NEA Chairman Tours Columbus Art Scene

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Denny Griffith looks over a studio reminiscent of the popular TV series Project Runway. The president of Columbus College of Art and Design is showcasing the school’s growing campus to Rocco Landesman, the chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts.

One stop on the campus tour is a renovated design studio that’s halfway under construction. The building used to be a car dealership. Now the ramps and open space make it an ideal design studio and art gallery. On the top floor, students are just beginning to get to work as Landesman and company stops by.

The NEA chairman is in town to see how Columbus uses the arts to stimulate growth in its private and public sectors. He’s traveled across the nation to observe the ways art directly affects a city’s economy and community. Landesman says if the arts are thriving, so too are businesses and residents.

“It tends to attract a lot of economic activity. Businesses tend to want to move to where artists, and people who follow artists, are and you get a virtuous cycle where you get more people together, more businesses follow, more hiring gets done and there’s an economic momentum that gets established,” Landesman says.

Alex Fisher is the director of Columbus Partnership, an organization that is planning the next ten years for the city. He says art is as important to Columbus as the universities and corporations here.

“One of the key things we’re trying to do is not simply to focus on the retention and expansion and the growth of new companies in the area, and the relocation of new companies, but to tie it to the fabric of the arts and culture community here in Columbus,” Fisher says.

Landesman says Columbus is already an example of a city that nurtures the arts. He touted CCAD’s car dealership turned design studio as an example of progress made possible through art.

“What we’re interested in is how arts can be a catalyst for neighborhood revitalization, economic development, and urban renewal. There’s a lot of that happening here in Columbus and we want to showcase that, highlight it, and figure out ways that we can help and do more,” Landesman says.

Landesman’s visit to Columbus is one way the NEA is trying to do more. Getting outside of Washington gives the chairman a real look of what art can do for a community, and what challenges art and artists face today.

Landesman’s agenda takes him from CCAD and the Discovery District to the Wexner Center, and then to the Lincoln Theater. He says by visiting art organizations he will have more ideas for awarding grant money that’s appropriated by Congress. Last year alone, the NEA awarded more than $140 million to applicants across the country. One of the recipients was the Columbus Jazz Arts Group. It received more than $22,000.

As Landesman leaves the design studio, the art students get back to their projects. The floors below them are still being renovated. CCAD has plans for the space, but perhaps a grant from the NEA would speed up construction.

Jen Monroe, WOSU News.

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