When faced with adversity, the arts community responds with generosity & humanity

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To say that 2020 has been challenging is a gross understatement. What I have found fascinating this year, is observing how people face challenges. The arts community, with its quickness to give more than it receives, once again has humbled me.

Tom Katzenmeyer, president & CEO of the Greater Columbus Arts Council

Tom Katzenmeyer, president & CEO of the Greater Columbus Arts Council

Last week the Greater Columbus Arts Council announced the first recipients of the Dale Heydlauff Arts Innovation Awards. As we faced the unprecedented challenges (in my lifetime) of a global pandemic and its economic impact, artists and organizations found creative solutions to new problems—from a senior class unable celebrate the pomp and circumstance of their graduation, to families suddenly struggling with remote learning, to senior citizens isolated by the quarantine.

Not every challenge facing us this year has been new. The protests and civil disobedience that followed the deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd at the hands of police were not just about the most recent deaths but rather a legacy of violent racism in our country. The Art Unites Cbus project came about as a solution to an immediate challenge, how to turn broken windows into messages of support for Black Lives.

I am beyond proud that this community that I am a part of took a reactionary short-term solution and evolved it into a proactive long-term, multi-faceted plan that incorporates art and culture in our fight for substantive change—Deliver Black Dreams.

The arts have always played a role in revolutionary change, but they have not always gotten support while doing it. Deliver Black Dreams has financial support and has a team of Black leaders that will ensure that it lives up to its name. Led by Marshall Shorts, Deliver Black Dreams is a partnership that includes Maroon Arts Group, the city of Columbus and the Arts Council with funding from the city, American Electric Power Foundation, Huntington and Grange Insurance and additional support from Orange Barrel Media. While many are partnering and sharing in the work, the vision is of, by and for Black people. Everyone at the arts council is galvanized by this project. We are ready to work.

The first phase of the campaign has already begun. It is based in visual expression and started with cash awards to Black filmmakers and photographers for documenting the Black Lives Matter movement in Columbus this summer. The first phase will also employ Black artists to create permanent works of public art in the form of large-scale murals and set up temporary, outdoor exhibitions of panels from the Art Unites Columbus project.

As I write this, the panels from the Art Unites Columbus project are being thoughtfully curated into groupings and as October comes to a close they will be installed at Coleman’s Point on Civic Center Drive, Easton, Huntington Center, King Arts Complex, Lincoln Theatre, Maroon Arts Group Box Park, McConnell Arts Center, Ohio History Connection and in the Short North at Greenwood Park at Fourth and High.  One of the planned large-scale murals will get underway this month in hopes of getting it finished before the weather turns. Plans are also in the works to exhibit the photographs and screen the films from the recipients of the Art Unites Columbus photography and filmmaker awards. Much of these plans are well underway with the Wexner Center for the Arts committing to screening the films and the photos will be shown in our new gallery space in early 2021. We will share the details as soon as they are finalized.

Over and over I see the arts pivot to respond to problems and/or crises quickly, nimbly and with great empathy. In these past eight months I have seen our community give back even as their own livelihoods and industries are decimated by the pandemic. I have seen Black artists respond with love and tenacity even as they are faced with violence and hate. I don’t know what the future holds. Frankly, these days I’m a little wary to plan out tomorrow. One thing that I have absolute confidence in is that with the arts and artists of the 614 at our side, we will adapt with our humanity intact.

— Tom Katzenmeyer, connect with Tom on LinkedIn.