The Arts at Ohio State
July 7, 2022
One of the greatest pleasures of my first year at Ohio State has been learning about the university’s astonishing array of the arts. I got to pop into open-studio night at Hopkins Hall; saw the student art exhibit at the Urban Arts Space; and visited the STEAM Factory, where faculty director Maurice Stevens and program director Charlene Brenner were kind enough to give me a tour of artists’ studios that share the Factory’s space in Franklinton. It has been wonderful to visit the Wexner Center for the Arts throughout the year. There is always something going on; I enjoy seeing the same exhibit again and again—and I learn something new each time.
Some may wonder why I have chosen to write about the arts right now. It is such a difficult moment for our country and the world. President Johnson has addressed many issues that threaten our well-being. She has spoken with the leader of Ukraine, expressed her concerns about mass shootings, led us tirelessly through a pandemic, and given testimony about academic freedom. But I believe that art is even more essential in this particularly difficult time. Art can make meaning when our words fail. Art can interpret the unimaginable. Art can help us see when we would rather wear blinders. It can show what it means to be human, including our many failures and also our beauty.
I am deeply optimistic about the arts at Ohio State. It has been a pleasure to co-chair the ongoing search for the next director of the Wexner Center for the Arts, along with board member David Aronowitz and Distinguished University Professor Emerita Ann Hamilton. We are joined by colleagues from the Wex staff, the community, the faculty, and the Wexner Center for the Arts board. I look forward to this appointment. The director will work closely with me and the provost’s office, our dedicated and valued Wex staff, and collaborators across Ohio State to be a vital campus and community voice for the arts.
Along with the new director for the Wexner Center for the Arts, in the coming year, we will welcome a number of new arts leaders. Joni Acuff will chair the Department of Arts Administration, Education and Policy; Charles Anderson will chair our Department of Dance; Michael Ibrahim will serve as director of the School of Music; Fabienne Münch will chair the Department of Design; and Karl Whittington will chair the Department of History of Art. It is rare to have so many new arts leaders recruited at one time. The opportunities are outstanding.
In addition, Ohio State will have a range of new arts venues. The Arts District will position all visual and performing arts disciplines around a revitalized entryway to campus at 15th Avenue and High Street. Situated between 15th and 18th Avenues, the Arts District will provide high-quality, modern learning environments for interaction across the university’s arts disciplines. This ambitious project includes new, state-of-the-art facilities for the School of Music and the Department of Theatre, Film, and Media Arts. The Timashev Family Music Building will begin offering classes and programming this fall, and the Theatre, Film, and Media Arts Building will open next year.
Ohio State is well known for its excellence in arts and culture. The Wexner Center for the Arts, for example, has attracted international attention for its bold mission and daring design. The cultural currents that both gave rise to the Center and informed its history were captured in the recent exhibition To Begin, Again: A Prehistory of the Wex, 1968-1989. In addition, many of our arts departments are nationally recognized, including our top-tier dance department. But we also have many arts venues that are hidden gems. For instance, the Frank W. Hale, Jr. Black Cultural Center has a significant collection of African American art. Up to a few months ago, Larry Williamson Jr. directed the Center. Mr. Williamson is a true treasure himself, having gathered the majority of the more than 700 pieces of art contained in that collection and, until his retirement, willingly and expertly explaining its pieces.
The Ohio State arts footprint also extends beyond the Columbus campus. If you travel down South High Street, you arrive at the Urban Arts Space, which forms a community-based outpost for arts at Ohio State. On my most recent visit, I had the pleasure of seeing third-year MFA students’ work. The opportunity to exhibit and curate as a student is important and rare, providing an essential skill for a career in art. The team at the Urban Arts Space also runs a gallery in Hopkins Hall. Our regional campuses boast music performances, theatre productions, and exhibition spaces—including the Farmer Family Gallery at Lima, the Kuhn Fine Arts Gallery at Marion, the LeFevre Art Gallery at Newark, and the Pearl Conard Art Gallery at Mansfield.
Our university has many surprising locations, artworks, and finds across our campuses. Thanks to Vice President for Planning, Architecture, and Real Estate Keith Myers, another university treasure, our campus art will be cataloged and documented, a first step to making it more visible. Keith is retiring the summer, and we will all miss him very much.
Despite this wealth of talent, objects, and venues, however, we have not yet articulated the big picture for university arts and cultural initiatives. Without a strategic vision, we will not fully realize our potential. A strategic vision will make the arts at the university more accessible, enabling us to be a consistent partner to the vibrant Columbus arts community. Thus, we have begun the search for a vice provost for the arts. This individual will collaborate with our campus and community partners in creating a campus-wide vision for arts and culture that furthers President Johnson’s commitment to excellence in academics, research, service, talent and culture, and operations. Arts and culture should and do play a central role in Ohio State’s mission of scholarship, education, and service.
Over the next few years, I anticipate that Columbus will become an important destination for arts and culture. With discipline and focus, Ohio State can be a key partner in creating that vision.