Artscape: Independents' Day

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

From da Vinci to the Beatles, artists and artisans have long fought to retain their own creative and financial destinies. Tools of the internet age like eBay and Etsy may make that control easier to wrangle, but when you're looking to forge your own way, it helps to have a community surrounding you.

Enter Independents' Day - a celebration of Columbus' DIY culture, from its locally owned businesses to its sovereign musicians and artists.

Last year, on the heels of several successful Agora events, Couchfire Collective was enlisted by Columbus urban ventures coordinator Mike Brown to pull together a creative and youth-savvy event Downtown.

With about four weeks to conceptualize, plan and pull something off, Couchfire, the Columbus Music Co-op and anyone willing to volunteer threw the first event together. Whirlwind organizing notwithstanding, they managed to bring out a crowd of 12,000 people.

With a full year to plan for round two, this year's Independents' Day will be significantly "bigger and badder."

Couchfire asked those who came to and cared about last year's event to do more than comment - they asked them to share the responsibility.

"Rather than make it a vertical organization where Couchfire sits at the top, we thought we should make it a horizontal thing, where everyone who is interested does their own thing on the day of," says Couchfire's Adam Brouillette. There are now around 30 collaborating and sponsoring organizations involved.

"We were worried that it wouldn't happen that way - that people would agree to take things on and then drop off," he said. "But we have more groups coming in than we thought we would and they're all following through. It's been pretty inspiring."

The physical size of the event has grown. It will take up the full stretch of Gay Street, along with Lynn and Pearl alleys, with extra sights spilling onto the sidewalks and storefronts of Broad and High. Organizers expect crowds to swell to 20,000 or 30,000 this year.

There will be three stages with live performances, the work of local filmmakers projected outside after dark and vacant storefronts occupied by the "Art Squatters" - Ohio State MFA students.

The food selection has also expanded, with the help of Tim Lessner and Dine Originals. Twelve local restaurants, as well as the usual suspects of Columbus' smaller vendors, will have food available.

Via Colori, the Short North-area festival that brought artists out to the street armed with chalk and pastels, was at risk of being cancelled this year. Now it's been folded into Independents' Day.

"We kind of went to them with an extended hand and said we'll help you out," says Brouillette.

The Downtown Residents Association will hold a yardless sale/flea market during the event, Ohio Roller Girls will race, and Skylab and the Shelf will hold their own menu of events, including artist Aaron Hibbs' attempt to break the hula hoop world record. An "idea convention," which was held inside the Vault last year, will move to a more central outdoor space.

The number of vendors selling wares or promoting services has escalated past 150, partly because the affordable booth space has inspired some artists and fledgling businesses to give their ideas a try.