Written by Sherricka Day
It's the Center where hockey pucks sail gracefully across the ice and “lions” pounce down the turf during football season. The Center for concerts and plays. The Center to watch seniors proudly march across the stage in cap and gown to commemorate their graduation year. It's the Center for a ride on the Ferris wheel, bumper cars and eating fried turkey legs at the Greater Columbus Fair. It's easy to say, the Columbus Civic Center is really “the Center of it all.” And now it's the center of an art movement, too.
Robert “Rob” Landers, Director of the Columbus Civic Center, is at the heart of this movement. With roughly a year and a half in his position, Landers is ready to enhance the look and feel of the city’s arena. He has over a decade of experience in event operation, venue management, guest services and everything needed to make a huge event feel magical. He's pulled off massive events at Phillips Arena and the Mercedes Benz Stadium with thousands of thousands of guests.
Landers has walked into arenas all over the country, and been immediately pulled in by the art, banners, and atmosphere surrounding him. He’s ready to bring that same energy to the Civic Center, because he understands the importance of creating engaging experiences for his customers. In short, Landers understands the power of art and he’s decided to partner with the art community to make his dreams a reality. In December 2021, the Columbus Civic Center saw its first ever art mural project come to life.
But let’s rewind some. Before the paint went on the walls.
Landers knew the project he was going to embark on would take a partner that would be open-minded, dedicated and just as creative as himself. He recalled a City Council meeting in 2020, where he saw three young ladies of different ethnicities, speaking before City Council to get approval on a public art project. They were passionate, not just for their project, but about the need for more public art in the community in general. Their idea became Advocacy Through Art (ATA - an initiative designed to create art in spaces that are generally devoid of it.
In addition to providing art in new areas of our community, another component of ATA is that it is a chance for artists’ voices to be heard on topics that are not always easy to digest. I was fortunate to be a part of the discussion that day. Landers remembered this, saying, “learning more about the initiative and seeing how you were so involved in various community activities, I knew it would be a good partnership and an opportunity to provide a representation of the local culture in the building.” After one conversation with Landers, I eagerly jumped onboard. The next step was to find an artist.
We needed an artist to paint two separate murals on the inside steps of the Civic Center, so I posted an artist call on Facebook that received 67 shares, 113 comments, and 30 submissions. To see that much interest in the project, was beyond exciting. But it was also overwhelming.
Next came the hardest part: narrowing it down to one artist.
The email exchange between Landers and I went on for days. “Oooo…did you see this?” “Omg…his or her work is amazing!” “Lord…help us!” “Everybody is so creative.” Landers shared the submissions with his staff, and they narrowed it down to five finalists.
We met with the five finalists met to discuss their work and other details about the project. Narrowing down to one artist was the most difficult part, and we still couldn’t do it! So, we picked two: Katarina Garcia and Jeremy McCrary.
Mural artists Katarina Garcia and Jeremy McCrary
Once they'd been selected, the artists were given paint and supplies and were let loose! Garcia pulled her inspiration from Maya Hayuk, an American artist known for incorporating geometric designs into her murals. McCrary went in a different direction. He was inspired by jazz and blues and decided to create a music scene. As much as the artists were different in their approach and inspiration, they were also alike. They shared the same excitement about being the first artists to have work displayed at the Civic Center. They knew that with each paint stroke, they were opening the way for other artists to come behind them in the future. They felt seen. They felt heard. And they felt appreciated.
“Truly, the little kid in me who never won or got picked for any art awards or art projects was elated, overjoyed and perhaps for the first time felt like my art and artistic talent are worthy of acknowledgement and praise," said Garcia. "As an adult, I immediately felt honored and excited, as well as creatively-honed and confident to give artistic life to this communal space. I also knew how important this project is, as a potential launch pad for a plethora of other artistic opportunities in our community, I needed to do everything in my power to make sure it was as successfully completed as possible!”
In between their normal work schedule and other activities, the artists worked evenings and weekends from the end of November to the end of December. I often stopped by to check in on them, provide feedback, and offer words of encouragement. I was so impressed with how they effortlessly transferred the images they had created on paper to colorful masterpieces on the walls.
In discussing the project with a friend, I remember saying, “imagine what this does for the morale and retention of artists and art students in our public schools and university. What McCrary and Garcia are doing adds vibrancy to the building, but it also connects our biggest meeting space in the city to other vibrant venues in our community. Also, they represent the diversity and differences in our community. Black and Puerto Rican, male and female, working together to make things happen.”
The employees at the Civic Center even offered their advice and thumbs up as they walked by the artists while they worked. I'm happy to report that the murals are finished. Garcia and McCrary skillfully transformed the beige walls on the steps to fun, vibrant, selfie-worthy spaces. And their work is just the beginning!
Rob Landers and Sherricka Day
Landers' exact words when he saw the completed murals? "Wow. This could not have come out better. It looks even better in person!"
With the successful completion of the first project, Landers and I are already working on the details for the next project. We are determined to make the Civic Center more than just a place for people to go to for sporting events or to catch their favorite performing artist. We see building at the center of fond memories and one-of-a-kind experiences. A space at the center of imagination and creativity. The center of an art movement. Yes, The “Center of it All.” ◾️