By Jennifer Sadler
Columbus is home to creative people who are determined to raise awareness of the groundbreaking, world-class art and performances that are happening in our city here and now. Our community of independent artists contributes to what makes this city uniquely Columbus. Many have found that forming artist groups or collectives can give them strength in numbers—not only offering a support system for creative work, but also helping to raise the profile of Columbus as an arts city; a place where artists can thrive and contribute to the economy.
Independent artist collectives in Columbus have taken many forms during the past several years. Some artists share similar technical and aesthetic approaches while they create artwork independently; others exhibit under a collective title. Some artists have joined forces to reap the economic benefit of shared studio space, equipment, materials and resources. Others share an interest in addressing social and political issues through their artwork, creating alliances to increase local lobbying power for the arts in Columbus.
Award-winning arts writer and editor, Melissa Starker, currently serves as board secretary for Wonderland—one of Columbus’ most nationally visible and active artist collectives. According to Starker there are several factors that have given rise to well-organized and successful local indie artist groups including internet access to info about what other DIY arts groups around the world are doing and social media outlets.
“Through social media, it's easier to promote efforts directly, and to get a tangible sense of local community support,” said Starker. “I think that [learning from other successful artist groups and social media promotion] has fostered a stronger sense of community overall, and by extension more willingness to collaborate.”
“Fortunately, as the efforts of these groups have grown in organization and sheer density, collectively representing a year-round stream of programming with some major annual events, city officials actively started recognizing their cultural and civic value,” said Starker.
GCAC recently spoke with several independent artists about their affiliations with collectives in Columbus and to find out how their collaborative practices impact their relationships within the arts scene and their individual creative endeavors.
Local artist Alex Bandar works as a metallurgical engineer by day. According to Bandar, Columbus offers an abundance of networking and professional resources for artists “from the strong independent arts movement embraced by the city in 2007 and public festivals; to the Couchfire Collective and other burgeoning local arts groups such as the Wonderland Project.”
But Bandar felt that something was missing—a DIY community workshop for artists.
Bandar started the Columbus Idea Foundry in 2008, with the goal of providing low-cost access to tools and design resources for independent artists, recent graduates and entrepreneurs. The Idea Foundry provides hands-on instructional classes in woodworking, welding, 3D CNC machining, laser cutting, jewelry making, blacksmithing, metal casting and more. Once people are comfortable using the tools, the Foundry invites them to become members and to use the workstations to create on their own. The Foundry also rents out studio space to artists and small businesses.
Beyond providing instruction and access to tools and equipment, the Foundry fosters a network between artist members with local retailers, arts communities, Web site designers, business developers and more. The Foundry also houses a small gallery to showcase works created by their members.
“I like to say that The Foundry helps people design, build, exhibit and sell their ideas,” said Bandar. Some of Bandar’s own artwork involves a special type of "shape memory" metal that flexes when you run heat through it, such as with an electric current.
“I instrumented a few silk flowers with these wires, and made them "bloom" when you approached them,” said Bandar. “I also like to create artistic yet functional projects, very much in the ‘steam punk’ aesthetic—taking an old pupil's desk from the 1950s with the flip top wooden lid and converting it into a modern workstation with a built-in flip-top LCD monitor and computer; or taking an old Edison phonograph horn and building a replica music player that streams wireless music from the internet.”
Mark Rosen is also a member of the Foundry. At age 69 and retired from his own business, Rosen found his calling as an artist later in life. Rosen started out showing his garden sculptures at craft shows. He later took a course in welding at CCAD and began working with found objects.
“This may sound corny,” said Rosen, “but I really found myself as an artist when I discovered a process that was my own. I started taking some metal and incorporating mesh rods and Bondo and started creating life-sized, everyday objects like ladies’ handbags, hats and Converse All-Star shoes.”
While attending a Wonderland event, Rosen ran into Adam Brouillette who suggested he get a hold of Alex Bandar at The Foundry to find a new studio space.
“Getting involved with The Foundry is one of the best things that’s ever happened to me,” said Rosen. “I’m surrounded by people here, and not necessarily all are artists. One guy has a business; makes computer parts and ships them all over the world. There’s a woodworker who makes teething toys; another who has created tables for the Columbus Museum of Art. I learn every day just by talking to these people. I’m here every morning in my 300 square feet of space with access to all of the machines.”
Though Rosen finds inspiration and a sense of community at The Idea Foundry, he prefers not to get involved much with the running of the organization.
“I don’t attend the meetings—I just rent a studio.”
Stephanie Rond is a full-time, self-described “urban contemporary” artist whose work incorporates hand-cut stencils and spray paint. Rond creates both gallery art and street art with themes of animal instinct versus human nature as well as how antique objects left behind by their owners can tell a modern story. She also works as a curator in town among other creative, contract-based jobs.
In 2009, Rond co-founded CAW (Creative Arts of Women) along with fellow artist, Helma Groot. According to their mission statement, CAW is a collective of women joining their creative forces in an open-membership group. Members are visual and performing artists, writers and arts supporters. CAW currently has a steering committee of 11 members and a larger membership of 45 that is continuously growing.
