February is Black History Month and I am excited about the wealth of arts programming happening throughout the city to honor and celebrate the vital contributions of African-American artists to the world.
On Feb. 13 the King Arts Complex is hosting an inter-generational panel to discuss the impact of growing up on Mt. Vernon Avenue and pay homage to one of the most culturally rich areas of Columbus—the near east side. In the early part of the 20th century the King-Lincoln district was a vibrant African-American neighborhood and cultural hub. One of the gems in this neighborhood was the Lincoln Theatre (originally named The Ogden), which was nationally known as a hotspot for jazz.
Highway construction in the 1960s and ’70s cut the district off from the rest of downtown and the area (like others near downtown) suffered. Fortunately for Columbus, in the 21st century, former Mayor Michael B. Coleman and city leaders committed significant resources to revitalize the King-Lincoln District, including the renovation of the beautiful Lincoln Theatre. An important feature of this project was a new, capped bridge that connects the district to the rest of the city with a promenade, small park and a stunning mural that celebrates the many prominent African Americans—leaders and artists—who are part of Columbus’ character. These architectural elements are a daily celebration of Columbus’ culture.
The King Arts Complex will also be hosting, in the coming month, a History of Black Music event and an Aminah Robinson Day—a celebration of one of Columbus’ greatest visual artists. Aminah has had an enormous impact on Columbus’ culture. Her work can be seen in multiple public spaces, from an outdoor mural on Long Street near Washington Avenue to a large painting prominently displayed in the downtown Hilton Hotel lobby.
We are fortunate that the Columbus Museum of Art has a strong showing of Aminah’s artwork in its permanent collection. Several of these pieces are currently up in the museum as part of a collaboration with the August Wilson Festival—as are works by Romare Bearden and Stephen Longstreet.
The August Wilson Festival is a multi-media, multi-organizational collaboration that includes the Short North Stage, Columbus Museum of Art, Denison University, the Fort Hayes Metropolitan Education Center, the Johnston Fund for new Music, the King Arts Complex and PAST Productions Columbus. August Wilson is one of America’s greatest playwrights and is famous for his Century Cycle, which explored African-American life in the early 20th century (if you want some great insight into the writer and the festival, check out the wonderful piece in the Columbus Dispatch). Events in Columbus will occur throughout 2016 and include music, visual arts, dance, several stagings of August Wilson’s plays, and the King Arts Complex is planning a free screening and discussion of the PBS documentary on August Wilson in February.
On Feb. 5 the Ohio Art League X Space Gallery is presenting Perceptions, Reflections on Black Lives, a Group Exhibition curated by Columbus artist David Michael Butler (who is also a featured artist Art Makes Columbus/Columbus Makes Art). The Wexner Center for the Arts’ next major exhibition (which runs through April) features work by Noah Purifoy, a legend in the California arts scene during the mid 20th century who had a distinct impact on the development of contemporary art. He was also the first African American to graduate from what is now CalArts. And, on Jan. 21 the Wex kicked off the Witness: Black Independent Film series with Spike Lee’s first feature length film She’s Gotta Have It.
This is just a taste of what’s coming up in 2016. While I am delighted with the programs specifically developed to celebrate Black History Month, I am grateful to live in a city that doesn’t limit its celebration of African-American culture and artists to 28 short days.
— Tom Katzenmeyer, Keep up with Tom’s adventures on Twitter: @tomkatzenmeyer