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.
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.
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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.
Today it thrives as one of the most active, Black artist spaces in Columbus
From its inception, the Maroon Arts Group’s (MAG) mission has been to provide a platform for Black artists and voices that may not easily find a welcoming space in other venues.
Sheri Neale, a Baltimore transplant, formed MAG when she was seeking backing for a performance art piece directed by Troy Burton titled “A Real Nigga Show”—a pastiche of poetry, dance, and music, that takes a hard look at the stereotypes surrounding the N-word. She had first seen the production in college and was moved by “the truths it touched on from both a mental health and an artistic perspective.” She felt called to bring the production to Columbus after the deaths of Black men Eric Garner and Michael Brown at the hands of police—in New York and Missouri, respectively.
“I couldn’t rest in my body about Eric and Michael,” Neale said of the deaths and, since then, “I’ve been doing the work through art.”
When she attempted to find a platform for the provocative piece, nary a corporate backer was in sight.
So, Neale took matters into her own hands. She called on local artists and creatives to join efforts to bring the production to life in Columbus. From that tour de force, MAG was founded in 2015. Shortly after, the production
was performed at Columbus Performance Arts Center’s Shedd Theatre to a sold-out audience.
Although reluctant to take credit, she does own that she has the gift to motivate others into action.
“I recognize that gift, I honor that gift, and I’m just happy that it serves others through art,” Neale said.
This service to others, using art as a medium to affect positive change in her neighborhood, is what inspired Neale to create a physical space for MAG. In 2016, the organization was awarded a grant from the City of Columbus called Community Impact which offered them an abandoned lot on the corner of Mt. Vernon and 17th Street. Once they had the land, the question became how to create a space that was affordable and accessible to the neighborhood.
“We were trying to figure out what we could take on that wouldn’t represent like an office space,” said Neale. “It was Marshall Shorts (the vice-chair of MAG) who introduced the idea of shipping containers and I was like… keep talking.”
And so the boxpark known as MPACC (Movement Pursuing Arts, Commerce & Community) was born. MPACC is a community art space comprising two shipping containers—one housing a performance space with a stage and the second holding an art gallery. A third container onsite is owned and operated by Willowbeez SoulVeg.
The boxpark is situated just down the street from the King Arts complex and around the corner from Lincoln Theatre, creating an art walk of sorts from one destination to the next.
“I don’t know if it’s a triangular art hub, but it’s a nice end cap to the area,” said Neale. What makes MACC so unique is that it sits at the heart of a community whose residents do not always have access to those larger art venues. It’s park-like structure and lack of entrance fee mean that people can feel free to come and go, experiencing events at the space in whatever way works for them.
“We want folks to know they can come over whenever something’s going on here,” she said.“This is for them. Everyone’s invited, but this is really providing something for this neighborhood.”
During recent protests for racial equality, MPACC has been a consistent rallying spot and a safe space for community members to be engaged in a movement for change in a family-friendly environment. At a recent event hosted by MAG, the public was invited to come and create yard signs for protest. Families gathered
and let their kids enthusiastically spray paint signs in black and of course, maroon, with rallying slogans such as “Rise, Create, Resist” and “Protect Black Futures.” While there, they were encouraged to engage with artists who were painting a series of boards that had been staked around the perimeter of the park for a project titled “Nothing to Fear.”
On display were portraits of faces of Black boys and men. The project is spearheaded by Francesca Miller, a local artist and recent graduate of OSU who majored in art education. Miller conceived the project as her own form of social protest through art.
“I wanted people to see each individual face as the beautiful, dignified humans they are,” she said. Upon reading on social media that Miller was looking for a space to house her idea, Neale contacted her and offered up MPACC.
Most of the boards are painted by artists who reached out to Miller when they heard about the project. One young man who lives across the street, wanted a board of his own. He approached Miller to find out what the project was about and how he could get involved.
“He was so excited and couldn’t stop smiling and I was like….OK, go ahead,” said Miller, who was initially uncertain whether he had the artistic experience to match the other contributions, but couldn’t resist his enthusiasm. As Miller tells it, he began to draw a self-portrait on the board with a pencil but quickly became overwhelmed and admitted to her that he was good at drawing, but not that skilled at painting. When she relayed the story to contributing artist Richard Duarte Brown, he asked Miller for a photo of the young man and offered to finish the painting.
