Started from the Bottoms: How Franklinton has risen to the top of Columbus’ art and culture scene


By Jill Moorhead
From the September 17, 2015 edition
Columbus Alive

It’s a Monday afternoon and Alicia “AJ” Vanderelli, Ashley Pierce and Tiffany Boggins are on the back patio of Rehab Tavern in Franklinton. Their picnic tabletop is full — not with beer bottles, but with art supplies. There’s a toolbox of sculpting tools, a sketchbook or two, and a dead cicada (a model of sorts). Vanderelli, founder of The Vanderelli Room, is painting, wiping, painting and wiping a found tray featuring an image of an English countryside. Things are about to change for the residents of the tiny brick homes. Hovering above the scene is a gigantic spaceship, with equally enormous cicadas climbing down (backwards, as they do). Her countryside will never be the same.

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These organic Franklinton gatherings aren’t just impromptu study halls. They’re a result of creative placemaking, a practice of intentionally leveraging the arts to serve a greater community. Because of planning started more than a decade ago by the City of Columbus, in Franklinton, it’s now plausible that a successful zombie escape business shares a building with teens scrimmaging for the world series of robot fight club, FIRST Tech Challenge. Now casual gatherings at places like Land-Grant Brewing and Strongwater (called “the de facto business center of Franklinton” by Alex Bandar, CEO at the Columbus Idea Foundry) bring about ideas. Ideas like the Artists Wrestling League, an ongoing series of WWE-style paint-offs. Ideas like date night events involving blacksmithing at Idea Foundry followed by a three-course dinner at Strongwater. And ideas like Franklinton Fridays, monthly art walks that connect the Ethical Arts Collective, 129 Studios and the neighborhood’s other 11 galleries and arts hubs.
Sea Change

The effect of the arts — starting with the opening of 400 West Rich — on the community is undeniable. In May of 2010, as many of 400 West Rich’s Pecha Kucha guests wandered into the dark warehouse for the first time, police on foot and in helicopter investigated gunshots in nearby Riverside Bradley. Five years later, khaki-laden suburban couples pose for selfies in front of handpainted plywood signs outside the same building at the 9th annual Urban Scrawl. A few feet down from where Three Deuces once stood — known by police, says Franklinton Development Association (FDA) executive director Jim Sweeney, as “a good place to get stabbed” — full-time blacksmith Adlai Stein now teaches Idea Foundry students how to make decorative knives. And just a block away from asbestos-filled homes with boarded up windows plastered with warnings not to enter, there’s a new public service advertisement, one connected to a CoGo Bike Share station reminding passersby to steer clear of ticks.


In just five years, the peninsula has traded crack addicts and prostitutes for artists-in-residence from near and far (see: Dresden, Germany). And between 400 West Rich, The Idea Foundry and the newly relocated Glass Axis, East Franklinton employs more than 100 full-time employees, all in the creation business. In recent months, a tattoo shop (Defining Skin), a custom furniture shop (Wood.Metal.Art.), a 3D scanning company (Knockout Concepts) and a product design company (Bigger Tuna) have either expanded or opened in the area. And this weekend, the eight-year-old Independents’ Day Festival will return to Franklinton for the second year, bringing with it more than 100 musical performances across seven performance stages and spaces, and more than 300 volunteers.

In short, the area once branded a floodplain by FEMA (and “The Bottoms” by everyone else) has risen to the top of Columbus’ art and culture scene.
The Beginning of the End of the Bottoms

Every story has a beginning, and East Franklinton has many. There was the time the city decided to build a floodwall and created the FDA and hired Sweeney to help manage the changes that come with taking a floodplain and making it viable land again. There was the time when a Los Angeles-based entrepreneur with a keen ability to hire the right people from 2,200 miles away purchased an empty water fountain factory. Maybe it began when Lance Robbins, that aforementioned investor, brought in Chris Sherman, who grew up in a transitioning Short North, and Kris Howell, who would later open Strongwater, to poke around what would become 400 West Rich. For some in the near future, the beginning of the Franklinton we know today came a few weeks ago, when Resource Ammirati’s Nancy Kramer and entrepreneur Christopher Celeste invested the money needed to complete the top floor of the Idea Foundry, adding windows, HVAC and a rooftop patio.


