Cover: How Wild Goose Creative navigated power outages, budget constraints and busted furniture to build an enduring community arts group

Jim Fischer

The Dec. 6 Gallery Night at Wild Goose Creative, featuring works by artists exhibited in the space throughout the organization's history, begins a celebration 10 years in the making. Technically, 14 years, if you include the four years of discussion, contemplation and gestation during which the concept for what became Wild Goose was cooked up.

Married couples Beth and Nick Dekker, Jessie and Karl Boettcher and Jacqui and Ryan Hoke, all graduates of the undergrad theater program at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, launched Wild Goose Creative in late 2006. Its philosophies coalesced following those four years of undergrad, graduate school and a little bit of growing up. Wild Goose held its first events in early 2007.

And thus is Wild Goose Creative marking, in the coming months, 10 years of poetry readings, cooking, workshops, exhibitions, festivals, yoga, comedy, crafts, concerts and more, all built on the idea of community building via the arts. Yes, it really is that simple. And, no, it's not really that simple.

The Idea

A Super Bowl party might not seem like the most obvious launching point for a grassroots arts organization. But when you get theater majors from a liberal arts college together, no setting is safe from contemplation of bigger issues. Four of the eventual six founders of Wild Goose Creative were among the 25 or so attendees at a 2002 party, still students at Calvin College with shared passions.

"It was a theater Super Bowl Party, so it was mostly about commercials, and U2 was the halftime show,"Alive contributor Nick Dekker said during an interview at the Hokes' Clintonville home (an interview that, according to those present, was not much different from early Wild Goose board meetings, with a general agenda that often saw conversation move freely from topic to topic).

"We knew we liked the arts, and we knew we liked each other, and we wanted to find a way to work together," Beth Dekker said.

"We asked ourselves, what would it look like to start something that could see us all working together? We started putting pins on a map, cities generally in the Midwest, and Columbus was one of the pins," Jessie Boettcher said.

After both Dekkers were accepted to graduate programs at Ohio State University, it became clear that Central Ohio would be the eventual destination for the would-be founders.

"It had a vibrant arts scene, vibrant and new and in its infancy, but with a lot of competitiveness, nothing unifying it on a community level, but it had so much potential," Beth Dekker said. "So we started to ask if this was a place where we could start something that would unify the [arts] community."

"We wanted to help create a scene, not go somewhere where there was a scene," Karl Boettcher said.

By 2006, the Hokes had become part of the core, and the group had settled on the foundational principles of community, creativity, education and hospitality.

"We were at the point of, now that we're all living here, what are we committed to? What do we want to put into the world?" Jessie Boettcher said. "We were building a set of values."

The Name

That theater students were going about forming an arts organization that wasn't a theater company proved confusing to some in the community, not to mention their families.

"To be able to explain it to people, we needed to call it something besides 'the project' or 'the company,'" Beth Dekker said. "We wanted something that we felt was visually appealing, that was a good website and that described us both specifically and broadly, so it was this impossible thing."

A lengthy list of working names included lots of nature imagery and lots of Celtic influence. A recurring option was Alt?r Arts.

"I think if we had named ourselves that we would not be talking to you today," Jacqui Hoke joked. "I don't really want to take sole credit, but I remember saying, 'I don't like any of these [ideas], and I have an idea for one that might be better.'"

Wild Goose became a serious option as the founders considered the symbolism.

"We liked the idea that the process was more important than the result, like a wild goose chase," Nick Dekker said.

"We looked up geese and we learned things like geese share leadership and they mate for life. We loved the symbolism," Ryan Hoke said.

The Art

"Through some gift of intuition, we arrived at a time where we knew we had spent enough time incubating and we needed to start doing something," Karl Boettcher said.

"And the hospitality aspect was kind of baked right in, since we were meeting in our homes," Ryan Hoke said. "We were like, 'We can't just invite people into our homes and not have food.' Everything was both an art and a social gathering."

For an audience of eight or nine, in addition to the three founding couples, playwright/actress Christina Ritter performed a one-woman play in the first-ever Wild Goose Creative event.

"She broke a chair during her performance. In the first ever event at Wild Goose Creative, we broke a chair," Jacqui Hoke said with a laugh. "We were mortified. She was a friend of Nick and Beth's, and we'd invited her to come and do this."

Wild Goose moved quickly into a series of "works in progress" events that featured food, art and Q&A sessions.

"We invited artists to share something they were working on, to try and give people a close encounter with art," Jessie Boettcher said. "It was about seeing process and about conversation."

A program titled Adolescent Poetry, at which participants brought and read some truly horrible examples of poetry, found mutual friends Andy and Amanda Anderson in the audience. The couple, now divorced, became a key part of Wild Goose Creative in its early stages.

