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Art Makes Columbus: David Butler Encourages Long-Term Arts Literacy

Walker Evans Walker Evans Art Makes Columbus: David Butler Encourages Long-Term Arts Literacy
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columbus-makes-artArt Makes Columbus. Columbus Makes Art. The Greater Columbus Arts Council (GCAC) is launching a new five-year marketing campaign to highlight the innovation and connectedness in the local arts community. The new program will highlight both individual artists and organizations from a wide variety of visual and performing arts mediums, with a goal of increasing awareness and boosting arts patronage all across Columbus.

This week, Columbus Underground is presenting a series of interviews with local creatives to find out what being an artist means to them, what they face as challenges, and what their hopes for the future are.

David Butler wants to help Columbus residents become more educated and knowledgeable when it comes to the arts.

“It’s all about literacy,” he explains. “Columbus is literate to a point. Some people know that Gallery Hop is an arts hub, and they know that Franklinton has been deemed an arts district. But they don’t know where The King Arts Complex is even located. To me, it’s crazy that we can have that disconnect.”

Earlier this year, Butler curated a very highly praised and well-attended group exhibition called Forceful Perceptions, held at the Elijah Pierce Gallery inside The King Arts Complex. The show benefited from the #BlackLivesMatter momentum in the public consciousness, and brought a new level of engagement and conversation on the topic here in Columbus.

“Perceptions was probably the most successful show they’ve ever put on… we had over 250 people come through the door on opening night,” he says. “Even if we can get people in the door once, we need to work on retention. There’s a reason that many galleries die off after five years. Creating arts literacy is worth investing in for the long term. Creativity doesn’t have to be a flash in the pan.”

Butler grew up immersed in the arts, so it’s easy to understand why he’s passionate about the topic that he’s devoted much of his life to. His father taught theater in Cincinnati, and Butler got his undergrad degree at the Columbus College of Art and Design. After getting his MFA in Philadelphia, he and his wife returned to Columbus to reconnect with a network of friends and continue to pursue artistic endeavors. He’s currently the artist in residence at the King Arts Complex, creating new work day in and day out, and helps out with the Creative Control Festival, an annual local event that returns in September.


“It’s not an easy decision to become an artist, and there’s always going to be some buzzfeed list that will say that an arts education or liberal arts education is worthless, but living in your true purpose is one of the happiest decisions I’ve ever made,” says Butler. “I’m not rich by any stretch, but I’m more aware and more thankful for what I do have because of it.”

As an entrepreneur, Butler says that painting for exhibitions has been his main source of income for the past five years, but he also moonlights as an adjunct professor at CCAD and has spent many years taking on freelance projects to help continue his career path as a creative.

“Columbus can be both a good place and a bad place, just like every other city, when it comes to providing opportunities for artists to make the money that they need to survive,” he states. “I know a lot of artists who don’t have healthcare. Lots of people don’t know that only 10% of artists are living solely off their craft. That’s a very small number. So it’s not always a collaborative environment out there… it can be pretty competitive.”

Butler says that individual artist grants from organizations like GCAC and the Ohio Arts Council are a big help, so that artists can get rid of the stress of living paycheck to paycheck and spend more time and attention working on their craft. He says that a grant can help an artist “be themselves for a bit longer” which he says is highly important to creating an interesting society to live in.

“Some people will say that artists aren’t worth funding, but I say screw that,” said Butler. “People utilize the arts every single day. You look at images all day, and I create images and experiences. You listen to music every day, and artists create music. You’re on a website that was designed by an artist. There’s creative thought that goes into building everything.”

When it comes to the efforts of GCAC’s new long-term marketing campaign for the arts in Columbus, Butler hopes that the efforts can help locals venture outside of their comfort zones both in terms of artistic styles as well as geographic locations.

“The King Arts Complex is always an advocate for up-and-coming artists of color who care about the world and social issues, but the downside is that a lot of people only care about those issues and the creative experiences during February,” he says. “The very next solo show I did the next month didn’t get the same reaction. It was a calmer show, so that tells me that people enjoy something more dramatic. But I don’t want these shows always filtered through a negative cloud. We can build up our community as well as we can comment on the things happening to it.”


“Everyone has a creative connection to something,” adds Butler. “I think that what a lot of artists in Columbus are trying to provide is motivation for others to do try something different. Art is an exchange, and I think everyone is trying to do their part.”

For more information on arts in Columbus, visit www.columbusmakesart.com.

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