Inside the city’s latest arts-based co-lab
Everyone knows “a guy.”
Someone who is well connected, makes things happen, and can get you set up with anything you may need. For the Columbus arts community, Adam Brouillette is that “guy.” For over 15 years, Brouillette has been earning his reputation as not only an accomplished artist, but also an arts organizer and workhorse who “gets things done.” He has been a leading, central, or influential figure in impactful art projects in the city, including the once-iconic Junctionview Studios (2004-2013) and its Agora festival; Junctionview’s offshoot Tacocat Studios (2013-2016); and Independent’s Day (2007-present). Now, he’s unveiled his latest endeavor, Blockfort—officially opening last month in a former Napa Auto Parts location.
The project—spearheaded and financed entirely by Brouillette and his wife and fellow artist, Megan Brouillette—works toward a different objective than past spaces.
“We had this sort of insurgent mentality [with Junctionview and Tacocat] that we were going to create arts in a grassroots way to collectively flood Columbus with artistic talent.”
Blockfort houses a team of 21 artists and six businesses, including Stinkybomb Soap and the FieldWerks. Brouillette curated the crew, chosen not only for their ability to create quality pieces, but also their consistent work ethic and potential to develop as artists. This team has sculptors, painters, mixed media masters, entrepreneurs, designers, and more. Some of the tenants were former Junctionview and Tacocat alums, while others are new to the Columbus scene, or to Brouillette himself.
“We have a diverse group with different backgrounds and spheres of involvement,” he explained. “That helps us all stay honest in our art—the discussions, disagreements, and understandings built by such close quarters only improve our work.”
The space, near Sixth and Spring Streets downtown, has been extensively reconfigured to serve the purpose of the tight-knit collective. One important addition to the building was ADA accessibility options. “It was very expensive, but it’s important for all of us to walk the walk when we talk about freedom, inclusivity, and understanding,” he explained. “Worth every penny.” The restrooms are also gender-neutral, labeled “Anybody Restrooms.”
The front-house gallery, with its fresh drywall and new lighting, displayed pieces from the resident artists, which purely showcased the Blockfort team’s strong personalities and remarkable talent. Among them: Jen Wrubleski, a Junctionview and Tacocat alum who specializes in joyously cheeky illustrations of cats, woodland creatures, and vegetables; Jamie Sommer, a performer, mixed-media artist, and Drag King (Jamz Dean) who performs semi-regularly at the Shadowbox Bistro and Axis Nightclub.
The other half of Blockfort’s mission is embodied in its Gallery, which greets visitors as they arrive. Once a showroom for auto parts, the space has been transformed into a showroom for fine art. According to Brouillette, the programming for the gallery will first serve to broaden their artistic audience. “We want to look beyond our typical crowd—those that signed the email list or have been to past shows,” he noted. “We’re targeting new groups that have never been involved before.” This effort goes beyond simple advertising programs, with Blockfort seeking to incorporate design agencies, educational institutions, and nonprofits in the development of shows.
Secondly, the gallery is being used to foster quality by offering opportunities to artists who have demonstrated strong work ethic and the ability to create compelling art. This, however, does not mean a particular artist has to be renowned.
“We want to bring forward those artists who have had their own show or proven they can sell their art, but haven’t yet been recognized,” he continued. “The Blockfort Gallery is a chance for them to take what they’ve done and hopefully push them to another level.”
With these aspects in mind, Brouillette and a number of the tenants have been actively curating showcases for the coming year. This month, a juried show of local designers and artists take “word art” to the next level with “Beautiful Words,” creating literal pictures with quotes that inspire, provoke, and express passionate meaning. “Fruit,” which will open in May, will feature five female artists who specialize in different mediums and approaches to share their interpretation of the topic—part of this show is about breaking barriers, and the insular nature of the art world.
“This is an opportunity for these artists who have markedly different styles to come together and create interaction between their different audiences.” In September, the Black Power Mixtape, coordinated by tenants Marshall Shorts and David Butler, incorporates the team from the Creative Control Fest to give opportunity to artists of color, and generate dialogue around race.
As for the big picture, Brouillette is seeking a more focused challenge with higher aspirations. Blockfort’s mission, in his eyes, is to drive a cohesive team of artists who are ready, or even just enthusiastic, to take their art to the next level.
“I look at it like this: Yeah, you can make some great art and get it on people’s walls at home,” he added, “but how do you get it in the museum?” •
For more info, visit blockfortcolumbus.com.