For Kramer, Franklinton’s true beginnings are paramount. “Franklinton is Columbus’ original neighborhood,” she reminds us, “And that’s really inspiring. It is an epicenter for so many creative activities. I feel as if the Idea Foundry has the potential for being a huge catalyst for creativity and innovation, not just for Franklinton, but for the entire [Columbus] community.”

All these milestones — from Sweeney starting the Franklinton Art District, which spawned Go West, Urban Sprawl, and, most recently, the George Bellows Grant Program, which funds arts projects in Franklinton with the sales of Urban Scrawl paintings, to the origins of 400 West Rich, to the completion of Idea Foundry — have helped to make art happen organically, and they all took foresight and quick thinking.

Because of his early work in the area, Sweeney and Franklinton are almost synonymous, but he’s careful not to take all the credit for what’s going on. “We were hoping that if we put the right opportunities into place, that people here and others not from here … would step up and start working on interesting projects,” says Sweeney of the original vision to include art in the plan for a post-floodwall Franklinton, “I’m happy to say that it’s working out nicely.”


Modesty aside, he’s been instrumental in attracting arts anchors to the area. Both Sweeney and Idea Foundry’s Bandar admit it took some major wooing to make it happen. Bandar didn’t want to get into a situation where he’d help develop a neighborhood and then be priced out of it. (This exact thing had happened twice to Glass Axis in previous locations, before the organization joined Franklinton in January of 2015.) Both artistic mainstays negotiated long-term leases with Sweeney’s involvement. For the Idea Foundry, it was intimate: a lease-to-own situation with the FDA as owner (with the recent Kramer/Celeste investment tying it all together) and for Glass Axis, it was a 20-year lease.

In short, the FDA’s job is to revitalize the area by finding grants, building houses and turning the housing market around, to increase value to the point where the people who own houses can see a return on investment, but not so fast that people can’t afford to live there. The goal? Providing housing for moderate-income buyers and renters. A recent boon is the opening of United Preparatory Academy (UPrep), whose Franklinton-area enrollment is more than a quarter of the student body. Andy Boy, founder of United Schools Network, believes grade schools add stability. “As the FDA works to bring in more homeowners, we become a part of the long-term plan. There [are] lots of tie-ins between schools and the arts,” said Boy. “We have to have strategic partnerships. There’s an opportunity for collaboration.” Watching artists fill the streets (making them seem safer) with paper-balloon launches, bands, and pop-up skate parks is quite a start.
Building Blocks


That said, the road’s been rough for Franklinton’s pioneers. Along with old buildings come leaky roofs and countless repairs. 400 West Rich keeps 11 staff members busy, just for upkeep.

Many things have changed from their original plans. The event space at 400 was originally envisioned as a gallery. The Idea Foundry? It was meant to be apartments. A private meeting room at Strongwater became extra seating when Sherman knocked a wall out. Countless residential projects are approved and ready to go, as soon as funding arrives. And some things didn’t last, including Dinin’ Hall, a food truck pod.

The biggest hurdle is the perception problem, one that’s slowly changing. Rex Brown, executive director of Glass Axis, encounters negative comments on Facebook. “Sometimes it’s from people who aren’t even coming down here; they haven’t been here in 10 years,” he says, adding, “What is cool is when people do come down here, it’s a lot more lively and exciting than they expected.” Although Glass Axis is experiencing record sales, the empty blocks between institutions don’t guarantee collaboration. Currently, it’s more natural for Glass Axis to partner with nearby Jubilee Museum and Catholic Cultural Center than it is to connect with events like Urban Scrawl or Independents’ Day.


That image problem was connected with the decision to make Franklinton an arts destination, says Sweeney. “[The FDA] could not attract people of higher incomes because we had an image problem. We were known as the Bottoms; people were afraid to come here. Art was an initiative to restore hope in the community. It was free or inexpensive, and gets instant momentum.”

