Recap: hear here

Anna Talarico, Graduate Assistant, Exhibitions

Dec 05, 2019

Representatives of current and past DIY artist spaces in Ohio pose together for a photo during the public event hear here: artist-run spaces and collectives in Ohio November 16, 2019 at the Wexner Center for the Arts

Below, Wex graduate assistant Anna Talarico offers her impressions of the November 16 event hear here: artist-run spaces and collectives in Ohio

As HERE: Ann Hamilton, Jenny Holzer, and Maya Lin has unfolded in and around Columbus, questions continue to surface about place and placemaking in Ohio. Organizing HERE sparked conversations with alternative and DIY artist spaces about how their organizations respond to—and resist—the conditions of being an artist in Ohio. hear here: artist-run spaces and collectives in Ohio on November 16, 2019 provided a platform for these dialogues and addressed the needs, triumphs, and complex challenges of this vibrant, growing community.  

hear here convened nine organizations at the Wex who represent Ohio’s vast landscape of alternative and DIY art spaces: Anytime Dept. (Cincinnati), The Blue House Gallery (Dayton), Cart Pushers (Columbus), friend (Columbus), Maroon Arts Group (Columbus), MINT (Columbus), The Neon Heater (Findlay), No Place (Columbus), and Wave Pool (Cincinnati). As artists and creatives living and working outside of major art capitals, Ohio’s infinite possibilities are redefining how they think about their practice. Lydia Rosenberg of Anytime Dept. shared, “If there’s anything that I’ve learned about running an art space in Ohio, it’s that you can do it anywhere.” 

Almost unanimously, these spaces have emerged out of a need to address opportunities where they currently do not exist, a trend across Ohio that Oriana Hirschberg of Columbus-based friend has noticed. From artist residencies to studio spaces and exhibitions, these collectives exist “in-between museums and galleries” (as Cal Cullen of Wave Pool put it) and serve artists who need resources and basic provisions to further their practices. 

An overhead shot of the November 16, 2019 event hear here: artist-run spaces and collectives in Ohio, in the Performance Space at the Wexner Center for the Arts. Photo: Katie Spengler Gentry

Many of these organizations have grounded their missions in what they can do for artists beyond what larger institutions already provide. Friend was established earlier this year with the intention to provide accessible, interdisciplinary art program to emerging artists. Cart Pushers co-founders Ken Nurenberg and Misty Alvaro created their Columbus artist residency out of wondering, who needs us, what can we give? For them, the answers were simple: artists need space, tools, and time to make work, and maybe an occasional meal. 

Wave Pool and Maroon Arts Group (MAG) support similar artist interests as well as their immediate communities. Wave Pool, which celebrates its fifth anniversary this year, has expanded its program to include professional development for artists, a curatorial residency, and community outreach in their urban Camp Washington neighborhood, among other projects. MAG founder Sheri Neale explained that their collective had no intention of growing beyond its first project in 2015, but an outpouring of community support for MAG changed Neale’s mind. Since 2015, MAG has addressed cultural and social needs for Columbus’ communities of African descent through arts-related programing. Now, MAG is looking ahead to 2020, which will mark five years of film series, lectures, exhibitions, and writer residencies, among other projects. 

With the relatively low-profile under which these spaces operate, we collectively wondered about their life cycles, and how these organizations operate with or without brick-and-mortar buildings. This question is central to Ian Breidenbach and Emily Jay of The Neon Heater, who relocated to Lubbock, Texas for their respective graduate programs. Although Breidenbach and Jay recently entrusted The Neon Heater to two new directors, the project itself transcends their Findlay space. The mission of “the Heater,” as Breidenbach and Jay have nicknamed it, will exist as Heater Theatre, a film/video project they are currently developing in Lubbock.

Maritt Vaessin of MINT shared a history that was unique to the other organizations’ experiences but is one that many DIY organizations around the country faced after the 2016 Ghost Ship fire in Oakland, California. Between 2014 and 2017, the Columbus-based collective supported underrepresented artists and communities through exhibitions, studio spaces, gatherings, performances, and talks. Despite their collaboration with local officials to improve their space–which was formerly a 17,000 square foot meat processing facility on Columbus’ south side—pressure from the city and lack of resources made it impossible for MINT to continue in its then-present form. Although MINT members have worked on projects together since, active MINT members are currently interested in the history of alternative art spaces in Ohio and exploring the shared culture of these groups across the Midwest.

Rebecca Steele and Lydia Rosenberg of Anytime Dept. began their space as a way to bring artistic voices from around the country to Cincinnati. During its experimental two-year run, Anytime Dept. hosted a series of exhibitions and dinners whose success Rebecca attributed to the very nature of artist spaces, which have a “sense of immediacy that is tied to place.” Columbus’s No Place Gallery operates with a parallel interest in the artistic possibilities of alternative spaces. The gallery itself was “lovingly built from re-purposed and up-cycled materials and walls from neighboring art institutions,” according to their website. Echoing this spirit, the space’s founder and director, James McDevitt-Stredney, discussed the “practicality of aesthetics” as a core component of their mission and program. 

A table of participants at the November 16, 2019 event hear here: artist-run spaces and collectives in Ohio, in the Performance Space at the Wexner Center for the Arts. Photo: Katie Spengler Gentry

Every representative at hear here has a link to Ohio as either a place of departure or return—it’s their birthplace, where they went to school, or otherwise. A combination of these factors brought Ashley Jonas and Nick Arnold to Dayton, where they own The Blue House Gallery. Jonas noted that Ohioans—by birth or by choice—have a keen, strong allegiance to their towns and cities, which Arnold added is something they have built into their program. Blue House has partnered with other local institutions and universities to co-host opportunities, such as artist talks and workshops, that bring artists—not just their work—to Dayton. Many of the organizations, like Blue House, are eager to build a network between institutions, museums, artists, and communities to redefine Ohio’s place in the contemporary art landscape.  

As the day concluded, we wondered what the future holds for these nine spaces—a musing that produced more questions than answers. Some are no longer in operation while others are still growing, but collectively, they have tremendously shifted the conversation around contemporary art in Ohio and beyond. The Wex was honored to host nine organizations whose shared ethos of community-oriented, socially-motivated opportunities for contemporary art push our understanding of what it means to be here. 


Event photos by Katie Spengler Gentry.