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A look at how Columbus SOUP has influenced social change over past 6 years

J.R. McMillan

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Columbus SOUP started as a simple concept, borrowed as great ideas often are. Audiences come together to share bowls of soup from local restaurants, listen to pitches from a collection of community advocates, everyone votes with their signature green spoons for the project they want to fund, and the ones with the most votes receive a small grant. Imagine Kickstarter with a supper club spin meets Shark Tank for social change.

“It really struck a chord with me, as something we could pull off, and that would really resonate with the Columbus community,” explained Liz Martin, executive director of Columbus SOUP. “Our city is really receptive to people with a passion for new ideas.”

Introduced through a friend to earlier efforts in Illinois and Michigan, Martin connected a cadre of folks involved in various local community-building efforts over tea on a cold winter’s day to see whether there were enough combined skills and bandwidth to launch a similar SOUP in Central Ohio. Six months later, on June 9, 2013, Columbus SOUP hosted its first event, amid more than a little uncertainty.

“We thought if 35 people showed up, it would be a success. We reached out to people we thought might be interested and received six applications,” she recalled. “All of them were invited to pitch, and we packed the house with more than 100 people at Brothers Drake.”

The idea undeniably resonated and grew to nearly two dozen events in the years that followed—and nearly $60k in grants so far. But it also offered the invaluable experience of distilling an idea down to its essence, then selling it to an audience of strangers with a succinct and inspiring pitch.

“The heart of SOUP nationwide is to fund projects that may not be eligible for traditional funding. These micro- grants give people exactly what they need to achieve something small, yet impactful, in their communities,” Martin explained. “Most of us grew up in an age of giant checks where it seemed like only the wealthy could be philanthropic. SOUP brings philanthropy down to a level where anyone can make a difference.”

Themes quickly became a concept unique to Columbus SOUP. Chicago’s version was created to support arts and culture, while Detroit’s was adapted to serve social justice. Columbus SOUP is both, yet neither, providing access and an audience to a variety of community-led projects that don’t always fit easily into obvious boxes.

Also there since the start is Bryant Miller, director of Columbus SOUP, and among the first folks Martin recruited to the cause. His infectious enthusiasm and knack for putting everyone at ease was also the perfect match as event host, welcoming new and familiar faces, ensuring presentations run smoothly, and sharing the results of voting in a way that recognizes everyone’s efforts—not just those who receive funding at the end of the evening.

“The magic of Columbus SOUP is that it’s very different than any similar organization because we allowed it to morph into what Columbus needs. We just tend to say yes to a lot of things,” Miller revealed. “When we were at the Idea Foundry a couple of years ago, there were some folks who could help them host an event for teenagers, and we had never been to one before who asked us afterward if we could help them host an event for teenagers, and we said ‘YES!’ It was an event that reached an audience we hadn’t before.SOUP is about saying yes, giving people a chance, and not trying to put everything in the same box.”

Crowdfunding and collective philanthropy only seem like a novel idea inspired by the internet. But the notion of ordinary folks doing extraordinary things with a humble investment is hardly new. Back in 1938, the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis was still a small and obscure organization that needed a boost, even in the midst of a polio epidemic. That’s when radio and film comedian Eddie Cantor asked Americans from all walks to send 10 cents to the organization’s founder, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The response was unprecedented, with tens of thousands of letters pouring into the White House the week of FDR’s birthday—just as Cantor requested when he coined the phrase, the “March of Dimes.”

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The indelible idea stuck, eventually becoming the name of the organization now focused on providing a healthy start for new mothers and their infants. That sounds like a tall order, but so too was curing polio with pocket change.

Without hyperbole, Columbus SOUP is not so different, offering a solid start to ambitious initiatives with a donation many of us have in our wallets, pooled together to achieve something no one could do alone. SOUP has likewise accomplished its original goal to inspire grassroots ideas and small-scale investment, which is why the next Columbus SOUP will be the last, putting a proverbial lid on the concept and making room for what’s next.

“It’s easy to get hung up on the idea, and many do, that organizations need to go on forever to be significant, and I just don’t believe it. I tend to think of it like a story. What story did we set out to tell? We wanted to share philanthropy in a completely different way,” Miller explained. “We loved the concept behind micro-grants, because they create the opportunity to be the very first group of people to believe in an idea. We feel really good about what we’ve achieved and have accomplished everything we wanted to do. That’s our story.”

Everyone has watched a television series or film franchise that effectively ended long before it was over. Columbus SOUP didn’t want to make that mistake by presuming everything worthwhile extends indefinitely. But they’re really only half right. If every event was like a pebble thrown into a pond, the ripples continue to make waves that grow, intersect, and change shape long after the stones were cast. Quantifying the lasting impact six years of SOUPs have had on Columbus is impossible, because the ripples just keep going.

