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True Stories: One Theme, One Mic, One Night

Columbus is a city of storytellers. From Larry Smith’s dedication to developing diminutive memoirs to Barry Chandler’s penchant for forging better brands, Ohio attracts and inspires wordsmiths from near and far. The transcendent allure of stories is that we all have them. As shared as the air around us, they’re still seldom spoken—especially amongst strangers. [...]
J.R. McMillan

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Columbus is a city of storytellers. From Larry Smith’s dedication to developing diminutive memoirs to Barry Chandler’s penchant for forging better brands, Ohio attracts and inspires wordsmiths from near and far.

The transcendent allure of stories is that we all have them. As shared as the air around us, they’re still seldom spoken—especially amongst strangers. Television is tedious and social media doesn’t count. One is increasingly broadcast distraction for the masses, the other a safe haven for hecklers.

Story Club Columbus is different, turning noise into narrative. On the first Tuesday of the month, the stiff drinks and potent sodas of The Rambling House prime an informal gathering of experienced and aspiring storytellers. Audiences can hide in the shadows, but any pretense of anonymity disappears as soon as presenters step into the light and take the stage. The rules are deceptively simple: Everyone gets eight minutes. Stick to the theme. And stick to the truth.

That doesn’t mean someone is going to quickly kill the microphone if you run too long. Nor is a little latitude or literary license going to earn you a giant gong. The format isn’t for the faint of heart, but it isn’t intentionally intimidating either.

“Telling a story is extremely empowering. I love watching new storytellers get on stage and realize they have a warm, captive audience for the first time,” explained Meryl Williams, founder of Story Club Columbus, who brought the idea here from Chicago. “I used to live there, and once a month, I went to Story Club Chicago with a group of friends. It took me more than a year before I got enough nerve to get on stage myself. I knew when I moved back to Ohio that I wanted to start a branch of Story Club in Columbus.”

“Telling a story is extremely empowering. I love watching new storytellers get on stage and realize they have a warm, captive audience for the first time.”

Intimate oratory isn’t always easy, even in a sympathetic venue filled with eager ears and fueled by liquid courage. It’s not stand-up comedy, though it’s often amusing. And it’s not beat poetry or spoken word, even when the room grows solemn or silent. It can be all of these, or none of these over the course of an evening—or even a single performance.

“The stories that stick with me the most are the ones that were clearly hard for the performer to tell,” Williams recalled. “Sometimes stories are kind of heavy, or they’re hilarious, but my favorite stories told on stage are the ones that manage to be both.”

Story Club isn’t the only outlet of its kind. Right around the corner at Wild Goose Creative, Speak Easy also meets monthly. The programs are similar, but not the same. Both have a monthly theme, but Story Club is a curated mix of open mic and invited presenters. Add the libations and atmosphere of The Rambling House, and maybe the art form feels a little less polished and more spontaneous.

Now two years in, Williams has moved to eastern Ohio and recently handed the microphone to a new host, Samantha Tucker. The two share more than a passion for storytelling. They’re both Ohio Roller Girls, so neither was short on grit or afraid to take a hit. But being fearless on her feet isn’t the only skill that made Tucker a natural fit.

“I have experience in writing, theater, and improv, so it was an easy transition. But the focus on non-fiction is what initially attracted me to Story Club,” noted Tucker, whose first show as host in October had the seasonal (not intentional) theme of “Fear”. November’s theme was “Election”, though that didn’t keep political concerns from slipping into the collective conversation ahead of schedule. “I think my first month’s theme was a happy accident. Several presenters mentioned the Supreme Court. We try to keep our theme open, relevant, and in the moment—where we are as a city, and as a country.”

Though the basic construct remains unchanged, the content is evolving with a more noticeable shift from known voices to new voices. Outreach into the immigrant and refugee communities, seeking the stories of New Americans, is quintessential for Columbus and personal for Tucker.

“Both of my grandmothers were what some would call ‘war brides.’ One is from Korea, one is from Germany, and that’s where they met my grandfathers. In my family, a lot of what we know and understand about each other is from oral history,” she revealed. “I feel like my identity is shaped by immigrant stories, and very different perspectives of what it means to be an American.”

Regardless of the theme or tone, the thread that binds each evening together is the appreciation of stories that are live and true in an era favoring discussion that is distant and dubious. Tucker offered a few pointers for those apprehensive to take the stage.

