This fall, the past meets the present as the I, Too, Sing America: Harlem Renaissance at 100 citywide arts collaboration shifts into high gear. While this initiative celebrates an important historical arts movement from a century ago, it's also about new works being created by black artists today. That fusion of tradition and innovation carries through this fall's arts season, which offers new local theater, music and visual arts alongside time-tested classics and venerated national performers. Here's our curated list of what's exciting this fall.

 PERFORMING ARTS

“The Toxic Avenger”

Short North Stage, through Sept. 16

“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” takes on new meaning in this comic rock musical featuring a superhero named Melvin, a New Jersey nebbish who, following a plunge into a barrel of toxic waste, emerges as a mutant superhero bent on punishing polluters. $35. shortnorthstage.org

“How I Got Pluto”

Abbey Theater of Dublin, Sept. 13–22

Baby boomers and their dramas, past and present, are the subject of a new play set during a 40th high school reunion. The work, by Columbus native Dave Morgan, is the stage debut of Original Productions Theatre, a new group established to provide a platform for playwrights. $20–$25. optheater.com

Sam Shepard Festival

MadLab Theatre and Gallery, through Sept. 22

Over three weeks this month, Warehouse Theatre celebrates the works of Sam Shepard, the dashing and prolific actor-playwright who died in 2017. The festival will feature recurring performances of “True West,” “Cowboy Mouth” and the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Buried Child,” along with one-time readings of three more plays. $10–$80. warehousetheatre.org

“[Porto]”

Studio 1, Riffe Center, Sept. 13–29

Available Light Theatre opens its fall season with this sly romantic comedy set in a bar in gentrifying Brooklyn and starring a conflicted feminist heroine who wants to stop listening to the Chorus of Dumb Bunnies in her head and start living more courageously. Suggested donation $20. avltheatre.com

“Devil Boys From Beyond”

Columbus Performing Arts Center, Sept. 20–29

Evolution Theatre, an LGBTQ theater company with a mission to “educate through entertainment,” revives its inaugural show this fall with a production of “Devil Boys from Beyond,” a sci-fi spoof about a town where all the old men are replaced by beautiful, buff boys and all the old women are pregnant. $15–$25. evolutiontheatre.org

“Madame Butterfly”

Southern Theatre, Sept. 28–30

This month, Opera Columbus will bring back Puccini’s popular, tragic opera about a woman abandoned by the man she loves, last performed by the group in 2013. This contemporary take will be staged in partnership with the Ohio State University Dance Department and Columbus Symphony Orchestra. $15–$99. operacolumbus.org

VISUAL ARTS

Titian’s Lady in White: A Renaissance Mystery

Columbus Museum of Art, through Dec. 9

In honor of the CMA’s 140th birthday this year, Columbus’ sister city of Dresden, Germany, is loaning the museum a masterpiece from its own art museum, the Gemäldegalerie. The lady in Titian’s 1555 portrait is clad in elegant white silk, and her intimate, wary glance provides the mystery. Is she the painter’s daughter? Or perhaps his lover? The exhibition includes other portraits from the period by painters such as Anthony Van Dyck and John Michael Wright. columbusmuseum.org

Ohio Art League Juried 
Exhibition

Shot Tower Gallery, Fort Hayes, Sept. 4–Oct.12

The annual juried exhibition is the flagship event for the Ohio Art League, established more than a century ago to support and encourage Ohio artists. Past jurors for the exhibition have included Grant Wood, Robert Indiana and Edward Hopper. This year’s jurors are Columbus painter Roger Williams and French photographer Sophie Blais; the exhibition, held in different locations each year, will be in Fort Hayes’ Shot Tower Gallery. oal.org

Mickalene Thomas: 
I Can’t See You Without Me

Wexner Center for the Arts, Sept. 14–Dec. 30

You’ve likely seen Mickalene Thomas’ rhinestone-encrusted portrait of Oprah, but that’s just an entry point to a huge body of mixed-media, collage-inspired, multidisciplinary work, often focused on images of black female beauty, power and sexual identity. This exhibition will explore Thomas’ incorporation of a range of artistic traditions and history in her work. wexarts.org

