Arts preview: One year of "Six in the City: Columbus"

Jim Fischer

"Open up or we're coming in."

That might sound like a response to Alive's Question of the Week for this issue, "What six-word phrase do you dread hearing?" But for Shannon Wilson, these six words, uttered at her door by police, were "my miracle. It changed my life."

Wilson's story is one of eight that will be shared first-person at "Six in the City Live! An Evening of Stories, Music and More" at the Wexner Center for the Arts on Thursday, May 19.

The event, in part, marks the approach of the one-year anniversary of "Six in the City: Columbus," a local initiative of author and publisher Larry Smith based on his "Six-Word Memoirs."

The "Six Words" series began in 2006 as a one-month, user-generated storytelling contest on hisSmith Magazinewebsite. The response was overwhelming, so Smith decided first to curate the stories for the site, and then to collect and publish them in traditional book form. Smith has since curated live "talk" events around the six-word concept, whether hosting public events or bringing "six words" to schools and other venues as a way to explore and inspire creativity.

"The one-year anniversary is something special," said Smith, who found a willing partner in Columbus soon after relocating here from the West Coast. "This community embraced the idea, really made it easy. I'd like to see it become a 'Columbus thing.'"

For this special event - "This is the most ambitious live show we've ever done," Smith said - Smith will bring together a slate of storytellers who will begin with six words and then share a bit of backstory.

Wilson's six-word backstory is a defining moment in her life. Involved with drugs and alcohol since she was a teenager, she was a married mother of a five-year-old boy when she hit rock bottom.

"I knew I was at an end. I had struggled with addiction and had moved on to harder drugs and the lifestyle that came with that," she said. "Complications from that lifestyle are what got me arrested. I was tried, and I knew it was coming."

In her nearly four years at the Ohio Reformatory for Women, Wilson joined "programs, groups, Bible studies, anything I could think of to change." Transitioning out of prison, often a difficult process, was aided by a series of programs and "halfway houses." It was through one of these programs that Wilson was introduced to Hot Chicken Takeover founder Joe DeLoss. DeLoss had hired people in Wilson's situation before, and Wilson embraced the opportunity.

"Joe gave me a job. He trusted me. I've been [with Hot Chicken] for over a year now and it helped me become a productive member of society," Wilson said. "My hope for this talk would be to open people's eyes to see that people can change."

Other featured presenters will include veteran raconteur Ralph Fredericks, poet Amy Turn Sharp, Columbus icon Xenia Palus, Aaron King of The Dharma House, Keida Mascaro from The Armchair Report and sustainable fashion designer and advocate Celeste Malvar-Stewart.

"[Smith's] six-word [event] is my secret weapon," Malvar-Stewart said. "I have a dream of uniting all the independent fashion designers in Columbus. We've got all these great people and initiatives, but we don't really work together. So I'm going to offer a different viewpoint of fashion in Columbus."

Malvar-Stewart's five-minute presentation will feature six-word selections projected onto dresses worn by live models and onto a screen behind.

"Larry gave each of us the stage to do what they do in the way they do it," she said. "So I'm making a very fashion-y statement."

A six-word event hosted by teacher Ben Shinabery at Arts & College Preparatory Academy introduced Smith to 15-year-old musician Chloe White. The six-word-inspired original song she performed was enough to make Smith want to bring her in for the live event.

"When I heard Larry would be attending [the ACPA event], I flipped out," White said. "Then to be invited to perform … I felt really honored. And my family is really pumped."

White's backstory is music, something she's been doing and making "since I could walk and talk. In my spare time, all I do is write songs."

White, who performs solo and with an acoustic band called Five3, is interested in all kinds of music, from jazz to bluegrass.

"Six in the City Live!" will also feature a unique theatrical contribution courtesy of Available Light Theatre. Smith described it as an "in-the-moment" piece inspired by the evening's storytellers.

Middle West Spirits has also crafted a six-ingredient drink for the evening, in keeping with the theme. And, as with all of Smith's live "six-word" events, the night will include a "Six-Word Slam."

"We always have a time where we open it up to the audience for their six words," Smith said of the "Slam" portion of the show.

Wexner Center

for the Arts

7 p.m. Thursday,

May 19

1871 N. High St.,