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A Conversation with the Cornas

Tue, Sep 27, 2011

Mark, Sophia, and Josh Corna at the Wex
Many businesses and corporations find rewarding and creative ways to support and collaborate with the Wexner Center. President Mark Corna, Senior Vice President Josh Corna, and Marketing Manager Sophia Corna recently spoke with Corporate Campaign Manager Chris Koenig about their company's partnership with the Wex since 1998. (An excerpt from this conversation appeared in the September/October 2011 issue of the We's calendar of events. Here's the complete version.)

Chris Koenig: How did you become interested in the Columbus arts scene?

Mark Corna: I had a transformative experience when I first heard Bob Dylan's album The Times They Are a-Changin' in 1964. That led to a lifetime passion for music, reading, and many other aspects of the arts. I first became formally involved in the arts when I joined the board of ProMusica in 1985, and I have been participating on Columbus arts boards ever since.

Josh Corna: Through my parents, who taught me to enjoy the arts in many different forms, including visual arts, performing arts, and music.

Sophia Corna: My parents introduced my brother and me to arts at a young age; we attended festivals, concerts, museums, live performances, etc. As a kid I also attended the Columbus College of Art and Design (CCAD) summer art program.

CK: How do you “reconcile” running a business and “giving back?”

MC: I have often heard Les Wexner say, “Doing well by doing good” and we share that belief. Since we are raising families and running a business in Columbus, it is in our best interest to make Columbus the best city it can be. As Columbus progresses and improves, we all do better.

CK: Through the Real Estate Division at Limited Brands, Corna Kokosing and the Corna family have been very involved with supporting and attending the Wexner Center. Talk about your experiences over the past thirteen years.

MC: The Wexner Center Anniversary Party is one the great social events of the year. In addition, we take advantage of the world-class offerings of the center as often as possible. We feel very fortunate to have the Wexner Center in Columbus, which gives us access to cultural offerings of the highest order.

JC: Besides enjoying the Anniversary Party every year, my wife and I have enjoyed many exhibitions and musical performances over the years. I also make a special trip to the Store every year before Christmas to purchase special gifts.

SC: The Wexner Center Anniversary Party is one of Columbus's events that I look forward to every year. It's always changing and constantly surprising the guests.

CK: It's important to note that the Corna family and Corna Kokosing are involved in many community organizations. Why do you think the Wexner Center is important to Columbus? Please elaborate on what else in the community the company/family feels is an important cultural feature in Columbus.

MC: The Wexner Center is part of arguably the most important institution in Columbus—The Ohio State University. In addition, the Wexner Center brings outstanding cultural offerings from around the world. We firmly believe that a thriving cultural community is critical to the success of a city, both from the perspective of quality of life and economic development. We also believe the Columbus Museum of Art is a cultural treasure of Columbus.

JC: We realize the importance of art and that it creates a more balanced, well-rounded, and intelligent community. The Wexner Center helps create this by offering such a wide array of experiences, performances, exhibitions, and classes that can be enjoyed by so many people. I also like the fact that it is on a college campus and can draw young people in and influence them to understand, enjoy, and appreciate art, hopefully, for a lifetime.

SC: The Wexner Center offers a different kind of experience, almost an interactive one at times. I also enjoy the offerings of the Columbus Museum of Art, CCAD, CAPA, and all of the independent arts organizations around the city.

CK: What were some of your first impressions of the Wex?

MC: My first impression of the Wex was, “What fun!” The architecture felt whimsical and the first exhibits I experienced were sensory pleasures.

JC: I knew it was a special building for our city.

SC: Different—in a good way.

CK: Do you have any favorite experiences with Wex programming?

MC: I really liked the Warhol exhibition. I am a child of the sixties and was very into all of the cultural icons Warhol captured in his art. As an ex-anal retentive carpenter, I was also extremely impressed with the hanging and staging of the exhibit—it was perfect (oh those Germans).

JC: My wife and I brought two of our children to a stage performance when they were very young and afterwards there was a question and answer period on stage with the performers. I think it made our kids realize that the people on stage, who were able to create these wild characters and stories, were actually just real people who were talented enough to make us all believe they were the characters they had created.

SC: I attended the GenWex Off the Grid party this year for the first time. It was great to see the local art community and younger people in the city get together to put on such a fun and supportive event.

CK: Corna Kokosing has supported the Wexner Center with in-kind contributions in the past. Could you discuss those projects?

MC: We worked on the renovation of the theater, the reception desk, and the café area in 2004 and provided in-kind support during those projects. The work in the theater helped transform it into an up-to-date, more comfortable facility that works much better than it had previously. We enjoy attending events in the new theater much more than we did before. We enjoyed working on the reception desk because the architect, Jerome Scott, came up with, what in our opinion, is a great design and we were able to exhibit our woodworking skills in manufacturing it.

CK: As a construction company, do you have a special affinity for architecture? If so, can you comment on the architecture of the Wexner Center?

MC: We have had the honor of being involved in several iconic projects in Columbus. In addition, coming from an Italian heritage, we have a great appreciation for good design. We also come from a lineage of stone masons and stone masons were the master builders (magistri comacini) of the great cathedrals in Europe. So yes, we do have a special affinity for architecture. The architecture of the Wexner Center certainly stands out in the physical landscape of Columbus and Ohio State. My favorite definition of art is that expressed by Tolstoy in What is Art?—an artist's expression that allows another person to feel the emotions articulated by the artist. The architecture of the Wexner Center generally results in an emotional response—whether positive or negative—to the physical expression of the architect's vision.

JC: Buildings themselves can be public art and hence the architects are the artists. The Wexner Center itself is public art. I always enjoy trying to figure out what the artist or architect was thinking when they created their work. When you read about the ideas behind the design of the Wexner Center, it is very interesting how it reflects so much of the community and the building (the old Armory) that once stood there, while at the same time being such a unique structure.
PARKING UPDATE: Construction at 15th and High. For more information click here.

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