The Ministry of Culture and Tourism establishes first bureau in Franklinton

The whimsically named new arts space from Toronto transplant Matthew Kyba debuted last week in a former warehouse along an industrial stretch of Harmon Avenue on the city’s West Side

Andy Downing
Columbus Alive
Matthew Kyba poses for a portrait at the Ministry of Culture and Tourism at 754 Harmon Ave. in front of work by artist Migiwa Orimo.

Ten years ago, Matthew Kyba toured “Voir Dire,” an installation by artist Tammy McGrath constructed within the Modern Fuel Gallery in Kingston, Ontario. The immersive piece, which consisted of a series of large, bat-like winged creatures floating above the ashes of 1,400 burned books, left Kyba gobsmacked and awakened within the curator a larger sense of purpose.

“You walked in the gallery, and you could smell the singe,” said Kyba, seated within the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, a new arts space the Toronto transplant now owns and operates along an industrial stretch of Harmon Avenue at the western fringes of Franklinton. “It was such a drastically different experience from anything else I’d done, and I was like, oh, I’d love to facilitate these kinds of exhibits, because it made me then go and read up on a ton of things. And so, with all of the shows, I’m really hoping it can encourage people to adopt a different position, or at least help them understand or empathize with a different [mindset].”

Opened last Saturday, “Enactive Architecture,” the debut exhibit hosted within the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, centers loosely on the idea of place. Within the former warehouse, a half-dozen artists explore the various spaces in which people spend their time, whether living amid conspiracy-driven fever dreams (the doomsday prepper-esque sleeping portal constructed by Nate Ricciuto) or imprisoned by the carceral state. Such is the case in a series of works by Migiwa Orimo that graft floor plans from private detention facilities to pages cut from the dictionary, creating a striking display tacked to the west wall of the gallery.

Detail of work by artist Armando Roman currently on display at the Ministry of Culture and Tourism

There are also colorful crayon reliefs from artist Armando Roman, whose pieces suggest stained-glass windows; ceramic sculptures from Marsha Mack, one of which is filled with strawberry soy milk that on occasion needs to be refreshed by Kyba; geometric, pandemic-inspired paintings by Gianna Committo; and in the center of the high-ceilinged space, a Syrian living room constructed from memory by Leila Khoury. “So, it’s kind of ambiguous, where there are details, but they’re not filled in,” said Kyba of the installation, which exists in the murky ground between a memory being either recalled or erased.

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Located at 754 Harmon Ave. and identifiable from the outside only by a small sign next to the eastern door that cryptically advertises “The Ministry of Culture and Tourism,” the massive building was the first that Kyba visited in his search for a gallery, and it immediately checked all of the boxes. “I didn’t want to do retail; I wanted a big space,” said Kyba, who moved to Columbus in mid-February from Canada, where he lived just east of Toronto. “I also wanted a space that was a little bit off of the beaten path, so when people come, they know they’re coming to this.”

Kyba said he also hopes the gallery, which will operate as a nonprofit and have no connection to artist sales, can lessen the sense of intimidation some feel in approaching contemporary art, describing his hopes of developing a welcoming space that exists within the fabric of the surrounding neighborhood.

“At the end of the day … you want to be able to bring in different audiences,” said Kyba, who shared plans to host everything from music performances to painting sessions for a local elementary school, reasoning that any time the building is left empty it’s not being utilized to its fullest potential. “Our job is to make everyone feel welcome and safe.”

After taking over the space in February, Kyba hung drywall and installed new lighting (he compared the previous rig to “interrogation lights"), gradually creating what he rightly described as “a DIY space, in essence, with a façade of professionalism.” 

More important, however, are the larger discussions Kyba hopes to foster within these newly constructed walls.

“I want to keep doing projects that put important conversations at the forefront, and spotlight artists that engage with critical issues,” said Kyba, who previously worked as the curator of exhibitions at the Visual Arts Centre of Clarington in Ontario and envisions hosting shows that explore everything from race relations and the socio-economic divide to issues of sexuality and gender. “That’s what I’ve been doing my whole career, and that’s what I’m interested in doing here. In a space like this, and with an artist community that is willing to have those challenging and difficult conversations, this can really be a cool thing."

Interior photograph of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism