It would have been hard to imagine Columbus, a decade ago, being known for much of anything nationally—let alone making the list of fashion and design meccas.
Leave it to that good old Midwestern staple—Halloween—to create a stage for the imagination of a growing city.
Even after 10,000 attendees swelled the Short North on the last night of October 2008, no one could have predicted how Highball Halloween would expand year-after-year. Especially that after a decade of existence it would be beckoning some of the best costume couture designers in the world to compete for its attention.
The Short North is not the funky enclave of offbeat characters it once once—which means Highball now carries the responsibility of maintaining the area’s weirdness and wonder—along with hosting a masquerade for 30,000.
There was a Highball before there was even a (614) Magazine. Which made us want to take off the mask, talking to some of the events’ inventors about what’s in store for this year, and how Halloween in Columbus hits a higher note every year.
Betsy Pandora, Executive Director, Short North Alliance
Executive Producer, HighBall Halloween
Back in 2008, community members came together to discuss ideas for events for the Short North Arts District. What emerged was HighBall Halloween. At the time, the District and Columbus were growing as areas for not only boutique fashion retail businesses, but also as a national center for a fashion and design workforce. Today, we tout the third largest fashion and design workforce, and HighBall Halloween celebrates their talents, our community, and the creativity in all of us.
Charly Bauer, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream
Founding Father, HighBall Halloween
Stakeholders in the Short North had a brainstorming session for events and promotions that might lift the district’s exposure. We felt if the creativity in Columbus’ fashion, art, design, and retail industries were to put its heads together to shine a light on ourselves, we could make a pretty fantastic street party.
We were also adamant it should be in the street—that closing High Street, and celebrating “the street” literally and figuratively would be spectacular. We had some voices saying, “Why not host it in Goodale Park?” Logistically easier, but a shortcut we didn’t want to take. We wanted HighBall to be unlike anything in Columbus.
Candi Watkins, Centerline Street Magic
Logistics Coordinator for HighBall Halloween
We were inspired by the idea that collectively, we could build a real couture fashion show out on the streets that brought the high fashion directly to the people; and was creative and inspirational to the community.
Nina West, Super Drag Queen
Highball Halloween Host
The event has obviously changed a bit and grown from its first year, but it really still has so much of the same elements. [Former Short North Executive Director] John Angelo really was the motivation and vision behind the event. He wanted to showcase the art and creativity and vibrancy of the Short North and Columbus and his brilliant mechanism was through Halloween. John wanted to celebrate the fabulous and the fashion of Halloween, which gave Highball its first real point of definition—fashion. The key elements, the elements that John saw as modes to expose and celebrate Columbus art and artists are still the pillars of the event.
Stephanie Stein, S2 Management
Costume Couture Coordinator
I received an invitation from Juli Rogers, Co-Owner of R Design and Printing, to this new event in the Short North Arts District featuring a couture costume contest and 10 fashion designers. I thought to myself, after working in the fashion industry in Columbus, Ohio for 20 years (at the time—it’s officially 30 years in November), how could an event like this be going on without my involvement? I jumped in feet-first and then with all the rest of my body. Not only providing the models needed, but helping to coordinate the lineup and show.
Pandora: We have both an artistic advisory committee and a temporary team of partners and vendors that we hire on each year, all of whom support the creative process under the direction of myself and the SNA’s events and special projects coordinator, Melanie Kortyka. We let the community steer and dictate the themes and allow the artists, designers, performers, and other creative team members to execute that creative vision. The event gets to evolve as the community evolves. And the whole premise is that you, as an individual attendee, get to uniquely and creatively contribute to the event experience through your costume. That’s kind of the best part.
Pandora: I think the most noticeable changes to the event over time have been how we have been able to bring really high production quality and sophistication to the programming and planning. Believe it or not, HighBall Halloween isn’t actually what we all do all day, every day. As an organization, we work on programing to support our diverse community of small businesses, we keep the lights on, and we keep the streets clean. HighBall Halloween allows us to showcase the creativity of our community while generating additional resources to keep doing what we do to support the community. And being able to grow the event from something that was very grassroots and laborious to something more professionalized—but still authentic to those roots—has probably been the biggest change.