“I think about how distraught everyone was when Independents’ Day ended. All of that energy didn’t go away, now it just goes somewhere else,” he noted. “When you look at all of the new events and festivals inspired by Independents Day that only started after it ended, you can still see the impact.”

The final event, billed as “SOUP’s Last Hurrah” was originally set for November. But an accidental scheduling snafu afforded the opportunity to extend the application deadline, ensuring everyone from presenters to donors won’t miss their chance to celebrate, say goodbye, and raise their spoons one last time.

“We decided the final Columbus SOUP should end how it started, without a theme. We’ve had projects reach out to us that never quite fit into one of our recurring events or common categories,“ Martin explained. “It’s a chance for all of those ideas to finally be heard. This will be the last Columbus SOUP, but it’s still the beginning of something new.”

For details on Columbus SOUP’s final event, or to apply to pitch your idea, visit columbussoup.org

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Arts & Culture

Gallery Space: Danielle Deley

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In the ‘60s, the clash of mass culture and fine art exploded. Led by New York-based artist Andy Warhol, whose silkscreen paintings of Campbell’s Soup Cans and Marilyn Monroe were instantly iconicized, the vibrant basis of his works became known as pop art. While Warhol was one of the founding pop art leaders, the lesser-recognized Roy Lichtenstein was a Fine Arts graduate from The Ohio State University in 1949 and was notable for his comic-like expressionism.

Subtly following Lichtenstein’s influential trajectory is visual artist Danielle Deley, who’s currently prepping for her Skylab show Jubilee. Her use of color is rich in tone, and her subjects are easily recognizable, with cultural nods to Frank Ocean, Barbara Streisand and the late David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust.

Photos: Brian Kaiser

“I want Jubilee to feel like you’re walking back into the height of the pop art era. I might have a more muted color palette than Lichtenstein, but I want it to make a comment about traditional fine art,” Deley said. “Each of the 2D pieces are based off of very popular sculptures in Greek and Renaissance art. Each 3D piece is taken from paintings from that same time period.”

Originally from Youngstown, Deley graduated from CCAD in 2011 with a BFA in graphic design and advertising. Spending a semester in England while she attended CCAD, Deley regularly kept in contact with her grade school art teachers, who provided encouragement and foundational skills. Their guidance led her into becoming co-president of the Columbus Society of Communicating Arts, and even illustrating Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot on a cover of Chicago Reader in April. Through Deley’s intricate, pastel design, Lightfoot is recreated into a queen of spades form.

“Sue Kwong, the creative lead for the Chicago Reader, reached out, had this awesome cover idea and wanted me to bring her vision to life,” Deley said about the collaboration. “She found me on this forum called Women Who Draw, something I submitted to six years ago. They make a space for female artists and illustrators to find other female artists and illustrators. [Illustrating the cover] probably took eight hours. It was my first cover illustration for a big publication so I wanted to get it right.”

Often visiting Gateway Film Center to see how films are composed, Deley actively studies the meticulous craft of cinematography, along with going to intimate gallery spaces to align with the art community. After graduating from CCAD, Deley would only create on her computer, but decided to transition her work into watercoloring. “[Watercoloring] then moved into gouache, wood carving, and finally painting with acrylics. My style started to take shape just from doing these small projects that popped into my head,” she said. “My first one was The Young and the Restless illustration that I have on my website and I just couldn’t stop. The style stayed the same but I would push myself with composition, size, and color.”

Currently contracting as a designer at independent digital design Studio Freight, Deley also co-created the “mind reading” board game Medium, which Two Dollar Radio attendees had the chance to celebrate and play after its release. In August, Delay also illustrated children’s (and dog lovers) book Good Night, Buckeye with author Dan Wurth, with all proceeds from the book benefitting Canine Companions for Independence. With Deley’s hectic creative schedule, Jubilee could have become an afterthought, but she assures (614) that the show’s creation was intentional, with retrospective, familial ties.

“I came up [with] the name [of Jubilee] for two reasons. One, Jubilee came from the idea of celebrating. I thought it was time to celebrate this style I’ve been creating,” she said. “And two, it’s an homage to my grandparents. My Baba would always make this rich and delicious cookies called ‘jubilees’. They were always doing a craft with me or when I would come visit they were creating something.”

With appreciation for local art venues such as 934 Gallery, No Place Gallery and Roy G Biv, Deley avidly wanted for Jubilee to be placed in Skylab, ready to share her “post-pop art” genre with Columbus. “Skylab was the perfect space to propose this show. Its view of art has always been contemporary and experimental, and that’s how I view everything I make,” she said. “Contemporary art for me is about making things weird and beautiful at the same time and that’s how I hope people perceive Jubilee.

