It’s difficult to write a Gallery Space column about public art. After a long discussion with artists Hakim Callwood and Lauren Carter Best—both of whom created murals for Gravity, Franklinton’s new “conscious community” development—it’s clear to me that the term “gallery” is too limiting in this context; galleries put doors around artwork and separate it from everyday experiences. This is exactly the opposite of Callwood and Best’s intentions, and it’s something Gravity attempts to correct by infusing artwork throughout its architecture. “Walking into Gravity is just an immersive experience that, like, anyone can have,” Best said. “I feel like it’s just kind of changing the assumption that art is something that only privileged people can see or be around.”
Callwood and Best both found out about Gravity through personal networks; Callwood applied to be one of the artists after learning about the opportunity through Urban Scrawl (an annual street art event he participates in regularly) and Best through a friend. Both were attracted to the idea of creating work that would be accessible and visible to the public, outside of the pretenses associated with high art. “When we have art shows, it is not very businessy,” Callwood said. “A lot of what I do is try to welcome people in: Come to your first art show! Wear some jeans!”
For his mural, Callwood created a tribute to artist Elijah Pierce, who worked in Columbus from the 1920s until his death in the 1980s. Callwood was inspired by Pierce’s story and the work he created. “He lived here in Columbus, in this same neighborhood, roughly. And he was a woodworker and a barber and a sculptor. He was just like a local legend,” Callwood said. The mural depicts Pierce standing alongside oversized versions of some of his work. Callwood’s intent was to make the experience interactive for viewers. “He did wood carving, sculptures of animals, so I tried to make life-sized animals so people could come take a picture next to the deer, or ‘like’ petting the cat.”
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Best chose to enlarge one of her existing pieces called “Spring” for her mural. Spring is part of a series featuring the same woman experiencing the different seasons. (Best would like to eventually paint the remaining seasons around other parts of the city). The mural features large, swirling designs rendered in soothing colors. Best hopes it will encourage viewers to slow down and reflect. “I feel so strongly and passionately that part of the healing that needs to happen in the world is that people need to spend more time just pausing,” she said. It’s a powerful message permanently situated at the entrance to the massive development on busy Broad Street.
Gravity, phase I, is 550,000 square feet of apartments and commercial space, with over 14,000 square feet of murals (the even-larger phase II will break ground later in the summer). The project has faced its share of criticism over everything from the decision to hire an artist from outside of Columbus to paint the most prominent exterior mural to complaints that the rents at Gravity put its apartments out of reach for many longtime Franklinton residents. There’s an irony that the murals, created to be enjoyed by anyone, are part of a project that’s been criticized for being too exclusive.
Callwood was quick to acknowledge the concern. Still, he gives credit to Gravity’s planners for working with the community, noting that they hired local artists and collaborated with the Franklinton Arts Council in designing the project. “Those are people from the neighborhood,” he said. Best echoed this sentiment, explaining that while she shares concerns about gentrification, she chose to have her work represented at Gravity in part because it is “showcasing what the community has to offer,” and she felt the artists’ work was valued and recognized by Gravity’s architects. Brett Kaufman, Gravity founder, said he is committed to using the space to bring people together. “We’re intentionally engaging people in a way that has real meaning—offering a physical space where they can literally see beauty and creativity all around them.”
The task of creating 14,000 square feet of murals isn’t an easy one, and Callwood laughed as he shared how the weather refused to cooperate on work days. “At the key time when people were doing the murals it started raining!” he said. Best worked on different days and coped with heat instead. Despite the conditions, she enjoyed the process. “[My mural] faces Broad Street so people would just be walking down and yell, like, What are you guys doing? It was an interactive type of thing, really fun,” she said.
Controversies aside, Gravity represents an exciting opportunity for Columbus artists and art lovers alike, giving prominent recognition to work that may not be a fit for traditional galleries, but is, as Callwood says, accessible and fun. “You ever go to another city and see a bunch of murals on like their buildings and it just makes you feel welcomed into the city? That’s the same type of thing I’m trying to do.”
Gravity is located at 500 W Broad Street in Franklinton. Lauren Carter Best’s work can be seen at Laurencarterbest.com and on Instagram at Laurencarterbest. Hakim Callwood’s work is at Hakimsartnstuff.com and on Instagram at hakimsartnstuff.