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Gallery Hop Celebrates 30th Anniversary

Walker Evans Walker Evans Gallery Hop Celebrates 30th AnniversaryA scene from an early Gallery Hop event — Photo provided by the Short North Alliance.
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If you want to show off Columbus to visitors from out of town, there’s no better time and place to do it than the first Saturday of the month in The Short North during Gallery Hop. The monthly tradition is one of the most definitive experiences in Columbus where thousands of residents crowd onto the sidewalks to take in the city’s best art, culture, food, shopping and entertainment. And that monthly tradition is celebrating a special milestone on Saturday, October 4th as the event series turns 30 years old.

Gallery Hop wasn’t always as well known as it is today though. In fact, the very first try was basically a failure.

“Our first attempt at The Cooperative Opening was in January 1984 and it didn’t work,” explains Maria Galloway, owner of PM Gallery. “It was too cold and there was too much distance between the participating venues.”

Galloway served on the board of directors at the Art Reach Gallery, an arts venue that was located in The Yukon Building where Marcella’s is now operating. The event, which wasn’t even called Gallery Hop yet, was launched to drive traffic to the gallery in collaboration with a small handful of other shops. PM Gallery had opened at 726 North High Street in 1980, just three short blocks away, though Buttles was seen as the far north end of the district at the time.

After that failed first try, a second attempt didn’t happen again until October, but a lot had changed during those nine months. Matt Ungar purchased the Yukon Building to open the Functional Furnishings store, and the Art Reach Gallery relocated to East Lincoln, much closer to PM Gallery.

“When they opened in October, we thought that this was our chance to try it again because we don’t have the distance problem and it wasn’t cold anymore,” says Galloway. “We went from having 30 people in January to 300 people in October, so The Cooperative Opening was a success right off the bat.”

Other early participants in the monthly events included the Michael Allen Gallery and Hand Motions at 716 North High (now home to Ladybird), Unicef at 20 East Lincoln (now home to the Sharon Weiss Gallery), Mike’s Grill at 724 North High (still home to Mike’s Grill) and Ritchey’s at 714 North High (now home to Jeni’s Ice Creams).

“Artists at Hand Motions would make air brushed tshirts while you watched, and Ritchey’s carried stamps, coins, metals, estate jewelry, vintage clothing… it was the best junk shop in the world,” recalled Galloway. “Of all of the participants, only three were real art galleries.”

The Cooperative Opening continued to attract modest crowds for nearly a year until the launch of the Spangler Cummins Gallery in August 1985. The new dance performance venue opened a block south where the Sherrie Gallery and Cookware Sorcerer are now located, and with it came a new wave of success due in large part to dancer and owner Melinda Johnson.

“She and Maureen Whalen — the director of the Short North Business Association — got the word out through a great mailing list and great PR,” says Galloway. “That’s when it got named Gallery Hop, and it went from 300 people a month to 3,000 people a month. It’s been a force of nature ever since.”

The number of participating businesses has grown exponentially as the Short North’s boundaries and developed areas have continued to expand both northward and southward from the original epicenter at High and Lincoln. This weekend, you’re likely to find Gallery Hop attendees stretching from the I-670 cap all the way up past Fifth Avenue.

While the growth and evolution of Gallery Hop is exciting for some people, others bemoan the loss of certain galleries, shops and neighborhood institutions that have shuttered over the years to make way for more upscale restaurants, clothing boutiques and a handful of national chain establishments. Galloway even relocated her business further north in 2012, after 32 years at the same address. She sees the changes as organic though, and a part of the natural evolution of an arts district.

“Artists make an area desirable, and you can try to stall those changes, but you can’t stop it,” she says. “I’m hoping we get more galleries opening on the north end for what some might call a ‘purer’ Gallery Hop experience, but the truth is that it’s never just been only art galleries. Some of the best art can be found in the hair salons because they can take chances on what they exhibit. They’re not supported financially by what’s on the wall, and since they don’t live or die by selling it, they can have a little more fun with it.”

When asked about what Gallery Hop might look like in another 30 years, Galloway jokes a bit about the idea of Gallery Hop in 2044.

“By then it will include the entire campus area and it will have spread down all the side streets — a centipede of lights and activity from Downtown to OSU with everyone walking around in their anti-gravity boots,” she laughs. “Honestly, I do think that in another 30 years the hop in some form will still be going strong. It’s a great event and the city supports it and loves it. It’s one of those things that make Columbus a big city.”

For more information about Gallery Hop, visit www.shortnorth.org.

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