We’ve always known we live in an arts city. The Short North has been holding its monthly Gallery Hop for 35 years now, and the neighborhood has been synonymous with art for as long as its younger residents can remember. But in the 2010s, we’ve witnessed the creativity associated with that neighborhood boil over, spilling across the city and sprouting a new arts district in Franklinton.
The opening of the Gravity project this year represented something new for Columbus: a mixed-use development that put art created by local artists at the center of its design. It didn’t happen in isolation, either. Gravity is walking distance from the Columbus Idea Foundry, another city institution that came up during the 2010s, providing space for makers to make, well, just about anything. Turning an old shoe factory into a creative workspace was not only an impressive act of preservation in a city that generally likes its buildings shiny and new, but also an engaging way to inspire and train the next generation of artists.
The explosion of art happened outside of these neighborhoods as well. In addition to the opening of a new wing in the Columbus Art Museum, the museum also opened the Pizzuti Collection in the Short North, extending its reach beyond Broad Street.
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This was the decade that the talents of Columbusites—those born and raised here, and those who have chosen to call this place home—have been recognized well beyond the boundaries of our city and state. Here are a few of the people and moments in arts and entertainment that put Columbus on the national map during the 2010s, helping us rightly claim our space as a creative and cultural hub.
Fashion Week Columbus
The rest of the country may have been surprised when Columbus started making waves as the third-largest fashion city outside of New York and Los Angeles in 2012. But the designers and industry professionals working here probably weren’t. As the longtime home of Victoria’s Secret, Abercrombie & Fitch, and Express, the city’s reputation as a leader of retail fashion is well-established.
What came into focus during this decade, however, is Columbus’ burgeoning reputation as a home to higher end designers. Fashion Week Columbus, organized by Thomas McClure, Founder and Executive Director of the Columbus Fashion Council, helped to put us on the map. McClure said he founded Fashion Week Columbus as a non-pro t organization “to provide a platform for local fashion designers and to provide scholarships for fashion design students.” This support helped solidify Columbus as a designers’ town.
“Because of Fashion Week Columbus and the Columbus Fashion Council, many of our designers have been able to kickstart their fashion design careers, making a living by doing what they love without moving to NYC or LA,” McClure said.
Over the past decade, other fashion events have sprung up across town. Going into 2020, it’s clear that the Columbus fashion scene shows no sign of slowing down—see the longevity of events like Highball if you have any doubt.
Maggie Smith’s Good Bones
You don’t often hear the term “viral poem,” but then again, you don’t often get to read poems like local writer Maggie Smith’s Good Bones. The poem’s message, ending with a challenge to readers—This place could be beautiful, right? You could make this place beautiful.—resonated during a turbulent year, so much so that the BBC and Public Radio International called it the “Official Poem of 2016.” Since its publication, it’s popped up across cultural genres, including a reading on the CBS show Madam Secretary, as well as inspiring a song by The Mountain Goats.
You might as well call 2019 The Year of Nina West. Not only did she serve as the Grand Marshall of the Columbus Pride Parade, West also represented Columbus on RuPaul’s Drag Race, winning the title of Miss Congeniality and placing sixth overall. If that wasn’t enough, she became the first person ever to walk the red carpet at the Emmys in full drag, and released a music video in support of HIV testing. Rumor has it she’ll be back on Celebrity Drag Race and starring in a show for Opera Columbus in 2020, giving us plenty to look forward to in the new year.
While the city’s art scene exploded during the 2010s, a few of our favorite festivals wrapped up for the final time during the decade. These include Independents’ Day, the Fashion Meets Music Festival, Alternative Fashion Week, and the PromoWest Fest. Luckily, the creativity and talent these festivals cultivated continues to grow.