Artists Breathe New Life into Old Buildings from Columbus and Cleveland
By Mona Gazala
Sunday, June 5, 2011 in Columbus, Ohio. I parked around the corner on Lucas Street, and Adam Tensen walked up to meet me, with drill in hand, to unscrew the boarded-up doors inside. The front of the warehouse was a maze of newly subdivided rooms – new artist studios. But the rest of the building was still in an organic state, being rescued from years of disuse and ruin. I followed Adam around in the dark, through large cavernous rooms where you could hear the sound of water cascading from a leaky roof. Through a courtyard with concrete walls and alcoves half hidden beneath overgrown plants. Up a stairway and past rusted industrial artifacts, to where you could look out across a vast rooftop towards the downtown skyline.
But then we stopped in the second floor area next to Lucas Street, with its three walls of tall, mullioned windows. No amount of dirt could keep the setting sun from piercing through that space and lighting it up like a forgotten jewel. I stood at one end, looking down this football-field of a room. The glass glittered, the paint on the wood ceiling peeled in elaborate designs, and vines grew inside through broken windows. A startled bird flew up from somewhere behind a dusty pile of bricks.
That was 400 West Rich, a 100,000 square-foot mass of old warehouse space that is being transformed into a budding artist community in the west-side Columbus neighborhood of Franklinton. Less than a year later, 400 West Rich has already hosted numerous arts events and concerts, and a gallery exhibition. Little by little, plans are in the works for the building to include dining, retail, and workshop spaces. And the “glass palace” that I fell in love with upstairs? That has already been subdivided into artist studios, with bullpen walls that still allow that glorious light to pour out across the immense expanse of ceiling.
And one of those studios is now mine.
Fast forward ten years into the future for 400 West Rich, and you might see a well-run complex of high-end galleries, emerging artist galleries, studios, band performance space and retail shops, with a brilliant marketing machine of once-monthly “ArtWalks” held inside the building, and so many people in attendance that the expansive parking lot outside is overflowing.
This is not such a far-fetched future, because it is a reality 150 miles to the north in Cleveland, at 78th Street Studios. Carved and subdivided from a car factory and other adjoining buildings., 78th Street Studios has been honed by owner Dan Bush and his tenants over the last ten years into what has been called, and not inaccurately, an “arts mecca” in the Detroit-Shoreway community of Cleveland’s near west side.
Three floors and several thousand square feet of every imaginable art venue awaits visitors here every Third Friday. The Touch Supper Club food truck is parked outside for the hungry, and if you stay late, a couple of the spaces will have bands playing.
And here too, at 78th Street, you could say that one of the studios is “mine.” Or rather that it has belonged to my organization, Cleveland West Art League, since early 2011. And I –we – have all seen firsthand how a forgotten and sprawling warehouse building can be turned into a destination and a transformative power in the neighborhood through the collective vision and energy of artists and creative minds.
Mona Gazala is the Executive Director of Cleveland West Art League, at 78th Street Studios in Cleveland. See http://www.clevelandwestartleague.com/ for news on their current Six in Studio Project and other exhibitions.
Gazala also runs Second Sight Studio at 400 West Rich in Columbus as a personal working studio, with guest artists invited to show during building events. See the work of photographer Alena Rosa Reyes on Saturday April 14. https://www.facebook.com/SecondSightSecondSiteStudio
Links to 78th Street Studios and 400 West Rich: