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OP: Things have changed but Arts District isn’t dying

By Nate DeMars
Owner, Pursuit
Board Member, Short North Alliance

New generation of Short North Merchants

Two years ago I moved Pursuit from campus to the Short North Arts District and opened for the first time for September Gallery Hop. After four years in business we had hit a wall and moving was a ‘bet it all’ change. I made that bet because of the people and businesses we’d be associated with as part of the Short North and the obvious growth in the district. I wanted to be a part of one of the most vibrant neighborhoods in the country and it has proven a great decision.

Creative, unique, local, and independent was how I saw the district and my new neighbors, and how I hoped people would view Pursuit. The inspiring history of pioneering galleries was the foundation of that identity–Gallery Hop its signature manifestation. While there is so much happening in the district, art remains alive and critical to our identity and I see huge potential to draw new audiences to the district with art in various forms.

Recently I read your piece by a gallery owner proclaiming the death of the arts district and it bothered me on a few levels. First, it was a farewell from a longtime Short North gallery who helped build the neighborhood. Heart and soul goes into building a business, I can only imagine how painful it is to close a business. It also bothered me because I’ve seen too much creative energy put toward art in the district since my arrival to believe it’s dead/dying.

But the piece shouldn’t be ignored. It was a blunt reminder that sustaining the magic that made the Short North one of the most vibrant and unique neighborhoods in the country will take a commitment from a variety of stakeholders including, and beyond, galleries. As the neighborhood grows, the arts identity is one that merchants, restaurateurs, developers, consumers, and the city must collectively decide is important to maintain–not in name, but with action.

Short North developers aren’t all bad

I see that action from a cross-section of the district. Wood Companies, preeminent Short North developer and my landlord, chose to lease the first space I wanted instead to another district newcomer, Hammond Harkins Gallery (the right decision!). Developer Pizzuti Companies not only brought Pizzuti Collection but also an impressive art collection at The Joseph. Hilton and The Greater Columbus Convention Center have invested heavily in art. The Public Art Committee of the Short North Alliance, led by gallery owner Michelle Brandt, recently unveiled a new permanent installation by a local artist and has been working with the city on a major public art study to keep that momentum. The committee has also worked with organizations like the Greater Columbus Arts Council to adorn construction barricades with the work of CCAD students during next year’s unprecedented construction season, a powerful symbolic statement.

Most importantly, and despite what you read in Facebook comments, there are fifteen art galleries in the district. They are the most recognized stewards of our arts identity and are a community treasure. They face a different environment and new challenges, no doubt, but visit them during Gallery Hop to see what they continue to bring to the district.

A thriving arts scene with healthy galleries are in everyone’s best interest and I believe as neighbors the best thing we can do is add to the art in the district, to reinforce the atmosphere galleries create for visitors. There are plenty of businesses doing exactly that, many have for years.

Feeding the creative spirit

For that reason, in February we teamed with The Wild Path to launch our monthly In Pursuit Concert Series, featuring young Ohio musicians performing (in suits, of course) during Gallery Hop. Our window to High Street gives these artists unique exposure and the Gallery Hop crowds are eager to support. The response has been amazing with hundreds passing through the shows and tens of thousands watching event videos online. It’s exciting that the majority of our audience are millennials eager to support local artists, excited to be a part of Gallery Hop.

I recognize that I am benefitting from a neighborhood that galleries and artists were integral in building. A suit shop hosting concerts and exhibits is not a replacement for galleries but it adds to the atmosphere long established up the street by neighbors like ROY G BIV and Lindsay Gallery. The growth of the district is a testament to the vibrant community that art helped build.

I believe maintaining the identity as an arts district is central to keeping the Short North special and vibrant and it’s important for businesses to contribute to that culture.

As I write this, I’m looking up from my Village Salad at Northstar, out the window where Sandy Wood surveys construction of his company’s new mixed-use project across the street. I can’t help but think that Wood Companies leased first to galleries, then a few decades later to Northstar, and another decade later, to me.

Things change but there are so many who want to maintain the special culture of this arts district.

It will take contributions from old school to new school, Short North Alliance and city leadership, artists, galleries, merchants, residents, and consumers. I’m excited to play my small role and I think these last eight months have shown there is a new generation in Columbus ready to support this arts district. I hope more will decide to invest in the arts component of this arts district.

Check out the last concert of “In Pursuit” Season 1 on September 8th.  Pursuit will be hosting musician and illustrator Nicholas Nocera of Winter Makes Sailors and pairing a concert with his month-long gallery show.

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