The hustling, the planning, the wooing of investors and businesses. Did it work? Did it turn Franklinton from “the next big thing” to a thing that definitely is?

Longtime business owner Tom Pappas of Tommy’s Diner says it did. “I was sick and tired of crackheads and prostitutes. It’s very clean now, very safe. It won’t be long before we’re the new Short West.”

Independents’ Day development chair Wolf Starr says it did. “We moved to Franklinton after a year-and-a-half study spanning from board rooms to hot tubs. We wanted to impact the right neighborhood at the right time and realized we’d be adding gas to an already burning fire. It’s become one of the most talked-about neighborhoods in the city.”


Shawn Walburn, a design and fabrication artist at 400 West Rich says it did. “We’re starting to help one another out. There’s probably about 15 or 20 of us who are always recommending one another. That’s kind of why we’re here,” he says.

And maybe Ashley Pierce says it best. “You have this energy here where you feel like you’re part of something big. It’s just a part of history. Maybe people will look back and talk about us, saying ‘They were the core.’ When you go over to [The Vanderelli Room] and there’s a fire going and we cook out, we all know that it’s not going to be that way forever. But right now, it’s so good. It’s a special moment. All of us are pretty aware of that.”



Arts preview: “Sue Cavanaugh: Gathering III”


By Jesse Tigges


When perusing the myriad of events happening at this weekend Franklinton Fridays event, make sure to stop by 400 West Rich’s Promenade Gallery to see Sue Cavanaugh’s massive and striking installations. Cavanaugh’s centerpieces for “Gathering III” are three installations using 35-foot parachutes (pictured), as well as reconfiguring previous installations into compositions that will flow off  the walls and take advantage of this space inside the 100-plus year-old former factory.

The parachute pieces have been painted and patterned to create the aesthetic of water, as Cavanaugh was inspired by the idea of the river — the quirky lines of a river bank or an island in a river, the movement and swirls of a river or something floating in a river. The result is massive, flowing pieces running through the hallways and ceilings. Other installations and pieces incorporate found objects, as well as cloth, cord, dye, paint and occasionally wood and wire to produce quite large and mesmerizing works. 400 West Rich will be open from 7-11 p.m. Friday.

Urban Scrawl 9: Aug 29-30


Columbus Alive Jesse Tigges

Aug 27, 2015

The development of Urban Scrawl over the last nine years has led to more artists than ever participating in this weekend’s live painting event. Most importantly, it’s become a signature event for Franklinton.

“The thing we’re most excited about is the increase in the artists …[and] that more and more artists notice what’s going on over here and really want to be a part of it,” said Urban Scrawl chair Lauren Wilson, who’s organized the last four events and attended Urban Scrawl since its inception in 2007. “We’ve always seen Urban Scrawl as a tool for neighborhood revitalization, but it’s really taken a foothold this year.”

Urban Scrawl had a humble beginning when a handful of artists gathered at Dodge Park — the two-day event is now held in the parking lot of 400 West Rich — but the growing involvement and commitment from the artists facilitated substantial growth. That’s exemplified by the fundraising components, Art for Franklinton Fundraiser and George Bellows Grant Program, that provide support to neighborhood projects and artists, and thus to Urban Scrawl.

“With the launch of our Bellows Grant Program, it’s become this beautiful circle. The artists create these amazing art panels. Then those wind up in the Art for Franklinton Fundraiser, which then directly funds the Bellows program, [and that] goes back to artists and art projects for the community,” Wilson said. “The artists bring the vibrancy and that pioneering spirit, and with the quality of the work just going through the roof then rolling over into that grants program, I think it’s legitimized the whole operation. I think the success of the Bellows fundraiser has really inspired people to get out here, create more art and do a little something to give back. All total, we raised just shy of $20,000 [from sales of Urban Scrawl 8 panels at May’s Art for Franklinton live auction].”

