Exhibit Columbus, nearly three years in the making, opened in full Saturday with its 18 temporary, artsy installations christened by a grateful designer’s tears.

“It’s hard not to be emotional about this process,” said architect Chris Cornelius of studio:indigenous of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Cornelius spoke before about 300 people around an outdoor stage in front of First Christian Church.

His voice slightly choking, Cornelius referred to weaving part of Indiana’s native American heritage, which is part of his own story, into his teepee-style work, “Wiikiaami,” installed at the church. It reigns as one of five winners of the event’s Miller Prize, in honor of late, local art and architecture stalwarts, J. Irwin and Xenia Miller.

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Cornelius also heaped thanks upon Columbus Faurecia workers who donated 600 hours to help assemble his piece, slightly delayed in its original completion timeline because building materials arrived late.

Exhibit Columbus is labeled as an annual exploration of architecture, art and design, alternating between a symposium and an exhibition. It is a project of Landmark Columbus and a program of Heritage Fund — The Community Foundation of Bartholomew County.

Organizers estimate this year’s three-month exhibition will attract about 20,000 viewers before it closes Nov. 26. Judging by some of the foot traffic downtown Saturday as the final works along Fifth Street and Washington Street opened, that number may be a conservative projection.

Organizers have emphasized for more than a year that the event is meant to help the city see anew its architectural legacy as a beacon to the future rather than a scrapbook of the past. The American Institute of Architects has ranked the city as sixth in the nation for its concentration of significant architecture.

Many people and historians have for years given much of the credit for Columbus’ penchant for top design to industrialist and philanthropist J. Irwin Miller, long the top executive for Columbus-based Cummins. However, his son, Will Miller, said in remarks Saturday afternoon as part of The Architect’s Newspaper’s Opening Conversations at the exhibition, that Columbus always has worked as unified team, and his father and family toiled alongside many to build the city’s reputation.

Near the end of the conversations, Will Miller was asked to cite the most significant impact of Exhibit Columbus, to which he offered a ready response.

“The genius of Exhibit Columbus was captured by my daughter, who went down to Columbus Bar, and quickly found that all the people her age were sitting around talking about architecture,” Will Miller said.

The reaction has been the same on social media, where many people 35 and younger who rarely even mention the local architecture suddenly have been photographing and describing the new pieces as everything from “cool” to “awesome.”

Saturday’s opening event unfolded on a sunny, late-summer day.

The Circle City Sidewalk Stompers brass ensemble led the crowd down Fifth Street, known as the Avenue of the Architects, in a true celebratory fashion — but not before local leaders opened the proceedings with a somber and respectful moment of silence to honor Sgt. Jonathon Hunter, the native son whose military funeral was being held at the same time at Columbus East High School.

Leaders did the same at Friday evening’s Exhibit Columbus Preview Party, a sold-out, outdoor affair with 700 people. Organizers Jeff Baker and John Pickett hinted that the kickoff bash might have grown even larger if ticket sales had not been cut off days beforehand.

“This has been such a beautiful night, and this is such a marvelous reason to celebrate,” Baker said under a long tent at Mill Race Park. “The energy in this tent tells you what the energy is like for Exhibit Columbus. People tonight are letting the world know just how much they appreciate all this event happening here.”

The crowd included casual visitors from such places as Chicago and journalists from areas such as New York City.

Saturday’s schedule included a community party at Mill Race Park, marking its 25th year. The park also served as the ending point of the exhibition’s tour of sites to open.

That included Aranda/Lasch’s limestone-pieces work, “Another Circle,” with creatively arranged stones forming a circle near the venue’s classic, Round Lake. It is another of the Miller Prize winners.

Architect Ben Aranda told a crowd assembled at Mill Race that the circle he and his team created should be considered as more than just another shape in Columbus’ design.

“We think of it, really, as another beginning,” he said.

Another beginning, perhaps toward an added architectural legacy.

Exhibit Columbus: Send us your photos

Exhibit Columbus is a photographer’s dream — all those stunning lines, colors and shapes juxtaposed against other architectural treasures. Visitors from near and far will be roaming around Columbus through November to see our design past, present and future.

Show us your design style and take photographs of you and your friends at the exhibits. Then share them with us.

Send the photos to: editorial@therepublic.com.

We may use your photos online, in social media and in print. Include your name, where and when you took the photo, and where you are from.

Your Exhibit Columbus source

Navigate the Exhibit Columbus installations with our locater map at therepublic.com.

Also catch up with past stories on the installations, designers and planning that went into the three-month exhibition in Columbus, running through Nov. 26 at therepublic.com

Weekly meet-up about design

What: #drinking about design

Where: Upland Columbus Pump House, 148 Lindsey St.

When: 4 to 6 p.m. each Thursday until Exhibit Columbus concludes in late November

What it is: A weekly meet-up created to engage the community and connect fans of good design with people associated with the three-month Exhibit Columbus exhibition.

How much: Free

To RSVP: Click “going” on the event meetup page on Facebook — search under “#drinkingaboutdesign”

Give some feedback

Every visitor to Exhibit Columbus has a chance to leave a comment about what they are observing as they tour the installations.

To listen to a guided tour of Exhibit Columbus and the comments of others who have traveled before you, download the Exhibit Columbus APP Hear/Here from the iTunes store.

As you get close to an installation or a historic Columbus location, you will hear audio about the location and new content from others who have already visited. Visitors may answer one of the questions on the app or talk of memories you have of a particular location.

The app is best experienced using stereo headphones. Hear/Here was created by Halsey Burgundy, a sound artist based in Boston, Massachusetts.

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