Community Feature: Rhonda Green seeks 'dreamers' for Short North arts space

Erica Thompson

Tucked into the charcoal office building it shares with Enchanted Shoe Repair, Art of Republic is a place you might miss driving down West Fifth Avenue in the Short North. It's a place currently labeled “art gallery” on Google Maps, and if you peer in the large windows during Gallery Hop or on most days of the week, you will see art on the walls. But it has become so much more.

“This is the place where dreamers dream,” said owner Rhonda Green, who originally opened her share of the building as one entity, the Girl & Guy Republic salon, five years ago. Since then, she has physically and legally divided the space; Art of Republic is on the left and the salon is on the right. The former, which became an LLC in June, is developing into a hub for musicians, visual artists, poets, designers, models and more.

“When I started this … I just wanted a salon,” Green said. “But it has evolved into something greater than I could have ever imagined.”

Green has a history of dreaming up plans for her life that are bigger than her current circumstances. During her childhood, the South Side native, who has sickle cell disease, pushed the boundaries of her body. “I was a sick kid,” Green said. “I was hospitalized probably five to eight times a year.”

“I stayed active even though I shouldn't have been … because it wore on my body, but I refused to be sick or normal, even,” continued Green, who played sports and participated in show choir despite her intense stage fright.

“But I found that what I was really, really good at was doing hair,” she said. After graduating from high school, she studied at the Ohio State School of Cosmetology and achieved her dream of working at Apogee Hair Studio. “That was where all the best stylists were in the city,” she said. “And that was where all of my creativity grew.”

But after 20 years in the business, Green wanted a salon of her own and realized her vision with Girl & Guy Republic. “I didn't have money,” she said of the early days. “I seriously didn't have anything but the drive … and so I pushed forward and it happened.”

Green similarly pushed past her fear with her first few arts events, which were music-driven. “I didn't know where it was gonna go [and] I didn't know who was gonna show up,” she said. “[But] I saw all the chairs filled and the band performing. … And people wanted more.”

Since then, Green and others renting the space have hosted art shows, fashion shows, photo shoots, private parties, a wedding reception and many more events. Activity has ramped up in the last year, drawing local poet Scott Woods, who packed the house with a Harlem Renaissance-themed poetry event last fall and returned in March 2017 to open “Holler: 31 Days of Columbus Black Art,” in the space.

“You can count the number of well-tuned, black-owned arts spaces on one hand,” said Woods, who agreed that Art of Republic is helping to fill a void for artists of color in the city. “Artists need places to learn the craft of self-reliance and organizing [and] places like Art of Republic hit right in the middle of everyone's needs, from the audience to the artists.”

“[Art of Republic] is definitely something that I always cite as a canvas,” said Creative Director Bobby Couch, Green's only employee, unless you count Cali, her Yorkshire terrier, who can often be spotted running around the venue. “Our guests and clients can rent it out and turn it into anything that they want under the sun.”

Though people are constantly using Art of Republic as a meeting space, Green estimates there are events about eight times per month, with an offering each Monday from longtime local musician and producer B Jazz Scott of the Liquid Crystal Project.

“It's called ‘The Lab,'” Green said. “They write songs on the spot … [and] they put a microphone in there and record. … And every week is something new.”

Though Green has since downsized the staff of the salon, she said Girl & Guy Republic will always exist, though she may not be behind the chair. “I want to do more freelance work,” said Green, who has styled for Lane Bryant fashion shows, the OSU women's basketball team and for local film productions.

And she remains enthusiastic about managing the arts space, which she hopes to duplicate throughout the country.

“Just to see the looks on people's faces, the joy that they have when they're here for events, sometimes I'll go in the back and I'll cry,” she said. “It's just an overwhelming feeling. I work with a lot with emerging artists. All of them have made me proud.”

“[But] it's more than just helping artists,” Green added. “It's helping people who want to own their own businesses. … I just want to teach people that if you just push forward and don't give up on your dreams, it can happen.”