Two weeks before 18 creative spinoff structures make their debut alongside iconic local architecture, questions are arising simultaneously.

“What is it?” a visitor asked recently of a rounded, artistic installation called “Another Circle,” which consists of 1,100 limestone pieces scattered like parts of outdoor theater seating near Mill Race Park’s Round Lake.

It, according to Richard McCoy, one of the event founders, is another opportunity for Columbus to build on its reputation as a national leader in Modernist buildings.

In theory, it also is part of the city’s architectural revival that is making old things new again, organizers say. It is awakening Columbus’ past glory and publicity to new possibilities and perhaps future architecturally significant buildings.

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McCoy and Anne Surak work as two of the more visible members of a 12-person team choreographing the Exhibit Columbus exhibition. Running from Aug. 26 to Nov. 26 mostly in the downtown area, Exhibit Columbus will highlight works ranging from a tepee-style effort to one featuring several raised and lighted circular platforms.

Inspiration comes from sources as varied as Indiana’s indigenous people to celebrated designer Alexander Girard, responsible for the interior of the celebrated Miller House. All the creations are linked to existing structures, surroundings and nearby influences.

“I’ve always wanted to do something public like this with a city as context,” said Surak, a former Washington, D.C. art gallery director, sitting under a Mill Race picnic awning designed by nationally renowned architect Stanley Saitowitz. “I tried to get that going when I was in Washington, D.C. But it was just too big of an animal. So, to do it now this big of a scale and in a city with this type of beauty is really incredible.”

The 38-year-old Surak, an Indianapolis resident, is Exhibit Columbus’ director of exhibitions, overseeing details of the four categories of structures being assembled Miller Prize installations, Washington Street projects, university works, and one high school piece. She and McCoy, 44, director of Landmark Columbus, the umbrella agency which manages Exhibit Columbus, acknowledge the stress of final preparations.

Yet, their team’s work has generated substantial worldwide publicity. Social media posts alone were reaching thousands of followers of Exhibit Columbus designers as far back as eight months ago.

National media such as The New York Times visited recently and plan forthcoming pieces. McCoy is careful to say that this project is meant for everyone, no matter what knowledge or lack thereof they bring to art or architecture.

“I don’t know that it matters that people understand all this as art or not,” he said. “What matters is that they enjoy the experience. And with these installations, you can understand them in a variety of ways, anyway. There are a lot of doors in.”

McCoy’s door into Columbus opened in a roundabout way.

T. Kelly Wilson, director of the local IU Center for Art + Design and an Exhibit Columbus team member, encouraged then-Mayor Kristen Brown to hire McCoy, the conservator of objects and variable art for the Indianapolis Museum of Art, in June 2013. McCoy’s role: to help the Columbus Redevelopment Commission seek ways to preserve local landmarks, including the historic Crump Theatre.

Wilson got the idea about using McCoy from his sister, Michele Marincola, one of McCoy’s instructors at New York University’s Institute of Fine Arts.

That work gradually led to McCoy establishing Landmark Columbus — under the umbrella of The Heritage Fund — the Community Foundation of Bartholomew County — to care for and celebrate the city’s local design heritage. At about the same time, in late 2013, contemporary furniture designer Christopher West of Indianapolis proposed a design biennial for Columbus during a display he curated of his peers’ work at IU Center for Art + Design.

Wilson and others loved the idea and saw it as a way of giving “multiple architects and artists a voice.” But Wilson figured the concept was much broader than West’s suggestion. Enter others, including McCoy, who already was beginning to spotlight local architecture and its prominence with Landmark Columbus.

“Richard, to his credit, had to sort of pick up the pieces of all this (idea), and make something out of it,” Wilson said. “And one of his great skills is in marketing and getting the word out and promulgating it and linking enough people to it. He rose to the occasion.”

Thus far, with Exhibit Columbus having a limited advertising budget, most of the marketing of late has been via social media and radio, besides press releases to news and architectural outlets. McCoy figures 60 percent of the 20,000 viewers he has projected to see the exhibition will be from out of town, same as they were for the symposium that drew nearly 1,000 people last fall.

Others say Surak’s art exhibit experience in Indianapolis — staging exhibits in venues ranging from a former auto-body shop to a former mental hospital — serve as great seasoning for Exhibit Columbus.

Artist Kathryn Armstrong, also the executive director of the Columbus Area Arts Council, said Surak has been a solid fit for overseeing the installations.

“She definitely has the ability and the eye to see things from a different perspective,” Armstrong said. “And I would say she’s a risk-taker in her approach — and those definitely are benefits to a project like Exhibit Columbus.”

Surak loves the fact that, already, finished pieces such as the multi-colored “Between the Threads” at Seventh and Washington streets, are putting art and creativity right in local residents’ literal path. She clearly understands that such a setup makes art much more accessible than in an enclosed gallery space.

And therein lies part of the literal, at-your-fingertips beauty of Exhibit Columbus, Surak said.

“People should have the chance, as (architectural leader) Mr. (J. Irwin) Miller said, to get to experience quality art and design in their everyday lives,” she said.

Then, she thought about the man who asked about the Mill Race installation spread just behind her, and smiled broadly.

“That’s my life — explaining what art is,” she said. “Just getting people to ask those questions is really exciting.”

About Richard McCoy

Age: 44

Residence: Indianapolis

Current role: Director of the nonprofit Landmark Columbus caring for the city’s design heritage. It also is the umbrella agency for Exhibit Columbus, an exploration of art, architecture and design.

Previous post: Conservator of objects and variable art at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. Before he left in 2013, part of his role included helping transition the Miller House in Columbus from a home to a museum.

Education: Master’s of art history from New York University

Family: Wife Tracey Gallion and three children

Hobbies: Running, art and architecture

Biggest satisfaction thus far with Exhibit Columbus: “Continuing to meet new and interesting young people here who are so interested in all this.”

About Anne Surak

Age: 38

Hometown: White Bear Lake, Minnesota, near Minneapolis/St. Paul

Residence: Indianapolis

Current role: Director of exhibitions for Exhibit Columbus, an exploration of art, architecture and design. Also, independent curator and art consultant operating her own company, Art + Space in Indianapolis.

Education: A bachelor of arts degree from in art history, psychology and public relations from the University of Wisconsin-Madison

Family: Husband Nicholas Surak and three children

Hobbies: Tennis, golf and serving on several arts related boards: the Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art, the Contemporary Art Society of the Indianapolis Museum of Art, and Arts For Learning.

Biggest satisfaction thus far with Exhibit Columbus: “I think that would be seeing it all come together and finally be realized — and seeing so many people get excited about it.”

Exhibit Columbus team

Members of the Exhibit Columbus team:

  • Richard McCoy, one of the Exhibit Columbus founders
  • Anne Surak, director of exhibitions
  • T. Kelly Wilson, J. Irwin and Xenia S. Miller Prize coordinator
  • Jonathan Nesci, Washington Street installations coordinator
  • Janice Shimizu, university installations coordinator
  • Joshua Coggeshall, university installations coordinator
  • Erin Hetrick, education coordinator
  • Wil Marquez, education coordinator
  • Brooke Hawkins, graphic design specialist
  • Hadley Fruits, photographer and social media manager
  • Rick Valicenti, design director
  • Tricia Gilson, archivist

Opening weekend highlights

Aug. 24

  • “Between the Threads” high school installation opening celebration. Free. Historic Post Office Building, Seventh and Washington streets, 5 to 5:30 p.m.
  • Community Art Walk. Free. In partnership with Columbus Area Arts Council, various locations, 5:30 to 9 p.m.

Aug. 25

  • University installations opening celebration, 11 to 11:30 a.m., Central Middle School, 725 Seventh St. Join university students and their professors for a question-and-answer session outside on the lawn.
  • Exhibit Columbus Preview Party, an Exhibit Columbus fundraiser from 6 to 11 p.m. with cocktails, dinner, music and the architects mingling with the public under a 700-person at tent next to the parking lot at Mill Race Park on Fifth Street. Ticket prices begin at $150. Information: exhibitcolumbus.org.

Aug. 26

    • Architect’s Newspaper opening conversations featuring international experts, community leaders and others, 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Free, Red Room of the Bartholomew County Public Library, 536 Fifth St.
    • Exhibition opening celebration, 2 to 4:30 p.m. at Mill Race Park on a closed-to-auto-traffic Fifth Street.
    • Mill Race Park 25th Anniversary Celebration, 4:30 to 7 p.m. Free.

Miller House and Garden Champagne Tours, beginning at 4:30 p.m. Tickets and information: columbus.in.us

Information: exhibitcolumbus.org.

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