting chances on these developing neighborhoods. Orange Barrel Media, a successful outdoor marketing and advertising company plans to build its new $6 million headquarters on a former concrete plant located in Franklinton.

“We want our headquarters to be a place where we can show off what we do,” said the Orange Barrel president, Pete Scantland. “It’s a highly visible location and we need this display piece to make the project economically viable. The signs will partially subsidize our carrying cost of our real estate investment.” Scantland said that selecting the Franklinton location was two-fold for his company. He recognizes the growing importance of the neighborhood as a creative hub, and sees the central location as vital for attracting and retaining a creative workforce. Scantland said he loves what’s happening at 400 West Rich, a former industrial, manufacturing warehouse that’s been transformed into a multi-functional arts complex in the neighborhood, located within walking distance of downtown.

“We have a few graphic designers who work at Orange Barrel during the day and rent studio space at 400 at night to do their personal artistic work,” said Scantland. “We want to continue to be part of the arts community.”

Jim Sweeney, executive director for the Franklinton Development Association said that Orange Barrel Media donated $10,000 to the Franklinton Arts District to help with the annual arts events Urban Scrawl and GO WEST.

“This enabled us to have a few extra dollars in the bank which we’re strongly considering giving out to community members as part of our own art grant program,” said Sweeney.

Shadowbox Live has been the cornerstone of renewed investment and interest in the Brewery District. In December alone they had three productions and 55 performances that brought in nearly 12,000 patrons. A recent article in Business First called Shadowbox “a catalyst for change” in the area, noting that their entrance has spurred additional development that is a mix of housing, offices and restaurants—a combination that bodes well for the future of the area.

Cultural diversity, idea exchanges and shared experiences

The arts unite us in ways that cross-economic and cultural lines, and build trust, acceptance and creativity. The arts bring people together.

Out of 200Columbus, the yearlong bicentennial celebration in 2012, several ideas were born and a few of the particularly successful projects will live on.

idUS (pronounced eye-DEE-uhs), which took place last fall, was a carefully curated collection of unique and innovative programming and independently produced events that showcased art and design, food, science, technology and more. According to the organizers for idUS, the 11 days of groundbreaking events were designed to “let the world in on a secret that we’ve known for years—that Columbus is a creative hot bed; smart, open-minded and full of big ideas.”

The Columbus Arts Pop-Up Project (CAP-UP), a series of installation window displays by area artists, was another exciting project that Columbus plans to continue. In 2012, the project was a partnership between GCAC and the Capital Crossroads Special Improvement District.

Submitting artists were challenged to celebrate the city’s Bicentennial as well as the area’s diverse character for the benefit of its residents, visitors and businesses. The 13 selected artists took inspiration from 200Columbus, the city’s Bicentennial, either through a look toward the future of innovation and design, or a glimpse into the history of what has made Columbus great. The 10 CAP-UP installations were installed throughout the heart of downtown—in operating business windows and empty storefronts. They offered artists a chance to share their work and connect with everyday people working and visiting downtown in a fun and unique way.

Columbus also boasts several great festivals that bring residents and visitors together to celebrate the arts and culture of our area including the Independents’ Day Festival which showcases local independent and creative talent; the Latino Festival; Asian Festival; Jazz & Rib Fest and GCAC produced Columbus Arts Festival—all highly anticipated Columbus traditions.

Arts organizations experience growth and success

Our arts and cultural organizations are bringing these measures to life every day. Here’s a quick snapshot of how a couple of organizations contributed to both Columbus’ economic bottom line and its rising national reputation this past year.

Annie Advances the Wex

The Annie Leibovitz exhibition at the Wexner Center for the Arts broke records for attendance. It was the center’s best attended exhibition ever with 166,728 visitors during the 14 week run of show, breaking average weekly and weekend attendance at the 22 year old center. The exhibition also generated LOTS of press, reaching national and international markets and resulting in 300 stories in more than 30 states, plus the UK, Australia, Japan, Korea and Canada.

Marvelous Menagerie at the Museum

The Columbus Museum of Art hosted the traveling exhibition of an ancient mosaic, Marvelous Menagerie: An Ancient Mosaic from Lod, Israel, joining a list of exclusive national and international venues, including The Met in New York City, The Field in Chicago and The Louvre in Paris contributing to Columbus’s stature as a rising star on the cultural scene. More than 112,000 people experienced the Lod Mosaic at the Museum.

These are but a few examples of how arts and culture are contributing every day to our city’s bottom line. With the investment and support for our cultural sector growing stronger every day, we can expect the return to our community—of innovation, imagination and economic impact—to increase as well.

To learn more about Columbus arts scene, visit, a  virtual guide through the Columbus art world - including virtual tours, events listings and one of the most comprehensive individual artist directories in the region.

COSI Makes a Science out of Attracting Visitors

The conference of the Association of Science and Technology Centers (ASTC) was hosted by COSI in 2012. There were more than 1,600 attendees from 37 countries and the total contribution to the Columbus economy from conference participants totaled more than $1.7 million. Conference organizers commented on the excellent experiences their attendees had at both COSI and while out and about in Columbus. In addition, in fall 2012 COSI hosted Gunther von Hagens' BODY WORLDS and the Brain and saw the largest attendance in October, November, December and January since their opening opened in 1999. In the last two weeks of the holiday season alone COSI hosted more than 30,000 people.


*Americans for the Arts: Arts and Economic Prosperity IV
**Creative Columbus, 2009
***GCAC final reports from operating support organizations
Experience Columbus


Arts ROI
Columbus Metropolitan Club Luncheon
Panel discussion with Randy Cohen of Americans for the Arts, Columbus City Council Member Priscilla Tyson, and Mike Gonsiorowski of PNC Bank.
Moderated by Ann Fisher
February 13, Noon
Columbus Athletic Club
Price $20-30

Image:  Annie Leibowitz exhibition at the Wexner Center.  Courtesy of the Wexner Center for the Arts.

A scene from La Boheme presented by CityMusic

The Essential Elijah Pierce
Presented by Columbus Museum of Art
Through February 16, 2013

"Deadly Dancing"
Presented by Mayhem & Mystery
Through February 26, 2013

Lunch, laugh and learn at the Cultural Arts Center's Conversations & Coffee
Presented by Cultural Arts Center
Through March 28, 2013

The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales
Presented by Columbus Children's Theatre
February 7, 2013 - Feb 24, 2013

Byron Stripling's "Offstage at the Jazz Academy"
Presented by Jazz Arts Group
February 9, 2013

La Boheme
Presented by CityMusic
February 10, 2013

Shall We Dance?
Presented by New Albany Symphony Orchestra
February 10, 2013

Jukebox the Ghost
Presented by Wexner Center for the Arts
February 14, 2013

2013 Hip Hop Literacies Conference
Presented by King Arts Complex
February 16, 2013

Ordinary Days
Presented by Short North Stage
February 21, 2013 - March 10, 2013

Recorder Virtuosa
Presented by ProMusica Chamber Orchestra
February 24, 2013