Wayne Lawson thinks Columbus should know more about Chile. Specifically, he’s dedicated to building community and arts-focused relationships between these two unique places, sharing the outstanding contemporary art coming from Chile’s many talented emerging artists with citizens of the capital city.
For nearly 30 years, Lawson served as executive director of the Ohio Arts Council. After his formal retirement, he only continued finding ways to be involved in growing the arts community of Columbus, taking on a tenured professorship at The Ohio State University in their Department of Arts Administration, Education, and Policy—where he takes students on a trip to Chile each year to study arts policy in an emerging democracy—and serving on numerous arts and culture boards, including as a trustee of Columbus’s Pizzuti Collection.
“Most people don’t know very much, if anything, about Chile. The first question is ‘where is it?’ The second is ‘is it safe?’ And they don’t realize it’s probably the safest country in South America. It has an emerging democracy, and the arts scene is very vibrant.” Lawson tells me that while those in America most often visit Chile to ski in Patagonia or explore the Atacama desert (the driest desert in the world) they’re missing out on a world class arts scene.
“The big galleries, the number of artists up and down that very long country…” Chile, Lawson reminds me, is “as long as the United States is wide.”
Lawson has dedicated much of his life to connecting the arts communities of Chile and Columbus, recently taking a group of Pizzuti Collection members to Chile.
“When I came on the Pizzuti Board, I had known Ron and Ann [Pizzuti] for a long time, and Rebecca [Ibel, the Pizzuti Collection’s Director and Curator]. I came on really as an arts administrator, and I hope I’ve been able to help as we’ve moved ourselves forward to become far more involved in what’s going on in the city.”
Lawson was the first American to receive the Medal of Arts from the Ministry of Culture in Chile, which he describes as “one of the most exciting moments.” In his decades of work fostering a relationship between Chile and Ohio, his accomplishments include orchestrating several artist exchanges where Ohio artists visited Chile and vice versa, planning a number of arts conferences, and helping establish the first arts advocacy group in Chile. “I worked with three presidents, President [Richard] Lagos, President [Sebastian] Pinera, and President [Michelle] Bachelet, so I was part and parcel of the arts relationship between the United States and Chile.” He concludes, “So I think that’s why they gave it to me.”
“I was pleased beyond belief,” he tells me.
The Pizzuti Collection, located in a restored historical site on the edge of Goodale Park in the Short North Arts District, is home to a rotating selection of art from Ron and Ann Pizzuti’s massive and highly curated personal collection. As a world-class art collector, Ron has an eye for talent, often selecting pieces by emerging artists not long before those artists receive national recognition. Indeed, the Collection’s “Us is Them” exhibition, which closed April 2, contained works from two Pizzuti favorites who recently received prestigious Guggenheim Fellowships: Lyle Ashton Harris and Simone Leigh.
Coming up next for the Collection is the result of one of Lawson’s most exciting projects as a trustee: a large video installation by Chilean artist Patricia Dominguez, who will also be visiting Columbus and delivering a talk for the opening.
Lawson hopes that his work and the work of the Pizzuti Collection in bringing Dominguez and her art to the city will help open local Columbus residents’ eyes to the varied and unique contemporary art being produced by talented artists in South America.
“She’s shown internationally in a variety of countries. It’s a video piece, which is based on the horses of the apocalypse—that’s pretty fantastic. I think when you see it, you realize how contemporary her work really is. And I’m excited to show people that, hello, it’s not just folk art coming out of South America.”
Lawson explains the unusual and remarkable value of Ron and Ann Pizzuti’s art collecting ethos: “Ron and Ann particularly love to support individual artists, and particularly emerging individual artists.”
And Lawson laughs at the idea that the Collection is just for showing off. “That’s not it! He wants to share. The key word is sharing: a private collection with the public. A lot of people … they’ll put their collection away and you get to see it at a cocktail party or a dinner party. And here we have, number one: a restored building, and number two: a collector—he’s listed in magazines as one of the top collectors in the world of contemporary art—and he brings [art] to the folks of Columbus. I think that’s exciting.”
Amongst all of his professional work both locally and internationally, Lawson still finds time for off-the-clock adventuring. He recently visited London, Paris, and Iceland, which he says, with a laugh, was for the organization of “Wayne Lawson and friends.”
Still, he is eager to get back to the work he loves: “I’m excited about Patricia, I’m excited that someone from Chile is being shown, and I’m excited about what Ron and Ann, the founders, have been able to give back to the community.”
Patricia Dominguez: Eres un Princeso opens June 6.
For more, visit pizzuticollection.org.