In early 2018, I walked into Neal’s Paint & Wallpaper on Washington Street with Anne Surak and Hannah Brokenshire from Exhibit Columbus to look at a poster hanging just inside the front door on the brick wall. It proclaimed at the top in beautiful letters “Good Design and the Community: Columbus, Indiana.”
The poster was made in 1987 to celebrate the exhibition that had just arrived at The Commons from the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. The exhibition celebrated J. Irwin Miller as the very first person inducted into their hall of fame. This was an extraordinary individual recognition, but instead of having an exhibition highlighting his personal accomplishments, Mr. Miller had one that showed how good design is connected through this entire community.
Standing in front of that poster changed the way we saw Columbus’ architectural legacy. We peered into the little drawings and read quotes from people that had worked collectively for decades to invest in the value of good design to make this a better place to live and work. That poster shows that “good design” and “the community” are at their highest and best when they are tightly connected. It also reminds us that we can be more proud of what we accomplish together than of what we do alone.
The idea of good design is well known and understood inside of Columbus — so well so that it was written in as part of the leadership values that were created by Heritage Fund — The Community Foundation of Bartholomew County in the early 2010s. The “value of good design” was defined alongside other values and traditions such as “high aspirations,” “forward-thinking,” and “service to others.” Heritage Fund’s definition of the "value of good design" says:
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"We believe nothing is more expensive than mediocrity and that good design need not cost any more than bad design. In this way our entire community becomes the physical manifestation of the values and spirit of the people who have chosen to be different by design in the pursuit of lasting excellence."
For those that have been here a long time, these ideas about “good design” resonate throughout their lives in the second part of the 20th century, with, for example, nearly all of the schools being built with support from the Cummins Foundation Architecture Program. And for many deeply connected to Columbus, notions of “the community” flow naturally, too.
From the outside it’s easy to see good design, but it’s harder to see what community means here in Columbus. You can’t really see any community, but you can know it and you can be a part of it. And communities aren’t singular: there are many of them, everywhere.
I believe that the connection between good design and the community is at the center of the traditions and values of so many that live here. We should recognize this and celebrate it as part of our collective identity. Sure, many people in other cities talk about their public-private partnerships, but Columbus’ history of working together to accomplish big goals is really amazing. That poster in Neal’s Paints reflected all of these things back to us that cold winter morning, and we were so inspired that we borrowed the title for the 2019 exhibition of Exhibit Columbus.
“Good Design and the Community” is what this year’s exhibition is all about. We are putting on display what Columbus does best: work together by design to make life better for everyone. The upcoming opening weekend (Aug. 23-24) launches our second exhibition, and it’s going to be special. I hope you’ll attend the free Exhibition Conversations, on Aug. 23 in North Christian Church and on Aug. 24 in First Christian Church, where you’ll get to hear from all of the exhibition participants. And I hope that you’ll get a ticket to the opening night party, too — one of the best parties in the state.
You’ll see a lot of activity leading up to opening weekend as people from around the country and Mexico come here to build their installations. If you’re interested in helping them, send me an email and I’ll tell you about volunteer opportunities.
Many of the installations in this year’s exhibition are invitations to you to explore and create your own experience. I hope you bring the exhibition to life with your friends and family, that you each bring your own, unique communities to the exhibition, or that you consider joining a new community while you’re at an installation. With the exhibition and all of the great things happening in Columbus this fall, there is no better time to come downtown and enjoy your city. Invite people to come visit and check out the free exhibition. Tell people about Columbus on Facebook and other social media. Let’s make Columbus the city to visit this fall!
Richard McCoy is executive director of Landmark Columbus, which cares for the design heritage of Columbus and is the umbrella agency over Exhibit Columbus. The opinions expressed are those are those of the writer. McCoy can be reached at [email protected].