Demolished, to Rise Again: What Streetlight Guild Means for Black Columbus
In early May 2019, a long forgotten building in the historic King-Lincoln Bronzeville neighborhood was demolished without warning. Adorning the building were four large murals depicting iconic black women by the late artist Jeff Abraxas, best known for his mural work around the neighborhood.
In the foyer of Streetlight Guild — the venue project by Scott Woods, founder of the nonprofit creative arts organization of the same name — hangs a tiny, framed teabag scroll painting by the artist Hemalatha Venkataraman. Venkataraman was inspired by the investment and reaction of local, mostly black artists devastated by the building demolition, including Woods. A section of that building’s wall is immortalized on this tiny tea bag, representing a recurring storyline in this particular neighborhood.
“She was really moved by the fact that people were invested in this thing that everybody thought was dead,” says Woods. “She did a section of that wall as it was before it was torn down, to be in conversation with the community, and with the values in the community and with the loss that came with it.”
Streetlight Guild sits at 1367 E. Main St., south of Broad Street in Old Towne East. The venue held an official opening on June 22, with performances and an exhibition by Richard Duarte Brown. But the project has been over a year in the making for Woods, who established Streetlight Guild as a nonprofit organization in 2017.
Currently, the venue consists of two floors, a first-floor performance venue space, and a second-floor gallery space. Eventually, Woods will fence in the backyard of the property for an additional performance stage, while the building’s walled off third floor sits idle until Woods feels he has “earned” the space.
In the process of looking for a venue for Streetlight Guild, Woods wasn’t tied to one specific part of town. But once they found this building, “It was a done deal,” he says. But it didn’t take long after work started on the building for boarded up windows started coming down and contractors started coming in.
“We knew that was coming. We kind of got in under the wire so to speak,” says Woods. “If we tried to do this now, we might not be able to afford this.”
Woods is extremely conscious of development’s undertaking of the Old Towne East area, which makes it even more important to be “on the frontline” of what is happening.
Many changes that happen in Columbus — whether the tearing down of a building or the co-opting of an underserved neighborhood — can feel dismissive of an entire culture. But when Abraxas’ mural came down, for once that disregard felt blatant, says Woods.
“Cause that was a really powerful moment when that building came down. It felt like our culture was dying,” he says. “You always kind of think you feel it, because things change. But that was like a really blatant example of not worrying about what people care about or believe in.”
1367 E. Main St., which previously operated as a hair salon, has had some history of reflecting the local community with curated talks and conversations. But its latest use — with Streetlight’s performance series’, creative writing and planning workshops and a month-long poetry series, among other events — will provide a much more stable point of contact for black and other underrepresented artists on Columbus’ East Side.
Where Streetlight Guild has already provided a voice to voiceless perspectives, its venue makes that perspective all the more valid.
“To me, I feel like we’re … right in the heart of it. You know, holding fast to the past, but obviously bringing the future with it,” says Woods. “I think a lot of the people doing the development feel like they’re doing that, but I think it’s a pretty obvious difference.”
For more information, visit Streetlight Guild’s website.