The Bellows Grant Program presents a financial component that boosts Franklinton’s revitalization efforts through supporting individual artists’ projects — as well as group programs and organizations — that will have a positive impact on the community. The five 2015 Bellow Grant recipients will be announced Sunday afternoon.

While the Bellows Grant Program presents a viable financial addition, perhaps the best example of Urban Scrawl’s ascension from DIY, independent art event to one of the neighborhood’s most anticipated annual occasions is the sheer number of artists who submitted for 2015. Over 120 individuals submitted — more than double the 2014 submissions — and 65 will be live-painting Saturday and Sunday.

Along with the most participating artists in this year’s Urban Scrawl, a handful of other activities, some new and some returning, will be involved. Artists Wrestling League will bring their brand of live-painting-meets-Randy-Savage-theatrics for Urban Brawl, and the Columbus Parklet Project will design a mini-park that will be displayed in Franklinton after the event.

There is also an increased presence of food trucks planned, along with beverages from Rhinegeist Brewing, Watershed Distillery and Rambling House Soda. Beatbox performers and breakdancers will provide entertainment, and the music will be supplied by DJs (in lieu of live bands that have played at previous Scrawls). The event will harken back to its early days by erecting an outdoor skate park.

But the biggest draw is the artists, who’ve experienced a rise similar to Urban Scrawl and Franklinton. The arts community — and the creatives driving it — is garnering a fan base of its own, one that extends all over the city.

“Now so many of these artists have their own following and are gallery-represented. So it’s gone from independent artists coming to slap some paint on some panels in a park to these folks bringing their own fan base. People aren’t just coming for the event — they are coming to watch these specific artists. I think it’s great that the art scene in Columbus supports that kind of fan base,” Wilson said. “The bottom line is the growth is just a visible reminder that people, not just those living and working in Franklinton, but folks in the city as a whole are starting to believe in Franklinton, and are really starting to support it.”

400 West Rich Artists featured in Columbus Alive People to Watch 2015


By Jesse Tigges
From the August 6, 2015 edition
Name: Ralph Walters
Age: 44 Occupation: Freelance artist
Hometown: Franklinton, Louisiana
Neighborhood: Northwest side
Affiliation: Artists Wrestling League, Art Party, Art and the Artists of 614 Hero: Frida Kahlo
Twitter: @WRalphWalters Website:
Name: Alicia Vanerelli
Age: 40
Occupation: Artist, gallery owner/curator, art facilitator/ educator, caregiver
Hometown: Panama City, Florida Neighborhood: Franklinton
Affiliation: Franklinton Arts District, Artist Wrestling League, Franklinton Fridays
Hero: “Anyone who follows their passion with courage, determination and empathy.”
Name: Walter Herrmann
Age: 39 Occupation: Sculptor, educator, organizer
Hometown: Sharpsville, Pennsylvania
Neighborhood: Franklinton Affiliations: The Art and Artists Of …
Heroes: Barbara Vogel, Dr. Seuss


In the past year, Alicia Vanderelli, Ralph Walters and Walter Herrmann have been integral to the proliferation, development and reputation of the arts scene in Franklinton — a key component to the neighborhood’s revitalization.
While they don’t dismiss roles as leaders, the three also emphasize that none of their individual accomplishments would’ve been possible without the support of each other and, most importantly, the community of artists in Franklinton and all over Columbus.
“For all three of us and everyone focused on this [arts] community … we want to be leaders who show if you embrace everybody there’s nothing that can’t be done,” Vanderelli said.“There’s no way I could have done any of this without support from my peers.”
Walters and Vanderelli have been the backbone behind many of the happenings in Franklinton; Walters as creator and curator (“It’s Saturday Morning Somewhere,” “Fear Hundred” and the maestro of Artists Wrestling League) and Vanderelli as the owner/curator of The Vanderelli Room, the gallery that’s become a hub for the neighborhood through the monthly exhibits that are steadily growing in attendance.
Herrmann has also contributed greatly to the area with community impact projects, founding The Art and Artists Of … network throughout Ohio two years ago — a Facebook group with 7000-plus members in Columbus alone — and acting on multiple commit- tees and boards. He didn’t let this slow down his personal endeavors, as Herrmann also presented an awe-inspiring solo exhibition (“The Hive”) at the Cultural Arts Center.
And they’re not done. Not by a long shot.
Vanderelli and Herrmann are spearheading a “holistic integrated educational program” engaging autism-diagnosed artist Henry Hess with professional artists and his teenage peers which will be presented at Ohio State’s Arts and Autism Conference in August.