"We had been looking for an arts group, and we felt like we had come home," Andy Anderson said in a phone interview. "To see like-minded people doing something, and having some momentum, it just seemed natural."

"They became integral parts of Wild Goose," Karl Boettcher said. "They were in the community and they knew people, and Amanda had been part of the arts scene in Columbus."

"And they introduced us old fogies to social media," Beth Dekker joked.

Festivals and "camps," including the recurring New Year's Festival, Beer Camp and Bacon Camp - "Crazy one-offs," Beth Dekker called them - allowed for a significant cross-pollination of arts and artists under the Wild Goose banner.

"In the beginning, Wild Goose was all about 'yes,'" Beth Dekker said.

"And Wild Goose is still absolutely an organization that says, 'Yes,'" Jessie Boettcher added.

The Space

When the founding couples began starting families - yes, they refer to their children as "goslings" - the need to move beyond their living rooms and kitchens became of increasing importance.

Wild Goose had rented space at the Shanahan School of Irish Dance on Indianola Avenue (the current location of Eat Purr Love Cat Café) and had drawn significant audiences, providing confidence as it pursued a permanent home.

Nick Dekker said he would catch the bus on Summit Street and was familiar with a space there that had been a country music bar. When the landlord subdivided the space, it became affordable to the emerging arts organization.

"It was Wild Goose 2.0," Nick Dekker said.

Again, the first event was met with challenges. A planned "multimedia comedy extravaganza" was scuttled when the power went out. Scrambling, the Wild Goose team created "Fairy Tales by Firelight," an unrehearsed series of readings.

"We were on e-mail back and forth all day saying, 'What are we going to do?'" Jacqui Hoke said.

"It was a test. We had just signed a three-year lease on this space, and the first event the power goes out," Jessie Boettcher said. "What have we gotten ourselves into?"

Having a dedicated space led to an increased emphasis on exhibitions, among the other events and programs that were taking place at Wild Goose.

"We had lots of artists now who knew what we were doing," Andy Anderson said. "It became about cultivating an audience. That proved to be our steepest learning curve."

"It was this really welcoming and functional space," Jessie Boettcher said. "We continue to be surprised how people use the space."

Two early programs - Too Many Cooks and Speakeasy - continue to this day.

"Too Many Cooks was the event that first brought me to Wild Goose," current organizer Liz Martin said. "It's a perfect fit because it's a community space open to all to connect, create and display art. Food is art. Food is community. It just makes sense."

The Future

As Wild Goose Creative grew, the founders not only added board members, but eventually found themselves, out of necessity, stepping back their hands-on involvement. Families and full-time jobs can get in the way of volunteering to operate an arts organization, in particular one as event-heavy as Wild Goose.

Jessie Boettcher still serves on the board, and Karl Boettcher is still involved in Speakeasy, a monthly spoken-word program.

"When we left, it felt like we had succeeded in what we set out to do," Karl Boettcher said.

The founders shared a consensus that not only was it time in their lives to step away from being hands-on at Wild Goose, but that a new generation of leadership ("Wild Goose 3.0") was ready to move the organization forward, making the decision easier.

"The current board is made up of a really terrific group of people with a lot of different skills," Jessie Boettcher said.

The board recently adopted a plan focused on forging new partnerships (one with OSU Star House, a program for homeless teens, is already in the works), outreach, continued fiscal health and being a safe space for artists to explore new ideas.

Wild Goose hired its first executive director, Justin Johnston, in 2015. He said the founders' original core values still drive Wild Goose programming.

"We like to think people are made to feel welcome, and made to feel like, if they have an idea, it could work at Wild Goose," he said.

"I had heard about the morning rave concept from other cities and was intrigued. I'm on the board at Wild Goose, and I kept bothering the other members to see if this was something that would fit at our space," said Dana Bernstein, organizer of Wake & Shake. "This event is really for anyone who loves to dance. And the community that surrounds Wild Goose is so supportive and open for an event like this. We really can't see doing this anywhere else."

"It's a pleasure and honor to work with Wild Goose," said Searius Addishin, who runs Civilization: Youth Open Mic. "I wanted to do something using poetry and performance art in a way that wasn't already being done. Wild Goose had a great reputation."

"We're open to anybody with an idea. I've heard people say, 'I have an idea for a thing that you would never do.' And when I heard it I said, 'Nope. That's mainstream to us,'" Johnston said. "I'm not really surprise-able anymore. As long as it's not too dangerous and not illegal. That's pretty much where the line is."

"It's a container for all kinds of different expressions. People instantly get it," Jessie Boettcher said.

Wild Artist Homecoming

10th Anniversary Small Works Show

Wild Goose Creative

6-9 p.m. Tuesday,

Dec. 6

2491 Summit St.,

North Campus