Exhibit Columbus became remarkable community showcase

With last weekend’s end to the three-month Exhibit Columbus exhibitions downtown, it’s easy to size up the impact of an attraction that had residents and outsiders looking, talking and thinking about the city and its Modern architectural heritage in a new way.

Notably, the 18 temporary architectural exhibits, including the five J. Irwin and Xenia S. Miller Prize winners, attracted an estimated 50,000 people for up-close visits — including visitors from other communities, states and countries. That was a huge boost to tourism — complementing local residents who viewed the close-to-home exhibitions.

The Columbus Area Visitors Center reported a 71 percent increase in traffic — more than 3,200 additional visitors — in September and October compared to the previous year. It also conducted 450 Exhibit Columbus walking tours during the exhibit’s run — an average of about five per day.

Word-of-mouth endorsements, social media posts and printed stories in national publications such as Architectural Digest and the New York Times helped fuel interest in the inaugural exhibition of art, architecture and design, and put Columbus in the national spotlight once again — supporting its No. 6 ranking for significant architecture nationally, according to The American Institute of Architects.

While First Christian Church and North Christian Church, for example, are well known in the community and beyond as local architectural gems, some of the fresh, temporary exhibits of Exhibit Columbus quickly gained popularity in the community. “Conversation Plinth,” “Wiikiaami” and “Theoretical Foyer” became commonly known — the first two, especially, as gathering spots.

That made Exhibit Columbus communal and interactive. The exhibits were not merely looked at and admired, but touched, experienced and used.

“Conversation Plinth” became a popular backdrop for wedding party photos. Drinking by Design events allowed community residents to learn more about the projects by meeting with the designers. Exhibit Columbus wasn’t merely in the city, but became a part of the city.

And if a few groups have their way, some of the exhibits could become more permanent fixtures in the community. That’s fitting, considering that J. Irwin Miller, the late Cummins executive, philanthropist and architectural champion, started a tradition in 1942 of Cummins recruiting top architects to design public buildings in the city.

When paired with last year’s art, architecture and design symposium, which drew more than 800 people, the two-year run of building on the city’s architectural heritage, and showing people what design can be and do for a community, has been remarkable.

Richard McCoy and Landmark Columbus created an event that will have people talking about Columbus and its architecture for years to come, and eager to return to see the next incarnation of Exhibit Columbus.