Editorial: Appreciating our community’s sustaining gifts

“Sustainability” is a word we hear a lot these days. The proposition that we should foster an environment that is sustainable is a natural when it comes to the organic world. But the idea gets complicated when it comes to the sustainability of our built environment.

Local philanthropist Rick Johnson posed a simple question recently about sustainability and preserving Columbus’ Modernist design and architecture legacy: “Does the work that we’re doing today deserve to endure over time?”

Johnson, a philanthropist and president of the board of Landmark Columbus Foundation, posed the question while speaking to a crowd of about 100 last week that included representatives from the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce, the Columbus Area Visitors Center, the Columbus Area Arts Council, business leaders and others, The Republic’s Brian Blair reported.

The occasion was local leaders putting their money where their mouth is to answer the question with a resounding “yes.” Johnson himself and wife Alice last week donated $50,000 to the foundation, along with a gift of $100,000 from local business leader and philanthropist Tony Moravec.

As Blair reported, these gifts will help sustain the seven-year-old Landmark Columbus Foundation, the driving force behind Exhibit Columbus architectural exhibitions and symposiums that have attracted international designers, speakers, tourists and media attention.

Last week’s gifts build upon a $524,000 grant the foundation received last year from the Lilly Endowment in collaboration with The Heritage Fund: The Community Foundation of Bartholomew County to launch the endowment. That gift challenged the community to push the overall endowment total to $2 million by 2025.

“That’s a big, ambitious goal,” said foundation director Richard McCoy. “But we’ve always tried to be ambitious in what we’re doing.”

As they should. The community will be the beneficiary for years to come of efforts like these today.

Columbus’ built architecture — specifically works by world-renowned architects and designers beginning in the mid-20th century — gives our community a prestigious allure that attracts global attention. It’s easy to take this for granted as we pass daily by grand structures such as First Christian Church, North Christian Church and so many more examples of wondrous architecture.

That said, our architectural legacy is about more than just buildings. It’s also about the inspiration that architects, designers, historians, futurists and those who simply appreciate beauty draw from them, and in the case of Exhibit Columbus, what they create here that adds to this legacy. It’s about the pride we feel as a community distinguished by this celebrated difference. “An electric synergy between historic buildings and contemporary design” is how the National Trust for Historic Preservation once described Columbus.

Few can drop a five- or six-figure bequest on a cause such as preserving our architectural legacy. But if you can afford a few dollars, consider contributing to meet the challenge to boost the endowment of the Landmark Columbus Foundation.

Or, simply give yourself the gift of learning more about our world-class architecture and design excellence. Appreciation itself will help sustain this legacy.