“When we use art to beautify a space, it impacts people on a deep level.”
The next day the teen returned, Miller said, and was struck. She said he told her, “Oh man, that looks just like me!” she laughed as she relayed the story. He told her that “All day people came up to me and said, ‘Hey, I think your face is on one of those boards over there!’”
When MAG isn’t directly holding an event, the space is open to community members to use. Over the last month, there has been a constant flow of performances by poets, musicians, artists, and activists. On any given night one could tune in to live streams of the performances and seek solace listening to young writers weave their frustration into spoken word as silver-haired singers belt out, “A Change is Gonna Come” and other Civil Rights era songs.
Neale says that the space is for the community and this is how it manifests—voices ringing out to bring comfort and guidance, paintings around its borders reminding neighbors of their beauty.
As Miller so aptly put it, “When we use art to beautify a space, it impacts people on a deep level. The programs that they have [at MPACC], engaging people with the music and arts, is really uplifting.”
This sentiment was echoed by board member Ekundayo Igeleke who told Orie Givens of Spectrum News television last week, “As long as oppression exists, we’ll be out there fighting against it, but also, experiencing joy.”
MPAAC is a place for the community, for education, gathering, and celebration, a space to hold grief and rage. Most importantly it is a space to hold hope and the possibility that through art, transformation can be achieved. And like the young man who came back to find his portrait on the wall, MAG is a place for the Black community to find their faces on the wall and know they are counted too.
The bleak isolation of the COVID-19 quarantine caused a mental block for many creatives. But for recent Columbus College of Art and Design graduates and visual artists LaShae Boyd and Kayneisha Holloway, the time and space only helped to enrich their craft.
Their post-grad artistic pursuits were especially sharpened during recent Columbus protests, as thousands of Central Ohioans joined together throughout the month of June to commemorate the lives of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and numerous other Black Americans killed by police. The most recent of which was the death of Floyd on May 25, who was killed by excessive force to his throat by Minneapolis, Minn., police officer Derek Chauvin. Chauvin is charged with second-degree degree, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter. Three other officers on the scene are charged with aiding and abetting.
For both Boyd and Holloway, they hope that the growing Black Lives Matter movement sparked by Floyd’s death translates into further local opportunities for Black visual artists.
With a pop-surrealist focus, Boyd’s paintings are traditionally distorted and shadowy, which she attributes to the theme of chaos. When the pandemic became widespread, Boyd committed her time in quarantine to hold a daily creative process, whether it meant sketching or painting on full canvases. In turn, Boyd executed her goal, tackling more than one piece each day and later painting a mural commissioned by Maroon Arts Group.
“I wanted to represent Black people in a higher light. A lot of my work has to do with spiritual transformation within myself, so I wanted to push this further specifically highlighting black magic and the power we possess as a whole,” Boyd said of creating the mural during protests. “I think we should start taking this energy to neighborhoods of lower classes, the areas with less income and support, and fill it up with art. Art can raise awareness and infuse the community with love and unity.”
In a similar vein, Holloway embarked on taking multiple commissions earlier this year after being furloughed from two positions during economic turmoil while finishing her degree. The multi-dimensional artist and interior architect caught up on meditating and reading to decompress from the heaviness of the pandemic. Once revived, she set off to the Greater Columbus Arts Council, where she was joined by other visual artists who encouraged her to share her thoughts on Floyd’s murder.
“The word ‘empathy’ came to mind; that’s the only word I could think of since the first night of protests in Minneapolis,” Holloway said, later creating murals at Snap Fitness on Hubbard Avenue and the Huntington Center. “The silver lining is that this revolution is pushing me to become a full-time freelance artist, even [an] activist, which I would like to embrace more.”
Prior to completing their studies at CCAD, Boyd and Holloway’s senior thesis seemed to foreshadow the current social climate in proximity to their core audience, even expanding their message to local government officials. Though Boyd initially lacked confidence, which transmuted into her work as a student, she soon transformed through her thesis titled “Out of Control,” previously showcased at Beeler Gallery on the CCAD campus.
“It was a group of paintings and photos on the topic of finding self through the unconscious, using dreams as a guide back to repressed memories and personal truth,” she said. “With everything going on, it’s elevated my understanding of my position as an artist in society. I started thinking about how art not only is a great way to communicate difficult emotions but it’s literally like a time machine that you can explore.”
