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ONE thing’s for certain about the holiday banners that will line downtown Washington Street during the Christmas season. They’ll be homegrown.
Vertical banners on Washington Street have been a fixture of downtown life for a couple of decades, and many of them have been used to promote local organizations or causes, such as the Columbus Housing Authority or the United Way of Bartholomew County.
They’re intended to remind folks that the groups exist, often when they’re observing a month dedicated to them or in the midst of a fund drive.
The holiday banners have a simpler purpose. They’re meant to get people in the holiday spirit.
These particular banners, however, have an additional benefit. They showcase the artistic and design abilities of a small group of local students at Ivy Tech Community College.
The designs of five of those students were selected for the holiday banner project by a committee of city officials and members of the Downtown Merchants Association earlier this month.
In all, 37 Ivy Tech students submitted entries, according to Lloyd Brooks, chairman of Ivy Tech’s visual communications program, who coordinated the submissions.
There will be 54 banners in all, echoing the five basic themes created by students. One of them even has a local connection — an image of snowflakes falling on one of Paul Rand’s Dancing C’s.
Aside from the holiday spirit the banners are intended to engender, they are also cause for pride, not just for the students but Columbus itself. They serve to showcase local talent. Taking that a step further, they can also be a catalyst in encouraging more local artists.
In fact, this particular project sprang from another homegrown initiative that was put into effect earlier this year.
That was an effort launched by the board of directors of The Commons, who were interested in making the exterior of the building more appealing. Specifically, the board wanted to disguise the fact that the space formerly occupied by the Scotty’s/Detour restaurants was empty until a new tenant can be found.
They contacted Karen Shrode, director of the Columbus Area Arts Council, who in turn got in touch with Brooks.
He crafted a plan whereby students would submit oversized art that could cover the front windows of the building. He selected a series of pieces developed by several of his students. They achieved the desired result. One hardly notices that there’s nothing behind the glass.
It had another effect. “Every time those kids walked past those displays, they just beamed with pride,” Lloyd said. “Their work was being seen and appreciated by hundreds of people every day.”
He expects the same effect to settle on the five artists who came up with the winning holiday banners.
In some respects, these projects are mindful of the old Festival of Lights, which featured clever and often synchronized Christmas displays in Mill Race Park.
Initially the group sponsoring the event decided to use students in the local C4 Columbus Career Connection program to not only design but create the metal exhibits.
The effect was the same. The participating students were given a tremendous boost of confidence by the public display of their work, and the community took pride in the work that was done by their own.
Unfortunately, the responsibility for putting together the holiday displays was turned over to private contractors. Eventually the entire program was scuttled, primarily because of vandalism and flooding in Mill Race Park.
There’s another aspect to this homegrown art involvement. It is yet another reminder that Ivy Tech is a poor fit for the outdated stereotype of a so-called vocational school.
The talent exhibited by these local students is the equal to what can be found on most traditional college campuses. They are taking courses at the school — fundamentals of design or introduction to typography, for instance — that are a far cry from the old shop courses. They can truly be said to be artists.
Consider some recent Ivy Tech products. Mark Peoni, a student from Franklin, is an intern with the band Mötley Crüe and created the posters used in promoting its latest tour.
Patrick Peterson, a Columbus native and Ivy Tech Columbus graduate, was part of a team that was nominated for an Oscar in 2010.
The film with which he was involved did pretty well at the box office. It was James Cameron’s “Avatar,” one of the top money-makers of all time.
I don’t know that recognition for the holiday banners on Washington Street will reach that level, but don’t suggest that to the five students whose work was selected.
I suspect their reaction will be the same as those who had their art displayed in the windows of The Commons.
They’ll be “beaming with pride.”
Harry McCawley is associate editor of The Republic. He can be reached by phone at 379-5620 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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