A chance to get an insider’s perspective into the minds behind Exhibit Columbus brought a wide spectrum of local residents and designers together to share beer and conversation about cutting-edge design.

Chicago designer Rick Valicenti was autographing Exhibit Columbus posters as he answered questions Thursday night about his thought process in creating the colorful graphic that promotes the exploration of architecture, art, design and community which begins later this month.

A crowd of more than 60 people gathered in the Upland Columbus Pump House for the first in a series of #drinking about design meet-up events which are continuing Thursday nights through November.

The meet-up events are designed to provide an insider view of the event that will showcase Columbus’ architectural treasures in a new light, highlighted with new installations in and around the downtown area.

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Some of those installations already are underway, including in Mill Race Park and another by local high school students at Washington and Seventh streets downtown. The Bartholomew County Public Library plaza and sidewalk was barricaded off in preparation for an installation was scheduled to begin Monday.

David Doup, president of Taylor Brothers Construction, which is helping supervise the installations, said he is having fun seeing designer visions come to life in the construction process.

“It’s been really fun to see the creativity and the form coming together,” he said. “We build and maintain a nice building, and that’s one-and-done. But to see all this creativity of these marvelous designers and to work with them has been great.”

Thursday night’s inaugural meet-up allowed participants to meet Valicenti and learn more about the colorful geometric Exhibit Columbus logo which now can be seen on banners lining Washington Street and in a large glass wrap on the former Republic building at 333 Second St.

Valicenti provided a mini preview of upcoming attractions that visitors will encounter when picking up informational material about the exhibit and touring the installations.

“If I were you, I’d be in the hotel business,” Valicenti wisecracked to the crowd. “The whole world is coming. Thank you for inviting me to get to know this city.”

Noting that the real star of Exhibit Columbus isn’t the graphic design promoting it, Valicenti said it was his job to be “loud and proud” in promoting the exhibition, and then getting out of the way and letting the installations tell the Columbus story.

He shared some of the design work underway for promotional items that will be available during the exhibition, including signage, kiosk design and promotional maps and booklets for visitors.

All of it is designed to blend cohesively into the presentation of the installations, right down to the gifts that will be going to the designers which are being custom-crafted symbolic batons, which will signify the passing of the torch, if you will, to a new generation of design visionaries, complete with a J. Irwin Miller quote.

Admitting to being a bit nervous about getting it all done, Valicenti said the city should have no problem carrying through and continuing the exhibition in future years with the momentum that is being created this year.

And, he pointed out, the city has the advantage of having the “Columbus” movie premiering — Sept. 1 at YES Cinema — during the exhibition in Columbus, a cinematic love letter to the city’s architecture.

Valicenti expressed his thanks to Jonathan Nesci, who worked in the same building in Chicago with him before moving to Columbus to continue his award-winning furniture design business and to Richard McCoy, one of the co-founders of Exhibit Columbus, for the opportunity to work on Exhibit Columbus with them.

In 2014, Nesci offered “100 Variations, New Reflections on Eliel Saarinen and the Golden Ratio,” an installation in the sunken courtyard of the First Christian Church by famed architect Eliel Saarinen. The installation was considered the pilot project for Exhibit Columbus.

Nesci, who sat with McCoy during Valicenti’s presentation, said Exhibit Columbus is a representation of the broad family of designers — artists, designers and architects — coming together to work on an idea that builds on Columbus’ architectural foundation.

“I see myself more as a talent connector,” Nesci said of working with the designers and curating for Exhibit Columbus.

“I’m thrilled to be here,” he said. “I came here for the schools and to raise a family and for the architecture. But the community is keeping me here.”

As Valicenti signed posters, he revealed a little bit about his own design process in coming up with the unique Exhibit Columbus logo.

The inspiration behind the logo, where “Columbus” is transformed graphically through a representation of downtown’s geographical shapes. Valicenti said he utilized Alexander Girard’s color palette on embroidered cushions on Saarinen Tulip chairs at the Miller home, along with a custom dining area rug in the Miller House.

There’s also a nod to Paul Rand’s enduring “Dancing C” design introduced in 1973 and now displayed on municipal branding and the bike racks throughout the city.

McCoy had asked for something playful with the spirit of Columbus within it — and Valicenti said he used the patterns at the Miller House, building it on the city grid.

“And then it becomes a coloring book,” he said.

The design also is available in other colors, monochrome and black and white and can be used in a variety of ways, including being built as an altar display for First Christian Church.

Several students from Indiana University attended Thursday night’s session, one speaking with Nesci about furniture design and another talking with Valicenti about a future in graphic design.

“I wanted this to talk to the next generation,” Valicenti said of his Exhibit Columbus work.

About the Exhibit Columbus logo

Rick Valicenti was commissioned to design the graphic identity for Exhibit Columbus, an annual exploration of architecture, art, design, and community that alternates programming between symposium and exhibition years.

The Exhibit Columbus Curatorial Team directed Thirst’s design process and encouraged a re-expression of mid-century optimism and a presence in this moment. The team also requested the graphic system be aligned with both Alexander Girard’s color palette for the Miller House and Garden interiors, and Paul Rand’s enduring identity program for the Columbus Area Visitors Center. Valicenti was joined by Taek Kim and Thirst for the implementation.

The inaugural 2016 symposium for Exhibit Columbus, “Foundations and Futures,” welcomed Internationally recognized experts along with community leaders who have helped build and maintain Columbus’ landmarks.

The 2017 inaugural exhibition, Aug. 26-Nov. 26, will feature winning works for the five J. Irwin and Xenia S. Miller Prizes of temporary architecture or art. Other components of the exhibition will include installations created by students from universities and Columbus schools.

Exhibit Columbus

What: Exhibit Columbus

When: Opening weekend events, Aug. 24-26, continuing through Nov. 26

Where: 18 Exhibit Columbus installations are in and around downtown

How much: Many events are free and some are ticketed. To learn more and plan your tour of the installations, visit exhibitcolumbus.org

Want to meet up?

#drinkingaboutdesign is a new weekly meet-up created to engage the community and connect fans of good design with some of the people who are making Exhibit Columbus happen. The next one is 4 to 6 p.m. Thursday at Upland Columbus Pump House, 148 Lindsey St., Columbus. It will feature a talk by Chris Cornelius of studio indigenous.

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Julie McClure is assistant managing editor of The Republic. She can be reached at jmcclure@therepublic.com or (812) 379-5631.