Scrawl for All: Live Art in Franklinton

For roughly eight years some of the best large-scale pieces of art produced in Columbus sat stacked in a developing warehouse, far from public view or purchase.

Now, in its 11th year, the artists of Urban Scrawl are producing pieces in Franklinton and for Franklinton.

What started in 2006 as a small event at Dodge Park–artists signing up to paint large canvasses with anything of their choosing–has now become massive fundraiser. This past May, the Franklinton Arts District auctioned off $30,000 worth of the panels, funds that will fuel the George Bellows grant program, which provides support for artists in the burgeoning neighborhood.

This month, FAD president Adam Herman sat down with (614) to paint the project with a broader brush.

We’ve come a long way from the early days of Urban Scrawl. What really catalyzed, turning the event into what it’s become in the 11th year?

Every year there are more and more artists who want to participate. In fact, last year we had more than double the number of artists apply to participate than we could accommodate due to space limitations. A big reason Urban Scrawl has remained so popular after 10 straight years of growth is that it is still an effort built largely by and for artists and their fans. People appreciate the collaborative, do-it-yourself atmosphere that permeates Urban Scrawl; it allows them to feel like they’re a part of something unique, as well as something bigger than themselves. It’s not an overproduced, sponsor-driven, commercial activity—it’s an authentic expression of public art in its purest form. It’s still a scrappy little street art festival that runs on sweat equity and passion.

What were a few of your biggest takeaways from this year’s auction? Mayor Mike seemed to enjoy being the master of ceremonies…

This year’s Art for Franklinton auction was our biggest and most successful yet. At the end of the night, we raised more than $30,000 to support the organization and its programs—including both Urban Scrawl and the George Bellows Art Grant Program, which supports artists and arts programming in the neighborhood.

Coleman’s leadership as mayor helped create an environment in which the arts could flourish in Franklinton. In many respects, we felt like this year’s auction was a bit of our “coming-of-age” moment—like we are really beginning to make a permanent impact in the community.

We also moved this year’s auction into the newly-renovated second floor of the Idea Foundry, which I would say is one of the newest jewels in the city’s crown. The structure of the space was perfect because it allowed attendees to be completely immersed in the completed Urban Scrawl panels—much like you are when you’re attending the actual event.  After the sun went down and the room darkened, the art exploded from the walls. It was a very special night.

To that end, do you feel the FTON Arts District has a responsibility to carry the “buy local art flag” since some of that has been pushed from the boundaries of the Short North?

There is definitely a grittier, non-traditional aspect to the art that is being created in Franklinton, both at Urban Scrawl and in the hundreds of artist studios that now exist within the neighborhood. There must be a wide range of voices, viewpoints, and styles in a city’s art community to ensure its long-term sustainability. We are doing what we can to support this goal by creating opportunities for both new and established voices to be heard.

Is it a paradox to want to maintain this underground feel to the art and the event, but also be striving to raise as much money as you can?

Protecting the uniqueness and authenticity of Urban Scrawl is always our biggest priority as we plan each year’s event. We would love to expand the ways in which we are able to support the arts and artists in Franklinton, but there is a limit to how Urban Scrawl could (and probably should) be the vehicle for generating the kind of revenue we would need to do so. If we can find a way to expand while not straying from its original purpose, we are open to new ideas. But we have no interest in expanding or changing Urban Scrawl simply to be able to raise more money or auction off more panels. We’re not here to make a buck, we’re here to make some art—and our artists and attendees appreciate that.

What were some of your favorite pieces that went through this year’s auction, and/or whose work do you look forward to seeing this year?

Last year, Tonya Marie constructed a sculpture of a woman using fabric, found objects, and other materials directly onto her 4-foot by 8-foot panel. It was one of the first fully three-dimensional panels that we have had at Scrawl, and it showed just how far our artists are willing to push the envelope on what can be produced over two days in 90-degree heat. I am anxious to see what she creates this year if she decides to participate.

Lucie Shearer is also an artist that I always look out for – her style is distinctive and lends itself well to the large format that Urban Scrawl promotes.  This was a big factor in why we asked Lucie to create the branding and poster design for this year’s event, because her pieces do a great job evoking the creative spirit of the event. Kirsten Bowen, Mandi Caskey, and Zakary Burgess are also high on my “watch list.”

There’s always plenty of talk about East Franklinton versus the rest of the neighborhood and the pace at which it has developed. How does Urban Scrawl and the Bellows grant program fit into the responsibility to serve the neighboring community, and not just the art buyers that come in for the auction?

First off, the idea of “East Franklinton” exists only in the offices and on the maps of developers and city planners.  If you ask the people who live here, there is only “Franklinton,” or, somewhat more controversially, “The Bottoms.” As an organization, we have no interest in trying to rename or otherwise create new, artificial boundaries within a community that pre-dates the founding of Columbus. Our goal is to connect Franklinton residents with opportunities to experience art in their own backyard, while also supporting those artists who live or work in the neighborhood.  It is important to have visitors come in from all over the city (and across the region) to experience art in Franklinton and purchase art from local artists, however, it is equally as important that the people who actually live here are able to partake in these activities as well. We believe the arts offer fun yet meaningful ways to connect the rising fortunes of the eastern portion of the neighborhood with those areas that have been underserved for decades.  Over the past two years, we have awarded grants to arts education programs at Lower Lights Ministries, school music programs at Franklinton Preparatory Academy, and even individual artists like Kat Francis and Christopher Tennant, both of whom live and work in the neighborhood. Our goal is to expand the amount of financial resources we can offer as we grow the program each year so that the rising tide lifts all boats, if you’ll pardon the flood metaphor.

Urban Scrawl 11

8.26-27 @ 400 West Rich

franklintonartsdistrict.com

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Travis Hoewischer

I've been working in journalism in central Ohio for more than a decade, and have been lucky enough to be a part of (614) Magazine since the very first issue. Proud to live in a city that still cares – and still reads.

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