Building on visibility: Virtual Exhibit Columbus symposium extends its reach

The architectural entity known as Exhibit Columbus keeps building on its visibility and global reach.

And the tabulated results of its latest symposium — one that some worried could be understandably diminished in impact when the COVID-19 pandemic forced the event online and stretched over a two-month period — show that the happening turned adversity into one of the organization’s proudest moments.

That includes single session viewership numbers as high as 3,000 people worldwide among its eight online conversations from Sept. 15 to Oct. 29 under the theme "What Is the Future of the Middle City?" And its co-curators couldn’t be happier with those numbers.

One of those curators, Los Angeles-based architecture critic, editor, and author Mimi Zeiger said as much as she spoke by phone from Los Angeles shortly after discussing some of the symposium’s stats earlier this week. Zeiger worked alongside Chicago architect, curator, editor and friend Iker Gil to plan the symposium.  

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The Exhibit Columbus program is an exploration of art, architecture, design, and community that highlights the city’s Modernist design legacy stretching more than 75 years.

"I don’t think we had an exact expectation of what the numbers would be like," Zeiger said. "But we’re really overjoyed that the content was able to reach people and resonate with folks really all over the globe.

"One of the challenges, which also was an opportunity, was this: How do you take a place in the middle of the United States and have it resonate and also mean something to people on the coasts and places such as Europe and China? So actually getting that connection is fantastic."

Exhibit Columbus’ partnership with the London-based Dezeen, the world’s most popular online architectural and design magazine with 2 million online visitors per month, showed that the Dezeen YouTube and Facebook platforms for the symposium’s international presentations engaged several hundred people as viewers during the live feeds, and a potential audience of as many as 34,000 people weekly.

Each week of the symposium presentations featured one tied to Columbus initiatives and topics and one linked to international issues with architects, advocates and a variety of specialists. Topics ranged from the arts to the impact and role of indigenous people.

And the viewership numbers of those internationally focused presentations of the symposium were able to engage a much larger and more geographically diverse audience than the in-person symposia in 2016 and 2018, which was one of the goals for the organizers.

For instance this fall, the first week’s recorded online presentation Sept. 15 attracted 2,000 views, the second week drew 1,600, the third 1,800 and the fourth has drawn 3,000 to watch.

Exhibit Columbus Director Anne Surak was impressed.

"It was pretty significant," Surak said of the viewer totals. "So that definitely was a great partnership and collaboration."

Most of the overall audience was based in North America. But online numbers showed that many also were from Europe in areas such as England, plus also the continents of Australia and Africa and general regions such as the Middle East.

"I am really happy with that because a lot of that was the goal," Surak said of the broad reach. "Dezeen also was really happy with our program.

"They told us it outperformed a few of their other partnerships that they have had in the past. Since they began a significant amount of streaming in April, they told us that this was one of the most consistent audience-engaged programs that they have had. And they said the idea of spreading out the event over a number of weeks turned out to be a really interesting model — and one they might adopt." 

Richard McCoy repeatedly has emphasized since he announced Exhibit Columbus’ launch in May 2016 that Columbus’ Modernist architectural standing worldwide remains vibrant and strong. He offered those reminders particularly when news has surfaced globally about the first exhibition in 2017.

Surak mentioned that the Exhibit Columbus staff has aimed to be carefully thoughtful about all its decisions, including making the high-profile Zeiger and Gill co-curators to give the symposium and next year’s planned exhibition a larger platform. Surak saluted their symposium planning and coordination.

"Bringing Mimi and Iker onto the team this year offered a great opportunity to grow our connections and our reach," Surak said.

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The 2020 Exhibit Columbus Symposium: New Middles gathered national and international thought leaders in architecture, art, design, and landscape architecture together with Columbus stakeholders to explore the question, "What Is The Future of The Middle City?"

The Symposium examined this question through the lens of four topics:

  • Futures and Technologies
  • Resiliency and Climate Adaptation
  • Arts and Community
  • Indigenous Futures and Radical Thinking.

To find the taped presentations: exhibitcolumbus.org/2020-symposium/schedule

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