The Other Columbus: Recent cultural losses are nothing new

Local art is under-funded, under-staffed, under-challenged and under-marketed. And you’ve been partying under a cultural fog of war if you think these changes are only now taking place.
The Vanderelli Room
The Vanderelli RoomAndy Downing

With the spate of cultural touchstones that have closed lately, there has been an unsurprising level of uproar. 

People are miffed that they are losing the ability to attend an art show at the Vanderelli Room, or the opportunity to shop at the Garden or Rag-O-Rama, or spend a night at Brothers Drake Meadery, or have the option to turn off their regular podcasts and playlists to listen to the terrestrial rock signals beaming from CD 92.9 FM. And that’s just in the last month. If you want to run that list off for the past year or two, you’re in for some real carpal tunnel syndrome.

I have had good experiences at some of these spots. In 2017, back when CD 92.9 FM was still CD 102.5, it was one of only a few news outlets that covered my 31-day series of Black art events, “Holler.” The station came back for me when I curated similarly epic events, and I appreciated that. My hard-to-impress mother needs things to be in print or on the radio for them to graduate to potential church lady mic drops, so I was happy to accommodate. Same thing with Brothers Drake: I had fun performing there, and they were great production partners. 

In one online commentary, I saw someone claim that “art is under attack,” which, if I am honest, set off more emotions in me than the closings. They were, in order: shock, anger, then despair. For many, the grief of these closings is real, and I am in no way seeking to diminish these feelings. But if this is the point on the Columbus cultural timeline that elicits such proclamations, I’ve got some news that will blow your mind.

I’ve bemoaned my fair share of lost venues that I care about over the years. While I may not share a history with the primary audiences of these recent closures, many of those same people would be equally hard-pressed to check my lost places off their own cultural passports. Most of the people with whom I share a generation in this town don’t have any knowledge of Snaps ’n’ Taps, or ACE Gallery, or the Brownstone. And these were places located Downtown and in the Short North. 

The only difference is that these were Black-owned venues. And unlike white cultural venues, when we lose one, we often lose the entire platform for the art provided by that space. That’s less true as I write this than it was five years ago, but it’s close enough to true to still be a problem. When white venues close, they lose that particular flavor of engagement, or that operator’s particular spin on things. But the city doesn’t lose the ability to engage with the form. There are still three well-known art spaces within one block of the admittedly inimitable Vanderelli Room. Brothers Drake will cease being an option for live performances, but the mead operation is moving to Franklinton.  

I raise these points not to win a contest, but to encourage folks to widen their social aperture. As someone who makes a portion of his living in the arts, I can tell you that local art is not so much under attack as it is unconsidered. Local art isn’t supported enough by the city to be a threat to, well, anything. Local art is under-funded, under-staffed, under-challenged and under-marketed. You’ve been partying under a cultural fog of war if you think these changes are new.

If you’re reeling from all this recent cultural loss, go to more Black arts events. Trust me: The Black artists in this town aren’t just making it for one another. And you can work out your grief with them. We lose stuff all the time.

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