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Naturally Impactful: The Cultural Arts Center Serves as a Catalyst in Many Ways

Anne Evans Anne Evans Naturally Impactful: The Cultural Arts Center Serves as a Catalyst in Many WaysThe Ohio State Arsenal which was preserved and transformed into the Cultural Arts Center in the 1970s. Photo courtesy Columbus Recreation and Parks Department.
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With all of the changes that have recently happened along the riverfront Downtown and Bicentennial Park, it is hard to imagine the area at its beginning. In 1861, the Ohio State Arsenal was built at 139 W. Main Street. It served its purpose storing arms until the mid-1970s when a transformation into the Cultural Arts Center gave it new life as the anchor for the Scioto Mile and Bicentennial Park redevelopment into beautiful urban parkland. With the move Downtown, even more adults could participate in the classes that serve anyone with an interest in art.

The Ohio State Arsenal before its transformation. Photo courtesy Schooley Caldwell.

The Ohio State Arsenal before its transformation. Photo courtesy Schooley Caldwell.

“That whole end of Downtown was pretty quiet those days,” says Bob Loversidge, President and CEO of what’s now Schooley Caldwell and was then Schooley-Cornelius Associates, the architecture firm chosen in 1976 to lead the restoration and renovation of the armory into the arts center. “It was kind of a bold move for Mel Dodge to transform this ramshackle building.”

Loversidge had just joined the firm and the Cultural Arts Center was one of the first projects he worked on.

“It was one of the first important preservation projects [in Columbus],” he says. “Mel had a vision for Downtown that was ahead of its time. I was excited about historical preservation projects, and they [Schooley-Cornelius Associates] were doing it.”

The opening of the Cultural Arts Center at 139 W. Main Street, in 1978. Photo courtesy Schooley Caldwell.

The opening of the Cultural Arts Center at 139 W. Main Street, in 1978. Photo courtesy Schooley Caldwell.

A futuristic imagining of Downtown by Schooley-Cornelius Associates, with the Cultural Arts Center as the focus. Courtesy Schooley Caldwell.

A futuristic imagining of Downtown’s riverfront by Schooley-Cornelius Associates, with the Cultural Arts Center as the focus. Courtesy Schooley Caldwell.

The original wooden floor and the cast iron pillars were incorporated into the workshop and gallery areas. Photo courtesy Schooley Caldwell.

The original wooden floor and the cast iron pillars were incorporated into the workshop and gallery areas. Photo courtesy Schooley Caldwell.

“Both the Scioto Mile and the Cultural Arts Center are part of the Columbus Recreation and Parks Department,” says Geoffrey Martin, Arts Administrator for the CAC. “We see CAC as an anchor of the Scioto Mile and leverage the juxtaposition of CAC and the Scioto Mile to strengthen its holistic approach to the citizens of Columbus. Physical and Cultural activity combine to strengthen the development of Downtown and provide opportunities for all age groups, abilities, interests, and needs.”

The Adult Art Center program initially began at the firehouse located on Oak Street. It quickly outgrew that location. There are now twenty-two instructors at the Cultural Arts Center, and the center sees 750 adults during each 8-week term.

“Our student base is made up of hobbyists, designers, artists, makers and art lovers,” says Martin. “Some are professionals who come here because they love the atmosphere and the studios so much. Some are total beginners who show up to work with one of our talented instructors.”

Painting instructor Michael Guinane leads a class. Photo courtesy CRPD.

Painting instructor Michael Guinane leads a class. Photo courtesy CRPD.

In addition to classes, the Cultural Arts Center is home to a gallery space and a gift shop.

“Many of our students sell the work they make at CAC Gift shop,” says Veda Gilp, Marketing Manager for the Cultural Arts Center. “The jewelry is amazing and you know every piece that comes out of the shop is totally unique.”

Current students, staff, and faculty may sell their work in the shop and student work must be approved by the student’s instructor as well as the shop manager, Ann Jelett.

Students on the ceramic wheels. Photo courtesy CRPD.

Students on the ceramic wheels. Photo courtesy CRPD.

Interior of the Cultural Arts Center. Photo courtesy CRPD.

Interior of the Cultural Arts Center. Photo courtesy CRPD.

A fiber arts project. Photo courtesy Cultural Arts Center.

A fiber arts project. Photo courtesy Cultural Arts Center.

Classes include the following disciplines: Ceramics, Painting and Printmaking, Book Arts, Jewelry and Copper Enameling, Beading, Sculpture, and Fiber Arts.

“We always are seeking new classes, as students express interest in them,” says Glip. “For instance we just recently added Plein Air and Encaustic painting. We also have a Workshop series with one day or short term experience in everything from Blacksmithing to IPad Apps for the Artist.”

The Cultural Arts Center does offer tours to the public, and you are able to see much of the building. Stairwells are in two of the shot towers.

The opening of Dare to be Heard. Photo courtesy Cultural Arts Center.

The opening of Dare to be Heard. Photo courtesy Cultural Arts Center.

This weekend, the Cultural Arts Center is taking part in the Columbus Open Studio and Stage event. On Saturday, October 8 and Sunday, October 9, from 11am to 5pm, you will be able to experience classes in progress, a blacksmithing workshop, a docent led tour of the current exhibition Dare to be Heard, and explore the building.

Dare to be Heard was designed specifically to explore the perceptions of women and the challenges shaping their creative identities,” says Martin. “In this major exhibition, curated by Stephanie Rond, we’re exploring issues of gender discrimination in nearly every aspect of life through the lens of the arts. The goal is to create a dialogue within the greater Columbus Community about the experiences of women across time and culture.”

Sculpting clay. Photo courtesy CRPD.

Sculpting clay. Photo courtesy CRPD.

Glip finds the Cultural Arts Center enriching on all aspects.

“This is a place to learn to make art, to learn about art, to experience art, to become an artist,” she says. “There is no discrimination towards the novice; everyone is in this together. People become friends in the studios. This is such a vibrant place, humming-with-life and creativity.”

Sam Peterson spoke to Columbus Underground last year about the ceramic centerpieces he created for his wedding and noted that he had been a student at the Cultural Arts Center for six years.

“Over the years, when other students have gotten married they’ve made wedding favors, or other ceramic pieces for their own weddings,” he said. “I always thought that was a great idea.”

Martin expands on how students often flourish in the environment of the Cultural Arts Center.

“I love the community that is created in this building,” he says. “People help each other. Experienced students share with beginners. It makes everyone a better artist. You see people peaking across the way, getting inspired by what is happening at a neighboring work table or even the neighboring studio. It’s not uncommon at all for someone to come here for a ceramics or painting class, and then eventually getting excited by another form and trying something totally different and new.”

The Cultural Arts Center is located in Downtown Columbus at 139 W. Main Street,
Columbus, Ohio 43215. For more information about the Cultural Arts Center’s offerings, visit culturalartscenteronline.org.

CRPDLogowith_MayorNaturally Impactful is brought to you by the Columbus Recreation and Parks Department, which works to enrich and change the lives of our citizens. The column is an effort to share the story of how the pillars of Health and Wellness, Conservation and Social Equity drive the work we do. Each month the column will focus on different sections of the department using these pillars to create a positive impact on our residents’ and visitors’ quality of life along with providing basic knowledge of the Columbus Recreation and Parks Department, #CRPD. To find more about upcoming happenings at your Columbus Recreation and Parks, visit their Facebook page, Twitter page, or columbus.gov/recreationandparks.

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