Art Makes Columbus: Eric Barker Sets the Stage for Local Theater
Art 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.
When you go out to see local theater, your attention is centered upon the actors and performers. But the performance wouldn’t have soul without many other efforts from behind-the-scenes creatives that work on lighting, music, set design, costumes, makeup and all of the other technical aspects of the show. Eric Barker is one of those people who’s work you have likely already admired, whether you realized it or not. As a Scenic Designer for CATCO and Opera Columbus, Barker has set the stage for a wide variety of local productions.
Barker got started in the theater at an early age, citing his mother’s active involvement in community theater as his entry point into this world. Professionally, he veered away at first, turning his career ambitions toward restaurant design before returning to school more recently to obtain his Masters Degree and shift his focus back to theatrical production work.
“I always treated hospitality design as a theatrical space,” explains Barker. “When a customer would walk in the doors, I want to make them feel transported to a different environment… it’s visual, it’s audial, it’s not just about the food. So whether you’re having a burger or watching Shakespeare, I want to create an experience for the guest and create something they can talk about.”
Barker’s relationship with Columbus has been off-and-on over the years as he has traveled to other parts of the country for both school and work. He says that the time spent away from Columbus has allowed him to really appreciate what the city has become.
“I lived in Columbus for 17 years and then moved to California thinking I was done with Midwest forever,” he shares with a laugh. “But I’m a midwestern boy at heart, and I missed it. When I returned after being gone for three years I couldn’t believe the transformation. The visual arts are more prominent in the Short North with new murals on buildings and there’s a new vibe Downtown… it’s come alive. It’s very exciting.”
That doesn’t mean that arts and culture isn’t without its challenges in Columbus. Barker says that thinks the city could benefit from having a more pronounced Downtown “Theater District” that could be considered a stronger entertainment destination. And of course, funding is always an ongoing concern.
“Budgeting is always a challenge because we always want to do more,” he explains. “That’s human nature, so there’s always that struggle to want to do more than a theater community can afford. If you look at other cities, they have more funding set aside for the arts. That’s changing in Columbus, and there’s some great support already, but it’s going to take some time to get there. It’s like steering the Titanic.”
Barker wants to see the new Columbus Makes Art / Art Makes Columbus campaign help out not only with funding, but with reaching a larger regional audience when promoting local performances.
“I want people to drive for three hours to come to Columbus for theatre,” he says. “This campaign is impressive and I’m very curious to see what it will do for the city and for my fellow artists. I don’t know of any other cities that are campaigning like this for arts, which says a lot about Columbus.”
For more of Eric’s story, visit CLICK HERE to visit www.columbusmakesart.com.