Five-Time Costume Couture Designer
I think it’s amazing how [Highball] has grown from a one-night event focused around the costume couture show to a two-night event that really gets to showcase more of Columbus’ artistic and musical talent, and also caters to a broader audience. I think it would be difficult to come to the event and not be incredibly entertained—there’s music, art, and the spectacles of the two together both onstage and off. It’s so cool to see just what the attendees come up with to wear!
Behind the Scenes
Melanie Kortyka, Events and Special Project Manager, Short North Alliance
Festival Director for HighBall Halloween
Each year, the Short North Alliance saves several items from HighBall Halloween and stores them in our garage. Few people know that the puppets and several past costumes are sitting in this storage next to our other event items that we use on a daily basis. It is pretty funny to open our garage storage with someone for the first time, and they are shocked to see six 15-foot puppets sitting next to our Ambassador’s golf cart and some holiday decorations.
Watkins: The planning; hours and hours it takes to prepare, budget, make equipment orders, design costumes and collections. Never seen are the people that gather designers and models, hike fences, put up and take down signs, build and take down stages, who stand there in all kinds of weather making the event run behind the scenes. The people who pick up trash and the police who keep it safe. None of this is visible to the public—nor should it be—but the end result is pure magic.
High Notes (on-stage or off)
Pandora: Former Mayor Michael B. Coleman’s Blues Brothers Costume—which he wears each year, kind of as if it’s a brand new costume each year. Meeting Taylor Dayne before her sound check at HighBall Halloween 2014, while I was dressed as Slash from Guns n’ Roses and having to explain that yes, I was the lady in charge here.
Houf: A year that I attended but was not part of the couture show, one of the designers who competed and won created an all-pink Marie Antoinette-inspired costume, complete with a tea cup on top of the head. I remember how large, crazy, detailed, and just generally beautiful that piece was. It was the clear winner that year. When it entered the stage there was an audible gasp/awe from the whole audience. It is that kind of reaction from an audience I strive for as a Highball designer each year. That reaction makes you feel like you’ve clearly created something with an impact that garners a reaction and that, to me, is the whole point of creating as an artist: to affect. Offstage: one year there were two older men who went as “a couple of big boobs” literally with nips and all—not necessarily one of the most delightfully creative things I’ve seen, but completely memorable and still makes me smile.
West: Favorite costume? A couple did Mount Rushmore maybe in the first or second year and it was brilliant. OR The Richard Simmons exercise video and Deal-A-Meal group costume. That was pretty epic. Offstage? Watching all of the people behind the scenes getting ready. It is amazing. Truthfully my very favorite part is the public costume contest. I have more dishy stuff, but I am trying to hold on to the gig…
Kortyka: I noticed a costume in the crowd a few years ago where a group of people dressed up as if they were on a rollercoaster ride. They acted out choreographed movements to make it appear like they were going up and down hills and around curves. They stayed in character the whole night—it was fantastic. On stage: I really enjoy getting a sneak peek of the models lined up backstage before they are about to present each of the collections on stage to the public. The models and designers are typically nervous and have been working all day to pull everything together, however the reveal of each of the couture costumes really is incredible to see.
Bauer: Kevin Kerr’s award-winning costume and homage to his sister—the Pink Dress—from 2010. I wish I had a picture. That was his second time winning the Costume Couture Fashion Show, and he was an inspiration.
Watkins: The flying monkeys from the first event; the roller coaster group; the queen in her dais carried by four gold-painted men from one of the events right in front of Surly Girl on High; the guy in the wheelchair with a broken leg that looked like a jockey on a horse and sulky; Nina West swinging me off my feet at the stage up on Fifth Ave.