On Oct. 1 I will have the pleasure of attending the King Arts Complex Legends & Legacies event, which this year will honor Mayor Michael B. Coleman. I cannot think of a more fitting leader to receive this recognition.
With the end of Coleman’s 16 years as mayor looming, I have been thinking a lot about what he has done for our city, and what an incredible champion he has been for the arts in Columbus. In the early days, as Mayor Coleman dreamed of a vibrant downtown where people lived, worked and played he understood the important role that the arts would play in that dream.
Anyone who has lived here long enough to remember downtown in the 1990s, can appreciate the enormous changes that have occurred during Coleman’s tenure. There was very little residential housing downtown. Gay Street, which was once neglected and largely vacant, is now bustling with restaurants, shops, a monthly street fair of local artists and HOMES! Gone is the cinderblock mall that was City Center and now we have a beautiful park that plays host to everything from free concerts and food trucks to yoga—and more homes. To the west, the riverfront is no longer an underwhelming spot with one ignored park and Franklinton is experiencing a renaissance and has become home to several arts-related initiatives. To the east the beautiful, historic Lincoln Theatre has been restored to its former glory and the cap over 71 north, leading to the theater, has been rebuilt with green space and artwork celebrating the neighborhood.
Under Coleman the city has seen an increase in arts funding but it’s also important to note that the mayor has supported the Arts Council pursuing additional public funding streams—again understanding that a healthy arts community is necessary for a vibrant and growing city.
During Columbus’ Bicentennial celebration in 2012, there was no stronger supporter for involvement of the arts and culture sector throughout the various events than Mayor Coleman. He encouraged initiatives that focused on Columbus’ strengths as an open and smart community that is constantly encouraging creativity and innovation. He was a champion for a major public art initiative—Finding Time: Public Art 2012—which received one of the top Our Town grants from the National Endowment Arts and involved the installation of more than a dozen works of temporary public art throughout the city. This opportunity for dialogue about a more permanent public art campaign provided a critical step for the community, and the Columbus Art Commission that Mayor Coleman seated with commissioners in 2007 for the first time since 1960.
There was a time when Columbus only seemed to receive national press for something related to college football. Today we are regularly part of lists that rank us high for everything from economic growth to being a top place for creative professionals to thrive. We are now viewed as a vibrant city and a cultural hub. That is no accident. We are growing in all the right ways because of leadership and thoughtful planning.
One of the reasons Columbus is doing well is because we have had a mayor who understood that arts and culture are essential investments for a booming city. He has left us with a magnificent legacy and I am honored to join in the celebration of Mayor Michael B. Coleman at the King Arts Complex on Oct. 1.
— Tom Katzenmeyer, Keep up with Tom’s adventures on Twitter: @tomkatzenmeyer