“If you’re a first-time presenter, I tell people to reverse-engineer their stories. If you’re not sure how to get somewhere, start with the ending—the last thing you want to leave with your audience, the thought you want to linger with them,” she explained. “Think about five moments you want to include in your story, then work your way back to the beginning. You have to know where you want to land.”

Some storytelling suggestions are esoteric. Others are obvious, or should be.

“If there’s a theme, know it and stick to it. That hasn’t happened once or twice. No more than three puns per story, because you don’t want the audience to turn on you,” chided Tucker. “Okay, I made that rule up, but it’s still good advice. Speak into the mic, that’s also a good one.”

“There’s something romantic about stories that happen that evening and nowhere else. People are reluctant to pay for art because they don’t realize they’re part of the process.”

Another defining element of Story Club is that featured storytellers are actually paid, which is exceptionally rare for upstart art exhibitions of any kind. With a suggested donation of $10 for a one-night-only performance (which is a steal), proceeds are divided among invited performers. Patrons cast ballots at the end for their favorites, which offer guidance for future shows. Amateurs become regulars, and regulars often become featured storytellers. It’s a simple strategy that still works.

“There’s something romantic about stories that happen that evening and nowhere else. People are reluctant to pay for art because they don’t realize they’re part of the process,” noted Tucker. “I don’t know if there is art without audience. When we ask people to vote and pick the story that meant the most to them, that’s what we’re acknowledging, that we’re doing this for you—that we can’t do this without you.”

For more details on Story Club Columbus and upcoming themes, visit storyclubcbus.com.

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Arts & Culture

How Bazaar: Popup arts fest shines a light on local creatives

Mike Thomas

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While cultivating a newfound sense of personal fulfillment might be as simple as picking up a paint brush or instrument, earning a living through your art is a more complicated prospect. As longtime friends, collaborators, and Columbus art-scene hustlers Dustin Bennett and Zak Biggard will tell you, making it as an artist sometimes comes down to who you know.

Having met years ago as coworkers at a local printmaking shop, Bennett and Biggard have gone on to individual success with their own creative design firms. For Bennett, part of this work entails curating the art displayed at Clintonville’s Global Gallery, a cafe and art space that is committed to promoting fair trade handcrafted products from around the world.

When an exhibition Bennett was planning for the space fell through, he reached out to Biggard to fill the vacancy with his work. The resulting show was a hit, with Biggard selling several pieces in one of Global Gallery’s most successful exhibitions to date.

Biggard and Bennett outside of Global Gallery (Photo: Brian Kaiser)

His reputation with the venue established, Biggard approached Amy Palmer, Global Gallery’s manager, with an idea for a large-scale show. She gave him the thumbs up, and Biggard again partnered with Bennett to help bring his vision to light. The result is a show spanning three weekends in the month of August that the duo have dubbed Bazaar Ritual.

“The idea was a bazaar, this sort of Middle-Eastern marketplace where you walk in and it’s just a feast for the senses,” says Biggard. “All of these different sights, sounds, smells—everything packed together.”

As mutually beneficial as their collaborations had been, the Bennett and Biggard hope to open the doors of opportunity wide to other artists. Through this new exhibition/festival, the two aim to shed a light on creators who may not know how to navigate the sometimes complicated process of getting work into a conventional art show.

“Most of these people have never been involved in the gallery scene or never been able to show their work off,” Biggard explains. “They are just so excited to be a part of something, and the stuff I’ve been seeing from people, I just can't wait to have everything together in one place.”

When the exhibitors do come together for the popup-style event on August 3rd, 17th, and 31st, they will bring with them works across a diverse range of media.

“We’ve got people who make jewelry, clothing, glass blowers, painters and performance artists,” says Biggard. “It’s really the diversity of the work that’s the theme.”

As diverse as the work on display in the show will be, the exhibitors themselves hail from various disparate walks of life—everyone from nurses to dog walkers, printmakers to salespeople, as Bennett explains. In addition to the work shown during the recurring weekend events, each artist in Bazaar Ritual will have the opportunity to display one piece in Global Gallery throughout the month of August. Artists will keep 100% of the proceeds sold throughout the month and during the weekend events.

https://www.instagram.com/p/By0yi8xhuPE/

Along with providing a platform, the Bennett and Biggard hope that Bazaar Ritual will serve as a networking hub where creatives can meet and form collaborations of their own. Response from artists interested in taking part has already been building organically, with those involved telling their friends, those friends bringing more friends, and so on.

