The Franklin Park Conservatory Showcases the Art of Resilience

A new exhibition spotlights diversity in nature as seen by Black artists.

Chris Bournea
Paisa Thomas' ceramic piece, "Ala: She who Beings and Ends the Seasons," on display in Franklin Park Conservatory's new exhibition.

Photographer Lynn Prillerman was walking through Franklin Park one day when she discovered a cluster of mushrooms nestled in the grass. The different shapes, sizes and colors spoke to her of unity, family and growth—of resilience in difficult times. She snapped a picture. 

Her photo, “The Beauty of Fungi,” is now among 31 works of art featured in a new exhibition at Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, Resilience in Nature: We are the Roses that Grew from the Concrete, which uses nature as a metaphor to highlight diversity and bolster the work of local Black artists. 

“This is a time that we must be resilient as a people,” Prillerman says. “I’ve always believed that my art should have a message. It should lift people up and make them feel better.” 

The show includes paintings, photography, digital illustrations and mixed media, and the works center on the theme that society benefits from diversity in all its forms, says Bonnie DeRubertis, the conservatory’s associate director of exhibitions. 

“For a number of years we have hosted art exhibitions, and historically artists of color have been left out of those exhibitions in comparison to their white counterparts,” DeRubertis says. “We wanted to amplify the voices of Black artists while connecting people with nature.” 

In planning the exhibit, which runs through Nov. 28, the conservatory partnered with four Columbus-based organizations that champion the work of Black artists: All People Arts, Creative Women of Color, Maroon Arts Group and Transit Arts. The groups circulated the call for submissions and helped identify the judges who selected the featured works: Queen Brooks, Richard Duarte Brown, Marshall Shorts, Bettye Stull and April Sunami. 

The groups also offered suggestions on how to make the conservatory more accessible to the Black community, a point of contention since AmeriFlora ’92. Outreach efforts include a series of events to be held at the conservatory in conjunction with the show throughout the summer and fall. 

Erica Marlatt visits the "Resilience in Nature" exhibit at Franklin Park Conservatory with her daughters.

Transit Arts kicked off the event series on June 22 with an open-mic poetry night that drew 200 people and included free admission, says Katerina Fuller, the organization’s program manager. “So many of our families got to see not only the exhibit, but all that Franklin Park [Conservatory] has to offer.” 

The Maroon Arts Group is finalizing details for an Oct. 22 event that will encourage visitors to try their hands at making art, says Candice Igeleke, the group’s program director. “We were intentional about providing opportunities to artists to showcase their work and connect with each other.” 

Yahfa Guerra, who contributed the acrylic painting “The Traveler,” says the exhibit’s theme complements her work, which explores the parallels between nature and people and how they exist in the world. “I think it’s really important to showcase what it means for different people.” 

The youngest artist, 13-year-old Dionna Kendrick, says her sketch of a woman as a tree, simply titled “Resilience,” represents both her love of nature and art as an outlet for self-expression. “I started painting last year during COVID,” says Kendrick, who will be an eighth grader at Patriot Preparatory Academy in the fall. “I like that it’s a way to let your emotions out and find peace.”  

For a list of upcoming events and information about the artists, visit the exhibit's website.

This story is from the August 2021 issue of Columbus Monthly.