For as long as there have been universities, there has been a challenge to integrate the academic, or “gown,” community with the metropolitan, or “town,” community. Historically, the relationship between the two has even been adversarial: in the medieval cities of Europe, where some of the first Western universities were founded, the wealthy, Latin-speaking students and scholars were often at odds with local residents, politically and socially. While relations between universities and their host communities are usually not so fraught in the modern-day United States, community members, faculty, students and administrators often struggle to bridge the cultural and structural gulf between the university and its host city. As a result, many American cities—from Amherst, Massachusetts to Fayetteville, Arkansas and now Columbus, Ohio—have founded official town and gown committees to solidify these relationships and facilitate collaboration.
Even without an official committee, Columbus already boasts a remarkably well-integrated town and gown community. As the nation’s 15th-largest city and home to its third-largest university, The Ohio State University (OSU), Columbus is nationally known as a major metropolis in its own right and also as an immense college town. It is home to thousands of OSU alumni, and a great number of residents are employed, in one way or another, by the institution of higher learning, medicine, sports, and arts that is Ohio State, causing the lines between “town” and “gown” to become unusually blurred. “Buckeye pride” for OSU athletics permeates not just Columbus but the entire state of Ohio. Nonetheless, the challenge to integrate parts of the at-times-insular collegiate community with the rest of Columbus remains. And what makes the town and gown collaborative efforts in Columbus truly unique is the emphasis on the arts.
Image: Left, The Oval at the heart of OSU’s campus, courtesy of myreply.org. Middle, production of Julius Caesar, courtesy of CAPA. Right, photo by Larry Hamill.
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