Herrmann has become artist-in-residency at the Vanderelli Room, working to build a community art project (including a Franklinton time capsule) outside. Herrmann is also partnering with renowned Los Angeles artist Dan Das Mann for another neighborhood project in 2016.
Walters has a solo exhibit “Heaven and Earth” in September at The Vanderelli Room, and has organized two upcoming Artist Wrestling League events — which recently secured corporate sponsorship from Blick Art Supplies — for Urban Scrawl and Independents’ Day.
All three continue to express the importance of community, which demonstrates the utmost thoughtful leadership.
“I want us to be an example of what you can do when you work together. Community is not a word, it’s an action,” Walters said.


Alicia Vanderelli
Since opening The Vanderelli Room, Alicia Vanderelli has played host to many compelling exhibitions. It’s been welcome for Franklinton to have a gallery that welcomes all artists, and she curates in a manner that bestows a collection — whether it’s a group or solo show — of utmost quality.
But The Vanderelli Room means more to the artists who’ve found a community within its walls. And it means even more to Vanderelli because of that.
“The Vanderelli Room started as giving yourself 100 percent to the community and not expecting compensation for it, but that [approach] really lends itself to opportunities that do,” Vanderelli said.
While most may think “compensation” is defined monetarily — and Vanderelli says embracing the community can have that effect — there are more important rewards for the artist and curator.
The humble Vanderelli would probably shyly smile and say, “Whatever” to this notion, but she’s earned the complete respect of the artists she exhibits.
The second group show The Vanderelli Room hosted was “Born Into This,” themed around Charles Bukowski — Vanderelli’s favorite author. “That was a perfect show,” fellow People to Watch recipient Ralph Walters said. “Out of any art show I’ve been to, taken part in, or curated, ‘Born into This’ was the most perfect art show. And it was so early in the life of the gallery that it’s a testament to what she can do.”
It was “perfect” because Vanderelli visited all 33 participating artists in their studios to discuss their work, life, artistic practice, Bukowski and anything else.
“Doing that built a respect between me and the artists I visited. I still go on studio visits if somebody sends me images [for an exhibit]. Can I come to the studio? That makes a huge difference in [experiencing] the work,” Vanderelli said.
The Vanderelli Room is almost completely booked with monthly exhibits through 2016, and Vanderelli has again put respect at the center of her efforts in the “holistic integrated educational program.”
She has worked with Henry Hess since December of 2014, and it’s easy to see the progress he’s made as an artist, as well as a young man diagnosed with autism. Vanderelli’s outreach and mentoring efforts didn’t end there; other teenage artists found the gallery’s environment sincerely welcoming and even inspiring.
“What we’re doing with Henry is Walter [Herrmann] and I are refining an approach that’s … basically sparked out of working with Henry as an artist with autism, three days a week,” Vanderelli said. “He’s around plenty of professional artists. But [that can be] boring so I tried to build his peer group …and it’s amazing to see [their] interactions,”
When Vanderelli (and Herrmann) speak about this program at Ohio State’s Arts and Autism Conference Aug. 11, the audience will be listening because Vanderelli always does the same to those she crosses paths with.

