Our New Fellowship Program Seeks to Ensure the Arts are Part of Positive Community Change

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The pandemic put so much on pause. We started 2020 with ambitious plans for new programs, but as our major funding sources dried up, we had to regroup. One of the initiatives that we were excited to launch last year was the Neighborhood Arts Connection Fellowship. Now, thanks to Crane Group, we can press play on this fellowship in 2021. ​

Tom Katzenmeyer, CEO, president of the Arts Council

Tom Katzenmeyer, CEO, president of the Arts Council

The way the fellowship works is that artists (in any discipline) who are permanent residents of that year’s selected neighborhood will submit applications and proposals for a project that creates a participatory arts experience for the neighborhood. Two artists will be awarded. One will get $10,000 for a large project and the other will get $5,000 for a smaller project. This fellowship doesn’t just serve a particular community, it serves the artists of that community and helps them invest their energy where they live.

For its inaugural year the Neighborhood Arts Connection will focus on the south side of Columbus at the request of the Crane group. The neighborhoods for this year’s grant are those served by the Columbus South Side Area Commission and the Far South Columbus Area Commission, which are defined on Columbus Area Commissions’ website.

I love this choice. We have an opportunity to help build on the extraordinary community work that is happening on the south side. I recently read a 2020 impact report from the South Side Thrive Collaborative. The report shared the particular challenges faced by south side residents—from loss of jobs due to deindustrialization to the negative impacts of redlining. While 84% of south side residents are employed, 60% live 200% below the federal poverty line and 82% of children in the area live 200% below the federal poverty line. In addition, the average household income is approximately $20,000 less per year than the average household income in Franklin County. And, of course, the pandemic only exacerbated these challenges. The report also detailed the work of dozens of organizations to address these challenges and their root causes.

I personally have been humbled by my visits to the Reeb Community Center and South Side Early Learning; and I know that these are only a few organizations making an impact on the community. South Side Thrive Collaborative notes in its report that “the challenges within the south side are complex and will not be solved by one person or organization alone.” The arts have a role in the work happening on the south side, and a visit to the All People Arts Gallery is all I need to renew my faith in the power of  the arts in community building.

As we move through the first year, we hope to build on the inaugural projects in new neighborhoods each year. Working closely with the city we will select future neighborhoods with a focus on “art desert” areas—communities that have less access to the arts in their immediate surroundings. My hope is that this fellowship becomes a way to tap into a neighborhood’s spirit and build on the existing community.

Applications for the Neighborhood Arts Connection Fellowship are open now until June 15, 2021. The selection committee will include an Arts Council board member, south side neighborhood residents and community leaders. The selection process will wrap up by the end of June, and the projects must be completed between July and December 2021—something to look forward to!

— Tom Katzenmeyer, connect with Tom on LinkedIn.