Columbus Printed Arts Center weathers pandemic, emerges with 'Spatial Exposure' show
South Side nonprofit inside The Fort inherits old press and debuts new work from Print Fellows such as Alissa Ohashi, Michael Weigman and more
The Columbus Printed Arts Center, which opened inside The Fort on the far South Side of Columbus at the end of 2018, had just started to gain momentum when the pandemic brought the communal workspace, print shop and exhibition space to a dead stop.
Lately, though, the nonprofit has begun to spring back to life. On a recent tour of the airy second-floor space, which is flooded with natural light from the many windows of the former fire engine factory, Columbus Printed Arts Center co-founder Elisa Smith pointed out recent additions to the center, including a huge Chandler and Price press with original foot treadle, a vintage paper shearer and a “mind-blowing treasure trove” from now-defunct Logan Elm Press, a letterpress publishing shop that was connected to Ohio State University.
"We only had lead type — small, metal type — but [Logan Elm] had all this incredible wood type in all different sizes, like jumbo type,” Smith said. “It's nice because we can maintain the remnants of the press here and honor it and put it to use in our community.”
The new equipment, along with a recent Ohio Arts Council grant that will allow the center to hire part-time staff, has helped to reinvigorate the space, but Smith gives most of the credit for Columbus Printed Arts Center’s survival to its recent group of Print Fellows: Kat Arndt, Catie Beach, Felicity Gunn, Alissa Ohashi, Nicholas Warndorf and Michael Weigman.
The Print Fellowship is “sort of a work trade, where you can you come in and help take care of the space and let people in and help members who are working, in exchange for having full access to the studio and the community that we've tried to grow,” Smith said. "It's a good opportunity for people around town who maybe are looking to make a portfolio for something or push a body of work further or learn new processes to add into their work. Those people have basically kept us open. … They all stuck around through COVID.”
Through Aug. 29, the fellows are displaying recent work as part of CPAC’s new exhibition, “Spatial Exposure.” Smith encouraged each artist to use different surfaces and processes in the making and displaying of their work, and the fellows took the instructions to heart. Warndorf’s silk-screen cyanotypes span the length of a floor-to-ceiling steel beam, while Catie Beach installed her three-dimensional mixed-media works on the floor.
“We intentionally let the studio workspace take over,” Smith said. “I've always been a really process-based artist, so I think it makes sense for the space to define its own gallery within the studio.”
Ohashi’s large, circular, autobiographical installation, which hints at mandala symbolism, covers nearly an entire wall. Around the corner, Weigman’s arresting series of colorful intaglio, monotype and mixed-media prints (required viewing for anyone venturing near The Fort through the end of August) reveal a fascination with industrial-era history and the underground subcultures of extreme metal music. “These two disparate sources clash, creating an abstract mythology used to illustrate my vision of contemporary issues,” Weigman wrote in an artist statement.
Amid the “Spatial Exposure” pieces is an under-construction private studio that CPAC will rent out, as well as a community reading room featuring works by indigenous authors courtesy of guest librarian Léuli Eshrāghi. Smith hopes to launch other initiatives at CPAC soon, too; she’s currently mulling ideas for a curator-in-residence program.
“We've tried to be really forward with people who come into the space, asking what they need and what the city needs,” Smith said. “The fellowship was a really great way to invite people in and understand what's available and what's not in the larger city. Our response to that groundwork and research is that I think it's important to make more opportunities for emerging artists and curators.”