“There are so many women artists in this town doing great things and women artists have different needs and challenges than our male colleagues,” said Rond. “We saw a need to address those issues.”
CAW’s active and supportive members hold quarterly meetings to discuss opportunities locally and nationally and to spend time networking.
“It’s not surprising to see more than 20 members attending each other’s individual exhibits and performances,” said Rond. “We’re like family.”
According to Rond, being a visual artist can be a lonely endeavor.
“Most artists know that they cannot create in a vacuum and need the support and opinions of their colleagues. The artist by nature has a voracious appetite for constant learning,” said Rond. “And the best way to keep learning is by connecting with other creative people."
Karla Ross is a crafter of jewelry and more—and like many artisans, she has a shop on www.Etsy.com. Etsy is an online marketplace for handmade goods. Many Etsy members form teams in their own cities so that local arts scenes can be promoted even with the site’s worldwide scope. Ross is an active member of Etsy Team Columbus which helps to promote local artists in general and Etsy members in particular with groups shows and events.
“It’s an exciting time to be an artist right now in Columbus,” said Ross. “Dozens of arts collectives exist now and are actively going out of their way to interact with their customers, neighbors and peers.”
Like Rond, Ross feels that working as an individual artist can sometimes get lonely.
“A rich surge in creativity emerges from the collaborations, exchange of ideas and inspiration,” said Ross. “My work with Etsy Team Columbus has changed my life and made me a more civic-minded individual by widening my scope of personal and professional connections.” Ross also notes the added benefit of becoming eligible for grant monies as a group and increased opportunities to exhibit, showcase or network in the community.
“Don’t discount the power of social networking,” adds Ross. “Plug into Twitter or Facebook and connect with groups like ARTillery, Junctionview Studios, Cloudhaus, The Columbus Idea Foundry, Etsy Team Columbus, Madlab and The Crafty Cotillion. These are the folks with their fingers on the pulse of Columbus’ art scene and they frequently circulate resourceful information.”
Cyndi Bellerose is a designer, painter, illustrator and a mother who has found a unique source of support in the artist collective Mother Artists at Work. MAW members help support one another while they juggle motherhood and careers.
Bellerose tends to work on her art during those little windows of opportunity. “Usually when the kids are taken care of and I have some down time,” she said.
“My work is a little bit on the edgy side,” said Bellerose. “I do a lot of paintings with collage and found objects—with a vintage twist. One of my main bodies of work is the Joan Series—about a 1960s housewife who’s…a little bitter, shall we say!” Bellerose discovered MAW about three years ago while attending an event at Junctionview Studios.
“I met three of the mom members and just hit it off with them right away. They said ‘you’re a mom and an artist—you should join!’ So I grabbed one of their postcards with all of their info.”
Bellerose has found that MAW offers much more than artist support.
“We offer each other emotional support, parenting advice. Half is art-related only, the other half is really focused on parenting,” said Bellerose. “I’ve belonged to quite a few groups throughout my career, but this one is the most rewarding; each and every member feels like a sister.”
MAW recently presented a successful group show at Concourse Gallery in Upper Arlington that resulted in some sales and great exposure. Bellerose said that they try to do at least one big group show a year. “You can do your work as an individual but it’s nice to have a sounding board for questions, advice. The sense of community strengthens the individual artist and invites you to be more active. MAW is very involved with the community, taking part in nurturing family events and supporting kids’ arts projects.”
MAW members recently took part in the Columbus Arts Festival’s Art Carnival, made up of several local indie artist collectives presenting artsy games to raise money for their respective groups.
“We’d been talking about how well-received our plush toys used in our Flush-a-Plush game were and all of the people asking if they could purchase one. Then the storm hit,” said Bellerose. “We heard about Kelly Zalenski, a Columbus artist who lost most of her work and her tent in the storm so we decided to make more plushes to sell in order to raise some money.”
MAW will have an online sale of the plush toys for $20 each through July 29. MAW will donate half of the profits of the sale and half of what they made during the Art Carnival to GCAC’s Artist Relief Fund and to Zalenski. Follow MAW's blog, Facebook page to stay posted.
To learn more about Bellerose and her work, go to www.coroflot.com/cyndioh.
A few of the artists we interviewed said that they have taken advantage of several of GCAC’s OPPArt workshops and have found them very useful in their daily practices. OPPArt (Opportunities for Artists) is a monthly series aimed toward helping individual artists connect with each other and further themselves and their work. The series includes professional development workshops, roundtable discussions, social events and more. Most events are free and all events are open to artists of any genre or level. Click here for information on OPPArt events coming up in July.
"Artists have been actively reaching out to GCAC," said Ruby Classen, Grants & Services director. "We don't work in a vacuum. We need that interaction and open dialogue—it continues to make our arts community stronger."
In addition to the OPPArt series, GCAC also offers other opportunities for artists including individual artist fellowship programs, and supply and professional development grants.
"And we're not done yet," adds Classen. "GCAC continues to look for ways to expand support for individual artists to allow them to thrive and succeed."