Imagining a Better World: The Artwork of Nelly Toll

Decorative Arts Center of Ohio, Sept. 15–Dec. 30

Hiding with her mother for 18 months in a small bedroom in the apartment of a Catholic family in Nazi-occupied Poland, a young Jewish girl began writing stories and painting watercolor images of happy children and carefree school days. This traveling exhibition provides a window into the mind of a child trying to make sense of the terrible history that was unfolding around her. decartsohio.org

The History of Animation 
at CCAD

Cloyd Family Animation Center, Sept. 25–Nov. 2

This fall, the Columbus College of Art & Design gets a new animation center, which will include state-of-the-art facilities like a virtual reality drawing lab and a dedicated stop-action lab. The center, located in CCAD’s Design Studios on Broad, will also include a gallery, and its inaugural exhibition will feature works by influential CCAD alumni. ccad.edu/calendar

CONCERTS

Kate Campbell

Columbus Performing Arts Center, Sept. 21

Born the daughter of a Baptist preacher in the Mississippi delta, Kate Campbell’s songs deliver literary lyrics with a Southern twang. Campbell stops in Columbus to kick off the 31st season of Six String Concerts, a volunteer-run series that brings both emerging and established singer-songwriters to Central Ohio audiences. Caroline Cotter will open. $15–$27, children $5. sixstring.org

Jazz At The Lincoln: Tenor Titans Of The Capital City

Lincoln Theatre, Sept. 22

The tenor saxophone, a limber jazz staple often described as the instrument most like the human voice, is the centerpiece of a concert that will feature some of the finest saxophonists on the city’s jazz scene while paying homage to local sax legends Gene Walker, Rahsaan Roland Kirk and Rusty Bryant. The concert will include the world premiere of an original commission written by Columbus Jazz Orchestra chief arranger and saxophonist Chad Eby. $10–$20. jazzartsgroup.org

FILM

Young French Cinema

Gateway Film Center, through Sept. 29

Film is booming in France, and this festival aims to bring us some of the best of the new. Two comedies, two dramas and a feature-length documentary will be screened at the Gateway over the course of a month during this festival celebrating the work of rising talent in French cinema. $5–$12. gatewayfilmcenter.org

Exhibition on Screen: “Vincent Van Gogh: A New Way of Seeing”

McConnell Arts Center, Sept. 21

“Art is long and life is short,” said Vincent van Gogh, the beloved and troubled impressionist painter, and his own life and art bore that out. This documentary features interviews with curators at Amsterdam’s van Gogh Museum, a touch of docudrama and gorgeous close-ups of the paintings. $5–$12. mcconnellarts.org

“Jazz Legends on Film”

Wexner Center for the Arts, Sept. 23

As part of the Harlem Renaissance at 100 series, the Wex presents six short films produced between 1929 and 1933, featuring Duke Ellington, Billie Holliday, Bessie Smith, Louis Armstrong and Cab Calloway. $6–$8. wexarts.org

“Thelonious Monk: Straight, No Chaser”

Drexel Theatre, Sept. 27

The discovery of a trove of live footage of the legendary bebop pianist and composer, some of it showing valuable close-ups of his fingers on the keyboard (the producer called the shots “the Dead Sea Scrolls of jazz”) sparked the making of this 1988 documentary. It’s the Drexel Theatre’s contribution to the Harlem Renaissance at 100 citywide series. $6–$10. drexel.net

COMEDY, SPOKEN WORD, LITERARY ARTS

An Evening with 
Jacqueline Woodson

Bexley High School, Sept. 5

The Columbus-born but South Carolina- and New York-raised Woodson is this year’s National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. She’s also launching two new books for children. The prolific author, whose memoir-in-verse “Brown Girl Dreaming” won the 2014 National Book Award, will converse on stage with local radio host Ann Fisher. Free; registration required. gramercybooksbexley.com

