By Jennifer Sadler
Public art is generally accepted as both socially and economically beneficial by communities throughout the world. One of the best things about traveling to a big city is that you get the chance to see works of art that are an integral part of the urban fabric—statues of famous citizens, memorials, larger-than-life sculptures, temporary installations, colorful murals and more. Columbus is no exception. Public art has a rich history in Ohio’s capital city and has been created by some of the most talented artists in the world—many of them local artists who have a deep appreciation for their city. Other work is created by community groups and people of all ages with an interest in creating something beautiful that shows pride for their neighborhood. Art can be found in public libraries, community centers, shopping malls, on outside walls of privately owned businesses, COTA buses, art schools, universities, the statehouse and buildings downtown—even at police and fire stations.
Any debate concerning public art stimulates lively discussion regarding the advantages and importance it can hold for a city. Some argue that the value of public art isn’t just about the art. It's also about investing in interconnected communities that are economically stronger, safer, and have stronger relationships between neighbors fostering a sense of ownership over the public and private property, and business sectors of a neighborhood.
Public art can be effective in drawing attention not just to itself but to its surroundings. Public art can challenge and engage audiences, raise awareness and educate, breach boundaries, and stimulate urban rejuvenation and tourism. It can even reduce vandalism. All of these benefits prove that public art can improve the quality of urban life—providing marketing and promotional opportunities for a city (think of Cloud Gate, better known as “the bean” in Chicago’s Millennium Park or the 100 foot tall red steel ART sculpture that spans a street located on the Columbus College of Art & Design campus). The very presence of interesting and engaging public art in turn can attract creative workers, tenants and businesses and encourage partnerships among many different types of groups and individuals.
Some of the difficulties in a public art program can be in securing necessary funding, instituting a strong curatorial team that can work effectively with the city, the public, elected officials and the artists involved, finding the right environment to establish work and envisioning the potential and the final result. It’s crucial to understand and effectively coordinate policies and procedures, consider public opinions and garner local support—which in turn will attract stakeholders.
Columbus aspires, just like any other American city, to be a place where people want to live and want to visit--and public art is a distinguishing part of our city's history and culture.
Moving forward, there is reason to be optimistic as efforts at the Columbus Art Commission have indicated a renewed commitment to the vision for public art in 21st century Columbus. With the coming year-long celebration of Columbus’ Bicentennial (200Columbus), a great opportunity exists for the Columbus Art Commission and other entities to ensure long-term, high-level, strategic investment in public art across the city.
The Columbus Art Commission asserts that artists and designers have historically contributed to the shape, character and ambiance of Columbus. Artwork in public spaces makes our city uniquely attractive, inviting, surprising, meaningful, and memorable, and represents tangible sources of community pride.
The Columbus Art Commission supports not only the programs for new public art, but also strives to preserve and restore the many fine public art works that currently exist.
According to Lori Baudro, the Commission’s staff person in the City’s Department of Development, 2011 has been a remarkable year for the Columbus Art Commission.
In partnership with GCAC and the City of Columbus, the Columbus Art Commission recently received an Our Town grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), one of only 51 grants awarded nationwide out of 447 applications received. The project, Columbus Public Art 2012, will present 10-15 public art projects throughout the downtown Columbus area during the City's Bicentennial year.
Diane Nance, chair of the Columbus Art Commission, is excited about receiving the grant and the opportunity to endorse this project.
“Columbus Public Art 2012, is a temporary public art exhibition featuring works by national and Columbus-based artists,” said Nance. “It promises to be a demonstration of the breadth of contemporary public art as well as a celebration of the Columbus Bicentennial. An assessment of city-owned outdoor sculptures and memorials is underway to help us establish a baseline for short- and long-term maintenance priorities. We were honored to be invited to review the Veterans' Hall of Fame at City Hall, which unveiled on September 11.”
The Columbus Public Art 2012 initiative is a unique partnership between The Ohio State University and cultural institutions, the City of Columbus, and businesses in Capital Crossroads Special Improvement District dedicated to the vibrant cultural and commercial heart of Columbus. The project will involve local, national and international artists and will engage community, promote tourism and economic development and help weave the arts even more so into the fabric of downtown Columbus.
But public art couldn’t exist without the artists. Columbus is teeming with artists who are eager to be a part of the process and the plans moving forward. There are dozens of local artists whose work can currently be seen throughout the city. From the colorful murals scattered throughout historic near-eastside neighborhoods of downtown and huge sculptures on local campuses, to temporary installations and bits of privately commissioned artworks here and there in unexpected areas.
Columbus native, Stephanie Rond is an accomplished artist whose work explores graffiti culture and street art. She often uses spray paint as a medium.
“Spray paint has the unfortunate reputation of only being used for vandalism,” said Rond. “It is my challenge to use this medium and make something beautiful, as well as have a story and a message. This allows the viewer to see the pure allure of the medium and appreciate this new voiced art form.”
As an artist whose work has often been presented as public art commissioned by local businesses, Rond believes that art is an essential part of a culturally rich community and that it should be easily accessible to everyone.
“Advertising is everywhere and art should be as well,” said Rond. “People should have something to look at that is not selling them a product but rather something that provokes critical thinking, or just a good old chuckle. Art on the street can create a different kind of experience as it becomes part of the viewer's everyday life.”
Local artist Ashley Voss (aka coreroc), is a local artist who is also passionate about the aesthetic value of graffiti-style art. Through his art and work in the community, he strives to dispel some of the preconceived notions of graffiti as merely a form of destruction or vandalism. As an artist, coreroc believes that graffiti art can express—in full color—a very powerful and positive message.
The banner image of this story features a mural that coreroc was commissioned to design and create by a small business owner at the corner of Parsons and Mithoff in the near east side of downtown Columbus, an area plagued with crime and gang activity. The business owner offered the space as a mural wall for a small group of local artists.
Since the arrangement was made with artists almost a decade ago, the lot has had zero issues with vandalism or theft. So far, three to four new murals per year have been painted on his space, free of charge, allowing the artists a chance to share their work with the public.
Coreroc’s work can also be seen on a temporary wall space at Hubbard and High Streets in the Short North. Originally the walls served as an ad sign for the now defunct Ibiza condo project. The Franklinton Arts District group had a working relationship with the lot owner and was asked to install some murals from a previous Urban Scrawl event and to paint over the existing corner wall. Coreroc has taken the lead in coordinating a rotating presentation of local artists at the location.
Coreroc has also worked with the Short North Business Association (SBNA) to create themed murals on the wall for their annual Halloween Highball coming up in October, as well as other themes that represent the artsy and open vibe of the neighborhood. And the SBNA has invited him to create a live painting/mural installation right in the mix of the crowd at the Halloween event, with glowing paint and electric elements.
“I cannot begin to express how much I enjoy using this public space as a canvas for my work,” said coreroc. “My work is often on display during Gallery Hop. It helps the public make the connection between the street artist and fine artist.”
There is no doubt that the word graffiti evokes very different ideas in different minds. For many people, the word only has a negative connotation. For public officials charged with cleaning up graffiti vandalism, the negative connotation is understandable. The City is charged with fighting graffiti vandalism that plagues many of the city’s neighborhoods. This type of graffiti, or tagging, is a purposefully destructive act of defiance and even aggression. The damage can cost hundreds, even thousands, for business and private property owners. Especially since tagging--the most prevalent type of graffiti usually created with one color of spray paint and sometimes representing gang signs--is often repeated in the same areas after it is removed.
When Columbus City Councilmembers visit area recreation centers to hold public meetings, graffiti is a subject matter that is sure to come up.
“Representatives from the city administration and neighborhood groups from across town, as well as several concerned citizens, shared their views and ideas with us,” said Klein. “It is abundantly clear from the testimony at our hearings and from what I have seen in our neighborhoods that graffiti has a direct negative effect on economic development and the community.”
In order to combat graffiti effectively, it must be removed as soon as possible. Accordingly, the community has discussed a proposal that would add the offense of failure to control and abate graffiti to the nuisance code and require property owners to remove graffiti within 30 days of notice from code enforcement. The city currently commits significant resources to graffiti abatement, and now it is in need of a coherent policy to complement these efforts.
"Additionally, we discussed what can be done to assist those affected who may not be able to respond as quickly as needed to graffiti vandalism on their property," said Klein. "We were also presented with ideas such as a community mural program, which could be an effective tool for channeling creative energies and crafting community solutions to the graffiti problem. All of these suggestions, in the aggregate, represent what can be an aggressive, effective and comprehensive solution to this community problem. We hope to continue our progress in bringing our city code in line with municipalities across the country and craft solutions that continue to build strong and safe neighborhoods and improve economic growth in Columbus."
Councilmember Klein thanks everyone in the community who has shared their views on the issue. If you have any further questions, concerns or ideas about graffiti vandalism that you would like to bring to the Columbus City Council’s attention, please contact Councilmember Klein's office at 614‐645‐5346.
Community groups such as the artist collective Wild Goose Creative have contributed their fair share of work to combat graffiti and to beautify the Clintonville community—a northside neighborhood of Columbus that has seen an increase in graffiti vandalism in the past few years. A recent and successful example of their efforts is the SoHud Mural Project. A privately owned business at the southwest corner of Hudson and Summit Streets had been repeatedly victimized by local graffiti taggers who all but destroyed the entire surface of a huge wall—visible to thousands of drivers, pedestrians and neighbors who passed through the intersection every day. It was a giant eyesore and a nuisance to the business owner. Wild Goose is located just a few doors down from the corner and saw the wall as a great opportunity to add some beauty to the neighborhood and to combat destructive graffiti.
“Wild Goose is very committed to our neighborhood, and is always looking for more opportunities to make it more beautiful,”said Beth Dekker. “We started asking around about creating an art mural to cover the wall and found we had many supporters in the community. We didn't have any experience in mural design or implementation, but we like new challenges, and welcomed the opportunity to collaborate with community members and neighbors.”
About 40-50 Clintonville and other community members came to both the mural idea brainstorm session and the mural design selection meeting. Through a neighborhood vote, local artist/architect Tim Lai’s design was chosen for the mural. Wild Goose estimates that about 45 people came out to help prime the wall and about 50 came to help finish painting the mural and the unveiling. They’ve had no problems with vandalism since the mural went up.
Cities gain value through public art—cultural, social and economic value. And public art can activate the imagination and encourage people to pay closer attention to and more deeply appreciate their environment. It is uniquely accessible and enables people to experience art and beauty in their cities and communities every day. Our city has changed dramatically over the last few decades. Columbus is now poised to move forward with a strong public art program for the 21st century.
Additional information on Columbus public art:
Columbus Art Walks—One of the innovative new partnerships highlighting Columbus' public art is the Columbus Art Walks project organized by the Columbus Health Department and supported by GCAC. Art Walks maps feature the Near East Side, Clintonville, Discovery District, Franklinton, Arena District, the Ohio Statehouse, German Village, and the Short North and University District. Arts Walks is a project of the Columbus Health Department with support from GCAC and other public and private organizations. Visit the Art Walks Web site for more information and printable maps. Additionally, Art Walks just produced Educational Resource for K-12 Teachers and Parents, a guide to help create lesson plans around public art, architecture and neighborhoods as well as plan art walk field trips.