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Empowering Images Get a Push From Designing Local

Taijuan Moorman Taijuan Moorman Empowering Images Get a Push From Designing LocalApril Sunami's mural at Canabar. Photo by Taijuan Moorman.
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Designing Local has been tapped to helped curate a number of local murals, which have brightened up walls in Italian Village, Milo Grogan and the Near East Side.

The mural at Station 324 on Second Avenue includes a large clubhouse mural and an entry mural by artists Nick Stull and Liz Morrison. The other two are by artist April Sunami, whose murals can be seen at the large-scale residential development The Rise in Milo-Grogan and Canabar on Long Street. Both are nearly complete.

Station 324’s entry mural. Photo courtesy of Designing Local.

Avenue Partners is footing the bill for the murals at Station 324 and The Rise.

For the mural at Canabar, Josh Lapp, principal and co-founder of Designing Local, said Designing Local wanted to find an interesting way to see art on the Near East Side that also celebrated the African American experience.

“We had already been working with April on the Avenue Partners project. We knew of her and had seen her work, and seen some of the work that she did as part of the murals that were done Downtown following the May protests,” he said.

Sunami says the murals center on a subject she’s been depicting for the past 13 to 14 years — Black women.

“It’s become this framework to talk about other things,” she said.

Now she is transferring that work from fine art mediums to large-scale murals. For the mural at Canabar, in particular, she sees it as somewhat of a beacon for “community building and galvanizing.”

The two women in the piece represent different things, she says, but they’re together in the piece. One side represents night, while the other represents day.

She happy to be able to do a mural on Canabar, in particular. Gail Barnett, the owner of Canabar, has owned a number of bars on the Near East Side for some time. “I’m grateful that I get to put this empowering image of women of color on a building which a woman of color owns,” she said.

Sunami says with both of these new murals, she hopes people take away something.

“I feel like personally…I’m so angry and bewildered. And I have a lot of feelings right now about now, this moment and what the future holds and all that stuff,” she said. “But I feel like just doing these murals is so cathartic for me. And I hope that it is a glimmer of hope and a glimmer of beauty in somebody else’s day during this time.”

Sunami’s mural at The Rise. Photo courtesy of Designing Local.

The Canabar mural was funded by Designing Local and donations from the Columbus Partnership and community members in a first-time Facebook fundraising campaign to close the final gap. They made their goal for that campaign in about 24 hours.

“The response was kind of overwhelming and the fact that we could raise $1,000 for art and 24 hours to us was like, we need to do this more,” Lapp said. “It was personal for us too, because it’s in the neighborhood that we live in. But [that] definitely got our wheels turning.”

Lapp notes the unfortunate habit of artists being undervalued and not being paid what they’re worth. He wants to see more people and organizations like Avenue Partners and Columbus Partnership stepping up to support local art.

“We really need to move away from that and move towards a model of compensating artists for their time, just like any other professional, and really focusing particularly on underrepresented artists,” he said. “So female, people of color, indigenous people, people that just aren’t traditionally represented in the public realm.”

He says COVID-19 has brought uncertainty for the funding of public art, but the conversations that have been happening over the summer — on representation, on history, on symbolism — have shown public art to be more important than ever before.

He looks back at the start of protests this summer as a “defining experience” for Columbus in terms of public art, seeing more representation in the public realm.

“Now we’re looking at, are there ways to represent other stories and maybe more truthful stories in our cities? I think it’s a very exciting time because — just the explosion of murals that happened as a result of the protest, for me personally,” he continues. “I think that we see that with the conversations over the Columbus sculpture and other sculptures that have represented a story that was being told in the built environment, both in Columbus and around the country, about our history.”

Sunami says representation has always been necessary, not just now but at all times. And that’s also the gist of her work — putting Black women front and center.

“It’s always been important to be seen and to be represented where everybody else is,” she said. “This is what I really think is the good thing that comes out of this moment. For artists and black artists, in particular…this is how we express ourselves. This is how we speak. This is our form of resistance and our form of activism. And to be able to do that is really just responding to our calling.”

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