Speak Easy

Wild Goose Creative, Sept. 6, Oct. 4 and Nov. 1

If you have a story to tell—one you can tell in 10 minutes or less—come to Wild Goose Creative and take the microphone on the first Thursday of the month. Speak Easy, Columbus’ answer to the popular storytelling series The Moth, is a lively, open-mic evening of personal reflections and tall tales. $5. speakeasycbus.org

Kevin Hart

Nationwide Arena, Sept. 14

Kevin Hart has spun hilarious descriptions of his struggles, his foibles and the world’s indignities into an empire of comedy. After a year spent launching

a book, voicing the role of Captain Underpants and appearing with Jack Black and the Rock in “Jumanji,” Hart is back on stage with a world tour. He’ll bring his own blend of spectacle, humility and hilarity to Nationwide Arena. $38–$128. nationwidearena.com

An Evening with Wil Haygood: “Tigerland”

Lincoln Theatre, Sept. 19

Celebrated journalist and local son Wil Haygood, author of books about Thurgood Marshall, Sugar Ray Robinson, Adam Clayton Powell Jr. and others, has now turned his sights on the East High School Tigers of 1968. “Tigerland” is the inspiring story of their unlikely championship seasons in baseball and basketball, set against the social turmoil of the times. The conversation will be moderated by U.S. District Court Judge Algenon Marbley. $25–$50. capa.com

A Columbus Renaissance

By revisiting the Harlem Renaissance, arts booster Larry James hopes to fuel 
a similar blossoming of black art 
in Columbus.

To attorney and philanthropist Larry James, the citywide arts collaboration I, Too, Sing America: The Harlem Renaissance at 100 is more than a historical journey. It’s a chance for art lovers and gallery owners alike to develop an appreciation for the creations of black artists of all disciplines working in Columbus today. 

James knows how that learning process can go because he’s been through it. He likes to say that when he first joined the board of The King Arts Complex, which he led for 16 years, “You could put what I knew about art in a teaspoon.” 

“But I was trainable,” he says, recalling how his first purchase of a $25 poster evolved into a vast personal art collection. “You learn and you grow. When you begin to consume, you won’t go back because you will be starving.”

James, managing partner at Crabbe, Brown & James and a founding member of the Lincoln Theatre Association, is a guiding force behind the Harlem Renaissance initiative, which kicked off in January and will continue into early 2019.

The seed for the collaboration was planted by Columbus Museum of Art director Nannette Maciejunes, who wanted to mount an exhibition marking the centenary of the explosion of black art in New York’s Harlem neighborhood that began around the end of World War I. She shared her idea with James and the late Bill Conner, then director of the Greater Columbus Arts Council.

“I said, ‘Listen. Let’s not stop there. This has more legs than just an exhibition at the museum,’” says James. It wasn’t long before the three were recruiting supporters and partners for a roster of participants that eventually would include nearly every Columbus arts organization. The number of individual events is hard to come by, as the project has continued to grow and gain steam over the course of the year.

The CMA exhibition, curated by writer Wil Haygood, will open in October. Major events featuring national groups will take place this fall, including visits to the Lincoln Theatre by the Harlem Gospel Choir on Oct. 5 and to the Palace by the Dance Theatre of Harlem on Nov. 17.

But even more exciting, says James, is the bubbling up of locally generated events that will point toward a new, Columbus-based renaissance: a flowering of art created by people of color. This past summer’s events included August’s Short North Gallery Hop, in which 10 Short North galleries featured black artists, many of whom had never been represented by galleries in the past.

“The black artists had not approached the galleries, and the local galleries had not seen fit to really think about the local black artists,” says James. In late July, the Harlem Renaissance project sponsored a trip to New York for five Columbus artists to explore Harlem and connect with artists working there today.

Other upcoming events include an exhibit at the Ohio History Center focused on the historic Poindexter Village public housing project, an original musical at the Lincoln Theatre and a poetry reading at CCAD.

“The thing about Columbus I have come to understand is, if you create an opportunity for people to access and have exposure, if the quality is there, they will embrace it,” says James. “I would expect that everyone that this touches would hunger for more.” cbusharlem100.org 
—Suzanne Goldsmith