The Worthington coffee shop used a crisis to turn unsuspecting pedestrians into patrons of the arts.

Delaware artist Ed Phillips is accustomed to family members expressing a degree of puzzlement over his creations. “I started doing things where they say, ‘Well, what is that?’” says Phillips, whose nonrepresentational, oil-and-acrylic paintings feature colors, patterns and an abundance of texture but very little in the way of recognizable imagery.

This year, though, Phillips’ art came close to not being seen at all—let alone misunderstood.

His work was long ago slated to be shown in one of the most unexpected exhibition spaces in Central Ohio, Highline Coffee Co.’s mini gallery, dubbed the Highline Coffee Art Space. When the coronavirus pandemic hit, though, art director Don Scott was forced to scuttle his exhibition schedule. With the Worthington coffee shop open for carryout but closed to in-store traffic, visitors could no longer take in the art while sipping on their cup of joe.

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“You kind of go into shock to some degree and think, ‘Oh, great—this is the end of everything,’” Scott says.

For a while, two exhibitions that were hung in early March remained on display indefinitely—the artists’ work was essentially trapped in the shop, says owner Christie Bruffy. But in late May, a Highline employee had an idea: Why not use the window space to present new exhibitions to passersby on High Street?

“We started noticing that anything that was in our windows was just getting a lot more attention during that time, because people couldn’t come inside,” Bruffy says.

With that, Scott dove back into his schedule. First up was Phillips, whose show in the newly named North Window Gallery was unveiled in early August. Even though a pane of glass stands between onlookers and the art, Phillips feels that the qualities of his so-called “nonobjective” paintings will come through—even the 3D texture of the layers of dried paint. “From an angle, you can see little shadows,” he says.

In September, the North Window Gallery was turned over to Clintonville photographer Christine Ruddy, who took up photography about four years ago while maintaining her career in banking. She started with still-life shots of both ordinary and strange objects; since she splits her time between Ohio and Texas, many of her pictures feature unexpected items she picks up at flea markets in the South.

With Bruffy planning to keep Highline closed to in-person dining possibly through next spring, Scott intends to keep using the North Window Gallery as a spot to showcase local talent. “We all know it’s not ideal, but I think we’re doing the best we possibly can under the circumstances,” he says.

Ruddy appreciates Scott’s industriousness in making sure that artists remain visible to the public—even if they just happen to stumble upon the display. “It’s just nice that Don has got a place for us to still exhibit, even though people have to be walking by,” Ruddy says. “But there are a lot of people out walking right now. It’s one of the things you can actually do.” 

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