Art builds Columbus: Meet Franklinton

In Columbus, art isn’t just a component of the culture. It’s a cornerstone of creating community.

And few places exemplify this more than the oldest neighborhood in the city. Just east of downtown, Franklinton has undergone a remarkable transformation and rebirth. The arts were at the center of the plan, and graduates of CCAD are continuing the work of building a new and vital arts hub.

Started from the Bottoms

A decade ago, it would be hard to envision the Franklinton of today.

The neighborhood was home to abandoned manufacturing plants and abandoned houses. The area was labeled a floodplain, an obvious challenge to building anything of permanence. The area was known throughout Columbus as “the Bottoms.”

Where some saw blight, though, others saw a canvas.

The completion of a $134 million floodwall in 2004 led the city to create the Franklinton Development Association (FDA), an organization dedicated to regrowing the neighborhood. The plan put forth by then-director of the FDA Jim Sweeney and others was to create an environment that was attractive and accessible to artists.

“We just started calling ourselves an arts community,” Sweeney recalls. The concept was very “if you build it, they will come.” And soon it was working. Artists began moving into the community, and events like the live-painting Urban Scrawl (now going on a decade strong) started cropping up.

Art was the seed that began to take hold in Franklinton.

Manufacturing a community

The plan to regrown Franklinton as an arts hub also sought to intertwine the neighborhood’s history in the community. “Everyone has been expressing an interest in maintaining authenticity,” Sweeney explains.

Now two of the centerpieces in the reborn neighborhood make their homes in structures that were a part of Franklinton’s manufacturing base years ago.

The building now known simply as 400 West Rich was once a factory that manufactured drinking fountains. It was reimagined and reconstructed as a mixed-use facility that features affordable studio space for more than 60 artists, a large section of whom are alumni of CCAD like Cory Davidson.

“I love it. I love everyone in” 400 West Rich, Davidson said. “Inspiration is everywhere.”

Just a stone’s throw from 400 West Rich sits another refurbished manufacturing facility that has become a space for creators, the Columbus Idea Foundry.

When founder Alex Bandar moved his concept — a membership-based space that allows access to industrial tools and training — to this 65,000-foot former warehouse, it became “the biggest makerspace in the world.” “Think of it as a gym for makers,” Bandar explains.

He sees the Idea Foundry as part of a larger effort to keep and attract talent to Columbus, particularly Franklinton, which he calls “the heartbeat of the creative class in Columbus, Ohio.”

The art of growth

The artists who first adopted this new Franklinton laid down a base layer, and now Franklinton is bursting with color in all directions.

● A portion of the 400 West Rich space was transformed into Strongwater Food & Spirits, a bar and restaurant and events space that has become a cultural hotspot.

● The neighborhood’s first dedicated art gallery, The Vanderelli Room, opened in 2014, leading the way for more galleries like 129 Studios.

● The monthly “Franklinton Fridays” created a one-night event to showcase the art and events of the neighborhood to the rest of the city.

● Technology businesses like Knockout Concepts, which created a handheld 3D scanner and proprietary software, have made their home in Franklinton.

● The music, arts and more festival Independents’ Day relocated from its original downtown location to Franklinton in 2014.

● Franklinton joined the city’s microbrewery explosion with the opening of the Land-Grant Brewing Company.

All this and much more … and it all started with art.

CCAD at the heart of it all

You can’t look at the growth in Franklinton without seeing the impact of CCAD alumni.

Alicia Jean Vanderelli, founder of the Vanderelli Room, graduated from CCAD’s Fine Arts program and says she runs into more and more CCAD connections in Franklinton. “CCAD’s taking over the neighborhood!” she laughed.

When the Independents’ Day festival returns to Franklinton for its largest year yet, it does so under an event poster painted by CCAD grad Lucie Shearer.

The Ohio Art League, a non-profit organization that supports artists and now makes its home at 400 West Rich was founded by a CCAD graduate, and its current director Kim Webb (also a CCAD grad) touts that connection. “It all started with CCAD!” Webb exclaims.

Brooks Myers, co-founder of Knockout Concepts, is also a graduate, and he sees the interconnection of Franklinton’s growth and CCAD. “Every time you walk in a building in Franklinton, there’s a new CCAD grad,” he said.

In seeing the ties between art and the revitalization of Franklinton, one theme rings true. CCAD builds the artists that build Columbus.

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Read more in our series CCAD & Columbus