Jubilee opens Jan. 1, 2020 at Skylab Gallery, located at 57 E Gay St., 5th floor.
Visit danielledeley.com or @danielle_deley on Instagram for more information.

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Arts & Culture

Thinking Big: The Amazing Giants bring circus arts to events across town

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If you have been to a local festival, parade, or corporate event where you’ve seen stilt walkers, fire-eaters, hula-hoopers or lyra artists, there’s a good chance you’ve been in the presence of an Amazing Giant. Founded in 2011 by Jessica Minshall, The Amazing Giants was born out of one woman’s love of stilt walking and her friends’ desire to learn the skill. Now a new challenge is looming for the group—a business expansion to Hawaii.

Working in the service industry, Minshall saw a need in Columbus for a different type of entertainment. She taught herself how to walk on stilts for a festival gig out of state. This new hobby intrigued a group of her friends, and they decided to learn, too. From there, The Amazing Giants were born. “My partner and I bought a lot of stilts and just taught people how to do it,” she said. “We all found each other.”

What began as a few friends learning a new skill and having fun together practicing it evolved into a booming business with 40 employees and contract workers, including magicians, face painters and more. They are hired for events to do everything from wearing full bodysuits covered in tiny mirrors and dancing to wearing and serving champagne from large metal skirts to dazzle a crowd.

“We have evolved with different equipment, too,” Minshall said. The Amazing Giants owns the only sway pole in the Midwest. It allows performers to create a large- scale spectacle with an extreme cirque-style pole acrobatic act without the need for a permanent installation. With hundreds of costumes, 20 pairs of stilts, and entertainment offerings of just about every circus art imaginable, The Amazing Giants truly seek to astound.

Having had great success in the Columbus market, Minshall decided to grow her business, and recently brought The Amazing Giants to Honolulu. “I had family out here that I would visit and realized they don’t have anyone doing what we do. There’s not really a group or team of stilt walkers working together,” she said. So Minshall bought six pairs of stilts, and hosts open gyms where interested performers can show off their skills and possibly train on stilts. “They don’t need to send me a resume, necessarily,” she said. “It’s about personality and talent.”

Importantly, Amazing Giants must have an abundance of confidence without an overabundance of ego. “I tell people we have to get comfortable being uncomfortable. As an entertainer you have to get over your shyness and put yourself out there.” The ability to work as a collaborative team player is also key, she said. “Our team often works in tight quarters, and whether or not it is well-received, you have to put on the show as best you can.”

Although Minshall is keeping the headquarters in Columbus, now headed by Chief of Operations Olivia Ranier, she says she is excited about the expansion and her recent move to Honolulu. “It reminds me a lot of Columbus because it has that small-town, big-city feel with a similar {\(metropolitan area) population of around one million people,” Minshall said. And the environment is ripe for her type of business. “In Honolulu, we have events year-round; in Columbus our business slows down after New Year’s Eve,” she said. “There is also a lot more tourism and a convention center that brings in a ton of people.”

Although her business has expanded, don’t for a second go thinking that Minshall is going to forget where she comes from. “A lot of times people ask me where I am from and they say, ‘Wow, I’ve been hearing a lot about Ohio lately.’ I have nothing but good things to say about Columbus and what kind of platform it’s given me. It’s a massive city with a thriving arts and entertainment culture—and it’s extremely underrated. I will be Columbus-promoting forever.”

For more information visit theamazinggiants.com.

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Sports

Big Macs and Bowl Games: Enter McDonalds sweepstakes for college football getaway

614now Staff

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Now that Ohio State has secured its bid to play in the 2019 College Football Playoffs, every fan across Columbus is vying for tickets to the Bowl Game. Lucky for you, McDonald’s has the answer.

Today, McDonald’s launches their Buckeye Bowl Game Sweepstakes in partnership with Ohio State Athletics, where one lucky winner will win a trip for two to the 2019 Fiesta Bowl Game on Saturday, Dec. 28, including prime tickets to the game, transportation to and from, plus hotel and travel accommodations.

Fans can enter the Buckeye Bowl Game Sweepstakes by purchasing a Quarter Pounder or Quarter Pounder with cheese from any McDonald’s in the greater Columbus area, either in restaurants or through their favorite delivery service. With each order, customers will receive a golden ticket with entry details, leading them to the sweepstakes website.

And the best part is for every submission placed, McDonald’s Owner/Operators of Columbus will donate $1 to Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Ohio, helping them meet their annual fundraising goal.

“For McDonald’s, and for those of us as local business owners, it’s about more than selling burgers. It’s about creating a lasting impact in our community,” said Mike Telich, Columbus McDonald’s Owner/Operator in a statement. “Supporting RMHC is more than just a donation, its ensuring families with ill or injured children get the emotional and physical support they need, as well an alternative to the financial burden of staying at a hotel and going out for meals."

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