In addition to the prospect of hanging out with artists and perusing the exhibitions, the organizers of Bazaar Ritual have a number of surprises in store for attendees. Food trucks will be on hand, as well as live local music on Global Gallery’s spacious patio.

Though Bennett and Bigard are working diligently to bring this fledgling event to fruition, the two seem calm in the lead up to the show. Their artist-first approach lends a communal feel to the event, with creatives joining forces to put on an organized yet laid-back experience that shirks the corporate mold of some traditional gallery settings.

“We’re trying to do what art is meant to do and bring people together,” says Bennett. “We’re trying to bring together as many friends and strangers as we can—motleys and misfits alike.”

Global Gallery is located at 3535 N High St, in Clintonville. You can visit Bazaar Ritual there from 1:00 PM to 8:00 PM on the 3rd, the 17th, and the 31st of August. For more information, check out @bazaarritual on Instagram.

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Arts & Culture

Arts Fest Preview: Kate Morgan, 2D mixed media artist

614now Staff

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Kate Morgan began developing her ghostly, layered two-dimensional portraits after going back to school at the Columbus College of Art & Design in 2005. She already had some background in visual arts through her work in fashion and commercial photography, so the transition to drawing and painting was organic.

Morgan’s textured collages are inspired by folklore, mythology and a variety of artistic periods — especially Byzantine art. The 2011 Columbus Arts Festival Emerging Artist alum and 2019 exhibiting artist welcomes a wide array of complex themes into her pieces — including symbolic, cultural, historical and spiritual themes — while utilizing layers of vintage paper and original drawings to create visual depth and a sense of mystery.

Her pieces are purposely vague, leaning toward more minimalistic ideas to allow for wider interpretation by audiences. Largely her art depicts the female form, with as many layers and stories to tell as that of every human being. This is done with an eclectic assortment of materials — including sheet music, German Biblical pages, newspaper and maps — to add detail in both a topical and textural sense.

And yet, Morgan still continues to look for a challenge. From venturing away from her familiar blue hues to exploring different mediums like ceramics, her work knows no creative limits.

Morgan has exhibited at the Columbus Arts Festival nearly every year since 2011. She has gone on to win two jurors’ choice awards in the 2D category at the Columbus Arts Festival, as well as sell and have work juried at other major festivals across the country. In Columbus, her work can be seen as part of the Columbus Makes Art and Donatos Pizza collaborative mural “Every Piece Is Important” at the John Glenn Columbus International Airport.

Morgan has a BFA from CCAD and currently works out of her Franklinton studio in Columbus. Experience this stunning work first hand when you visit her at booth M572 on the Main Street Bridge during the Columbus Arts Festival from June 7-9 at the downtown riverfront.

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Arts & Culture

Be Square: Changes coming to arts community at 400 W Rich

Mike Thomas

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If you haven't visited the thriving arts community at 400 West Rich street in awhile, you might be surprised to see how much things have changed. Now, the minds behind the city's hub for the arts are changing things up to better reflect the area's evolution.

400 Square is the new collective moniker for the array of concepts that currently occupy the buildings on the 400 block of Rich street in Franklinton. The rebrand seeks to unify the community of artistic innovators who call the area developed by Urban Smart Growth their creative home.

Promo art for 400 Square by Anthony Damico

Spaces encompassed in the rebrand include Strongwater, The Vanderelli Room, and Chromedge Studios, and of course, the studios at 400 W. Rich. While the name may be changing, the group remains committed to providing and sustaining a thriving hub for creatives through education, resources, and entertainment opportunities in the area.

With the launch of 400 Square, Urban Smart Growth Director of Operations Seth Stout has led his team to develop new offerings for each of the growing spaces. Food and Beverage Director Lauren Conrath and Events Director Molly Blundred have taken the lead with changes to the Strongwater brand, while Community Director Stephanie McGlone and Art Director AJ Vanderelli are facilitating programming for all ages and abilities on the artist side.

Through all of the changes on the way, the staff at 400 Square are committed to bringing the public the same high quality of workshops, events, exhibitions, and more that have always been part of their unique creative community.

Stay tuned for more info—the new 400 Square officially rolls out during the weekend of Columbus Arts Fest 2019, June 7-9.

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