Exhibit Columbus has eye on the prize

The new Exhibit Columbus architecture event could attract up to 10,000 people for its temporary, three-month art and architecture installations in 2017 and perhaps up to 1,000 attendees for a two-day symposium this fall with nationally known design leaders.

Richard McCoy, who announced the initiative in May as a project of his Landmark Columbus organization, made the projection after a meeting Wednesday at the Columbus Area Visitors Center downtown.

The gathering that attracted about 50 people, including representatives from the arts community, the philanthropic world, the business sector and other local segments, lightly contrasted Exhibit Columbus with ArtPrize.

That’s a 19-day, all-encompassing fall arts festival, begun in 2009, which already has grown to attract 400,000 people — the biggest art event in the world, according to the Art Newspaper — to a three-mile area of downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan.

It boasts a local economic impact of $27.5 million and awards $500,000 in prizes, split between a juried award and a people’s choice award.

Kevin Buist, director of exhibitions for ArtPrize, characterized fairly simply the event that during its annual run each day outdraws each of the world’s major art museums. And Grand Rapids metro population of about one million people is hardly a New York or Los Angeles, ArtPrize organizers say.

“ArtPrize is where anyone can find a voice about what is art and why it matters,” Buist said.

The extravaganza, fueled by a 15-member staff and 1,000 volunteers, includes two- and three-dimensional art, music, dance, film, live performance art and almost anything else under the sun, Buist said. It includes everyone from beginning creators to polished professionals and attracts nearly 1,500 artists from all over the world making funky pieces to fine works.

They exhibit their work in venues ranging from bars to laundromats to galleries.

Buist said the broad mix of art and artists at ArtPrize created a healthy tension that has made the event a success as a hodgepodge happening, if you will.

In one of the slides accompanying Buist’s presentation, an ArtPrize participant wore what looked like an oversized, inflatable star of sorts as they walked the streets.

Exhibit Columbus’ inaugural symposium, “Foundations and Futures,” featuring nationally known designers with Columbus ties, will occur Sept. 29 to Oct. 1 and the inaugural exhibition will open in August and run through November 2017.

McCoy, Landmark Columbus’ director, mentioned that he especially admires how ArtPrize has kept its artist and exhibition guidelines uncluttered.

“I really like what Kevin has said about keeping the rules simple (for artists) and then hoping for complex outcomes,” McCoy said.

He and Kelly Wilson, director of the Indiana University Center for Art + Design, mentioned to the crowd how they and other Exhibit Columbus organizers briefly considered including in their event a people’s choice award besides the J. Irwin and Xenia S. Miller Prize Competition in 2017.

J. Irwin Miller was responsible for launching Columbus’ foray into the refined architecture world when he selected Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen to design First Christian Church, completed in 1942. McCoy said he was excited to note that next year, just in time for the Exhibit Columbus exhibition and competition, that structure will mark its 75th anniversary.

Jeremy Efroymson, a seasoned arts leader, collector, and philanthropist, was a guest at Wednesday’s discussion. He has been a past participant at ArtPrize, and is a current supporter of Exhibit Columbus because of his role as vice president of the Efroymson Family Fund, known especially for its financial push for the arts in Indiana and nationwide.

He also once served as executive director of the Indianapolis Museum for Contemporary Art. He said after the meeting that Exhibit Columbus has tremendous drawing potential.

“People have to remember that Columbus is right on I-65, and people come by here every day,” Efroymson said. “And to get to Grand Rapids, you really have to drive out of your way pretty far up into Michigan. When you put a spotlight on the architecture here, it will work, and there will be even more prestige here.”

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Brian Blair is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at bblair@therepublic.com or 812-379-5672.