Art can raise awareness and infuse the community with love and unity.
Being a first generation college graduate, Holloway’s thesis analyzed the consumption of public art through murals and placemaking implemented into Columbus neighborhoods. Though she worked solo as classes went remote due to the quarantine, she attributes her pride as a muralist to studying interior design and architecture during those four years.
“I did feel relieved to not have to worry about submitting an assignment online, but I didn’t feel I accomplished much outside of my grades and received my diploma through mail,” she said. “Attending classes remotely set my creativity and drive back a little because I liked the environment I was working in. I especially miss doing ceramics, which is impossible to do remotely when your art studio is also your bedroom, laptop, or phone.”
Still, Holloway was able to put finishing touches on her thesis dedicated to revolutionary artists who have used their proximity to local people to acknowledge and create space for those who have been disadvantaged. Those who inspired Holloway’s work included Stephanie Rond, Rick Lowe, Tyree Guyton and Aminah Robinson—whom she painted at the Ohio State Rotunda.
“On a community level, I hope every person as a whole will acknowledge themselves as worthy of living, and simultaneously will view their community members’ lives as worthy, without the role of police officers and authorities,” Holloway said. “On a political and economic level, I hope that our politicians, city council members, and city planners will acknowledge that Black people, regardless of class, lives matter; their health matters, their education matters, their neighborhoods and homes matter, and their safety and security matters.”
Disappointed when being unable to walk the stage at graduation due to social distancing, Boyd celebrated safely at home and hopes that recent community art pushes collective exposure for Black women.
“I hope that we can see the reasons why murals are so important outside of the aftermath of the rioting that was going on,” she said. “I want to make pieces speaking on what’s happening, keeping in mind that this is a piece of history [that] future generations can look back on and learn some of the events that structured their present.”
Noting the magnitude of male artists in Columbus, Holloway obliges with Boyd’s sentiment, aiming for Black women artists to receive their roses while they can still smell them.
“We need to embrace change and differences—I haven’t seen many Black women artists being celebrated as much who are still living,” she said. “I think allowing Black women the space to develop their voices as well as express their voices and concerns is a step to support Black women and artists, even if their message is very different from what we normally hear and see.”
Every Monday at (614) we’ll be here to update you on virtual and physical screenings that are being offered by the businesses and organizations that make Columbus such a special cinema city. Read below for this week’s streams and showtimes.
The original Jaws will continue to show at Grandview theater after a July 4 weekend beer tasting. Fitting, right? Watching this might be what it takes to keep you away from the beach for the rest of the summer.
One of the most popular picks for best Star Wars film of all time, the beer tasting comes during a year when the fifth episode is celebrating its 40th anniversary. Enjoy a 10-round beer tasting, free pint glass, raffle prizes, and a very entertaining presentation.
A local town battling big-party politics, written and directed by Jon Stewart and starring Steve Carrell? Looks great on paper, plays out even better on screen. Rose Byrne is outright ridiculous in this one. Enjoy a 2020 release in an actual movie theater with grade-A recliners.
A timely documentary that followed the Black Lives Matter movement around 2013, this film focuses on the corruption within the Cincinnati Police Department, whose force was responsible for killing a total of 15 black men between 1995 and 2001.
Ella Fitzgerald is one of the most prolific singers of all time. Although a lot of her life has been studied, this documentary goes deeper with some never-before-seen footage and interviews from greats such as Tony Bennett and Smokey Robinson.
A coming-of-age journey that follows a Black teenager trying to find his identity in the UK and beyond. The movie was the winner of the World Dramatic Competition at Sundance and Best Supporting Actress and Most Promising Newcomer awards at the British Independent Film Awards.
Another unfortunately timely documentary, Denise Ho follows the personal journey of the openly gay singer from pop icon to human rights activist. What emerged out of the Umbrella Movement of 2014 saw Ho take to the streets in the midst of the Hong Kong revolution in 2019.
Ai Weiwei, China's most famous artist, transforms Alcatraz Island prison into an astonishing expression of socially-engaged art focused on the unjustly incarcerated. Known-whistleblower Chelsea Manning makes an appearance.
If eccentric Japanese cinema is your forte, you’ll want to check out We Are Little Zombies. A messy triumph of tragedy, comedy, music, social criticism, and teenage angst, watch what four teenagers do when they find out their parents are being turned into dust.