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Arts & Culture

Why Art Thou?

Cars are commodities mass-produced by the millions. But once they roll off the showroom floor, they take on a life of their own. Each ding or dent tells a story, from original owner to everyone who eventually sits behind the wheel. But for some, those tales get much more detailed, blurring the line between eclectic [...]
J.R. McMillan

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Cars are commodities mass-produced by the millions. But once they roll off the showroom floor, they take on a life of their own. Each ding or dent tells a story, from original owner to everyone who eventually sits behind the wheel.

But for some, those tales get much more detailed, blurring the line between eclectic transportation and traveling exhibition. They’re called “art cars”, and those who create them are part of a growing movement that is increasingly impossible to ignore.

“All around the world and throughout time, there have been decorated vehicles—from gypsy wagons, or the decorated trucks of Pakistan, to the buses of Haiti,” explained Greg Phelps, who is currently driving his third art car. “But they really didn’t take off in the US until the ’70s when people first started to glue on their cars, turning them into more than just a metal canvas.”

Phelps got his start in 1997 with a Mazda Miata featuring a two-dimensional design, but it wasn’t until a couple years later after a conversation with another local artist that he took his design to the next level.

“Ramona Moon had been gluing on her cars out in San Francisco before moving back to her hometown of Columbus,” he recalled. “That’s when I first realized you could effectively attach elements to your car, and I haven’t stopped since.”

Silicone is the adhesive of choice for many art car creators—flexible enough for daily driving, yet durable enough for regular washing. Phelps plays it safe with an ordinary sprayer for occasional cleaning, but admits it takes a lot longer than you’d think to get the soap out of all of the “nooks and crannies.”

“I have a whole host of things on it, like a mohawk of Barbie legs as a tribute to the synchronized swim team at Ohio State,” he explained. “The mirrors on the rims have survived five years of Ohio winters.”

Creativity is often contagious, and just as Phelps was inspired decades ago, he too continues to recruit, working with local high school and college students to create their own incarnations. You’ll find a few artfully adorned golf carts zipping around the campus of Ft. Hayes. Collaboration with an OSU sculpture class even led one student to do her Masters thesis on the cultural phenomenon.

“I often tell parents to encourage their new teenage drivers to create one,” he said. “It lets them be rebellious, but remain conspicuous. You can’t drive aggressively or cut people off in an art car.”

Road rage is a foreign concept for those rolling around in vehicles covered in colorful plastic doodads. Smiles are expected at a parade, but even police can’t contain their grins as he putters past. So long as he’s not speeding and nothing falls off, law enforcement pays him no mind.

“I honk and wave whenever I see police officers,” he said. “It’s not like I could get away with robbing a bank in it.”

The quirky creations aren’t just child’s play, though a love of toys and a stash of little pieces and parts doesn’t hurt. Phelps can still spot an easy mark, like Jason Williams, owner of Big Fun, the Short North shop notorious for nostalgia. His unmistakable Volkswagen Vanagon turned Star Trek shuttle craft is as meticulous and mesmerizing as his store.

“I gave him that first tube of glue and a caulking gun as a challenge,” he quipped. “Now his entire roof is this epic history of politics and conflict told through plastic figures.”

Phelps’ own car is more autobiographical, including subtle nods to fellow art cars he admires. The exterior accessories are too difficult to transplant from one car to the next, but his “Deities of the Dash” representing the world’s major and lesser-known religions does migrate from one project vehicle to its successor.

There are often lingering misconceptions about the movement, like the idea that owners are simply attention seekers.

“It’s actually the opposite. I want to give people attention,” Phelps noted. “There are few things that can draw strangers together into a shared conversation faster than standing around an art car.”

Though many have high miles, they aren’t all “beaters” someone decided to repurpose after years of neglect. Most start as reliable models that are easy to maintain, to avoid all of that effort meeting an early end. But even the best cars never last forever.

“I donated my first car to the Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft in Louisville, which has a collection of art cars,” he revealed. “The second, I donated to Open Heart Creatures. It had nearly 200k miles on it.”

Given his ideal afterlife, Phelps said he wouldn’t mind his current car becoming part of the collection of local art on display at the Greater Columbus Convention Center—preferably suspended from the wall or ceiling—joining “As We Are”, the giant selfie LED head, as one of the city’s most photographed art installations.

Until then, art cars are already attracting plenty of attention at Hot Times, the annual community arts and music festival in Olde Towne East. The dozen or so local creations are joined by almost as many from surrounding states, enough to earn some international interest as well—most notably Haider Ali, renown Pakistani truck artist.

“He created a truck for the Smithsonian’s Silk Road exhibit in 2002. I saw it when I was in DC and it blew me away. I looked him up on Facebook a few years ago and we became friends,” Phelps recalled. “Last year, he came to Columbus and painted a vehicle for the CRC [ClintonvilleBeechwold Community Resources Center] which they use to transport senior citizens to their doctors appointments. He loved it so much, he returned this year and painted a passenger van they use to take seniors to the grocery store and social gatherings.”

You’d think Phelps would be overly protective of his autodidactic art exhibition, but he’ll still let valets park it, and does so often. He’s found it’s the easiest way to get a prime parking space for curious onlookers and as a popular backdrop for photographers and impromptu portraits.

“Valets always treat it with great care, as if it were an exotic sports car,” he chided. “I get the best spot and people will walk past a Lamborghini to check out my Nissan. I call it ‘carma.’” •

For details on the Hot Times Arts & Music Festival, visit hottimesfestival.com.

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Arts & Culture

Two of the 13 “Greatest Places in America” are in Central Ohio

Mike Thomas

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Throughout Central Ohio, efforts to uplift communities have been ongoing for decades. Now, some of these efforts are garnering attention on the national stage.

According to a report from Columbus Business First, The Short North Arts District and Delaware's historic downtown were named among 13 “Great Places in America” by the American Planning Association, a national organization of urban planners.

The APA's picks highlight locales representing “the gold standard for a true sense of place, cultural and historical interest, community involvement, and a vision for the future.”

In its rundown of the Short North Arts District, the APA points to the neighborhood's status as "a pioneer in urban revitalization in Central Ohio," and goes on to call the neighborhood the "art and soul" of the City of Columbus.

As for downtown Delaware, the APA It highlighted efforts by civic and business leaders in transforming the derelict city center into a thriving neighborhood full of attractive amenities for locals and visitors to enjoy.

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Arts & Culture

Nina West makes TV History with Emmys appearance

Mike Thomas

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Hometown hero Nina West is having a big year. Following her "Miss Congeniality" win in season 11 of RuPaul's Drag Race, West has released of a children’s music album, Drag Is Magic, and a comedy EP, titled John Goodman.

Now, the Columbus drag icon can add a moment of television history to her impressive list of accomplishments.

According to Deadline.com, West is the first person in Emmys history to walk the purple carpet in full drag.

Season 11 of Drag Race, which airs on VH-1 and has been renewed for a 12th season, took home 4 Emmy wins, including the trophy for "Outstanding Reality Show." The long running competition was nominated for 14 awards in all—the most of any VH-1 show in history.

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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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