Ralph Walters
Any exhibit, art event or creative effort Ralph Walters executes, it’s going to be amazing — and probably a hell of a lot of fun. Does that make Walters an artistic wunderkind? Possibly, but not if you ask him.
“I’m the biggest fanboy,” said Walters. “First of all it’s been a great way to meet a lot of artists whose work I’ve admired. And every time I do one of these, it’s amazing what people come up with. It’s not just that they are amazing artists or that they’re engaged with the subject matter. It’s because it touches them in some way. It’s that every show there is quite of handful of artists who really push themselves to come up with something unusual. And that’s fantastic! It’s nice being able to be the catalyst for that occasionally.”
Walters has been the architect behind exhibits “Fear Hundred” and “It’s Saturday Morning Somewhere” in the past year. He’s also been one of the the participating artists biggest champions.
That’s probably the reason Walters got a dozen — and the number keeps growing — artists (typically introverts) to don crazy outfits and perform as even crazier personas for the live-painting-meets-professional-wrestling mayhem that is Artists Wrestling League.
“It’s been way more successful than I ever imagined. As I told people, it’s the dumbest idea I’ve ever come up with and it has legs, man. I had no idea,” Walters said.
But Walters isn’t content to let Artists Wrestling League merely be an amusing diversion for the art community. After earning corporate sponsorship from Blick Art Supplies, the wheels in Walters’ idiosyncratic mind began spinning.
Walters plans to enhance the actual live-painting events — next at Urban Scrawl in August and Independence Day in September — but also give back to the artists who participate.
He plans to craft short videos for each artist/wrestler that delve deeper into their practice and showcase their talent which he will post on the popular and growing Artist Wrestling League Facebook page. It’s a way for AWL fans to see the artist behind the mask.
“We can bring in other artists as guests, and have offshoot projects, and still do the dumb comedy thing where we’re just enjoying being ridiculous. But I want people to know who that person actually is, and what they actually do,” Walter said. “That also lets people know the kind of talent we have here. One of my goals for AWL was to make it really benefit the artists who participate.”
Walters plans to use these videos along with previously captured footage, photos and written records to document the growth of Franklinton’s art scene.



Walter Herrmann
Walter Herrmann has a reputation as a respected artist who’s also adept at being a leader for the art community. His pieces are complex — in both execution and meaning — and his role as a facilitator and trailblazer are well-recognized amongst his peers.
Not one to rest on his laurels, Herrmann is taking on a bigger role.
Herrmann was the creator of The Art and Artists Of …, a Facebook group that acts as a resource, sounding board, forum and place for networking that now has chapters in every area code in Ohio — and Alaska (which only has one area code). The group boasts 7,000-plus members in Columbus alone, and Herrmann sees this as potential for more.
“We are going to be switching to an educational format,” Herrmann said. “Everything that’s available and the way it is will stay the same, except for the administrative purposes Where we were organizing group shows and are going to continue that, just not as many. We feel that our energy would be much better spent in educating everybody, because so many do go to that site for information. Every month we want to have an artist that we fell fills a skill set or topic that we’re going to discuss and have as the presenter.”
“The phrase starving artist really bothers me. I’ve never met one in my life. It allows the perpetuation of the ideal that we can’t have wealth and it can’t be attached to what we do. I think a lot of that is made up in our heads and we’ve been put into this stereotype of what an artist is. And we’ve succumb to that. We’ve been raised in this occupation to buy into that. A lot of us, including myself until recently, didn’t know how to establish[being a successful artist]. It’s really just in dialog, self-confidence and portraying excellence. Columbus has an art scene that’s based on excellence. This [development] isn’t happening because we’re mediocre.”
Along with offering education programming — through services online and in Alicia Vanderelli’s mentoring program with Henry Hess and other young artists — Herrmann is engaging the art community with boots on the ground.
The big project Herrmann is in the early stages of is bringing Dan Das Mann — a renowned sculptor in Los Angeles who is best recognized for his massive Burning Man sculptures — to Columbus to create a Funn Mobile.
“They’re sculpted out to be attractive, beautiful and fun. They blow smoke, make noises and have all kinds of do-dads. One is a little box that unfolds to reveal the car. The concept is Das Mann comes here to create one of these vehicles and then presents it to an organization in Franklinton. It would then coincide with Franklinton Fridays and … for the inauguration we’re going to have a parade that will lead you to a party which will be a celebration of all that is Franklinton and hopefully start a tradition,” he said.

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