Milo Arts' Tumultuous Three-Decade Journey
Milo Arts was a radical concept 31 years ago when the live-work artists’ community launched in a former Milo-Grogan schoolhouse built in 1894. Since then, it has become the longest-standing such residence in Columbus. Its history is tumultuous and its endurance is remarkable, as recalled here by some of those who helped it survive.
In 1988, Mann’s building at 617 E. Third Ave. lost its tenant, a faith mission.
Rick Mann: When the mission left, Donna Mann, my ex, and Pat Durkin wanted to see it become an artist community.
Pat Durkin: All these cool movies, “About Last Night” or anything where they had these awesome New York loft studios, basketball courts and stuff—Milo seemed like the place to do that in Columbus.
Mann: I’m kind of a dreamer or maybe an idealist or maybe someone who doesn’t accept so much of the status quo. I thought of it as an opportunity to better understand the ways that people live, or could live if they were up to it.
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Once Mann established the residence, artists began flocking.
Durkin: You’ve got this enormous space, this awesome building, and then you’ve got all these amazing neighbors.
Tariq Tarey: The high ceiling is what I was after. As a photographer or artist, you need that—giant windows, high ceilings.
Rick Borg: On High Street, where I used to live, I’d stick out like a sore thumb. You’d feel like an oddball being an artist. I’d paint in the backyard, and you’d think people are watching you. Here, it’s just normal. It’s kind of good for your psyche in that sense.
Tarey: In Columbus, everything’s new. This place kept its character. It’s very rare to find character like this.
Evan Primmer: [I like] living in a community of artists, and I love the architecture and the history of old buildings. Then being able to work here as well, it’s sort of like a dream come true. But don’t get me wrong, it’s super stressful a lot of times as well.
Milo’s attractive character came with the problems of a century-old building, and many times it narrowly avoided being shut down.
Durkin: The facilities when Rick [Mann] acquired [them] were really in disrepair. It was a challenge from the start.
Borg: I’m a fix-up guy. Around here there’s endless work if you put your mind to it.
Durkin: [Mann] was slow to do everything that he needed to do as far as bringing it up to code over the years. And he got behind a few times, and the city made him pay dearly.
There was an agreement with City Council from around the early ’90s that things were to be done, and they were expensive, and they weren’t done. So the city came in ’01 with the fire department and everybody. And we went down in front of Judge [Richard] Pfeiffer. … He gave a chance to Rick [Mann] to rectify the things, and Rick did.
Primmer: It costs so much money to keep [spaces like this] running and then keep them up to code. And so that’s why this is so unique, because we’ve been able to keep fighting and do what we need to do.
Mann: There are a number of men and women who have really laid their lives down for this thing. ... These are people that weren’t looking for the big bucks—they were looking for something important to do in their lives.
Mann filed for bankruptcy in 2007 and 2009 but was bailed out by fundraisers and, in 2010, an infusion of cash from his mother.
Mann: I’d lost my way. I was going to lose the building by sheriff’s sale. The roofs had blown off, and the insurance company had not come through. I didn’t have any more money, and I didn’t have any more hope either.
Tarey: My stuff was already thrown out. All this [equipment] was thrown in the gym. ... It was a crisis. It was terrible. A lot of stuff was broken.
Mann: We had all these people in a room, and for two hours they went around just searching out their own hearts on what it meant to be hardcore. … Some of them stayed up 72 hours straight. They raised thousands of dollars. They refused to lose.
After a few more years of code violations, extended deadlines, all-nighters and rehab projects, Milo is still alive, home to dozens of artists and owned by Mann.
Borg: At times it’s a rocky ship ride. Rick is the captain that takes big risks and waits till the last minute to get things done sometimes. But I don’t think we’ve had too many big emergencies lately.
Primmer: I’ve been helping to get everything renovated and up to code … and now we’re in the clear and ready to roll.
Durkin: He’s a little kooky, Rick, but God bless what he’s done for the art community on his own dime and with an incredible amount of work. There are some people with extra resources that believe in the arts. It’s about time that they come and have a conversation with him and say, “How can I help?”
Tarey: From here to Cleveland Avenue, that could be a nice chunk of fulfillment center [warehouses]. Think about that. That’s what Rick was fighting against, and I love him for that. I love that he kept the building together for artists like us, and Columbus.
Ed. note: This story has been altered to remove a quote that could have been misleading.
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Rick Mann, who bought the building with Russell Snider in 1983 and has operated Milo Arts there since 1988
Pat Durkin, who had a studio in the building before Milo officially began and lived there for nine years, though he’s no longer involved
Tariq Tarey, who has maintained a photography studio there since 2004
Evan Primmer, a staffer and resident artist since 2013 who organized Milo’s 30th anniversary exhibition at the neighboring 934 Gallery in June
Rick Borg, a staffer and resident artist since 2011 who has worked with Primmer and others to renovate the building