Greater Columbus Arts Council Preserving Plywood Murals After 2020 Racial Justice Protests

How GCAC is preserving the plywood murals of the 2020 protests

Jeff Darbee
Plywood murals at the Ohio Theatre

What became of all the painted panels that covered windows after 2020’s racial justice protests Downtown? 

The Greater Columbus Arts Council led the charge to preserve the thoughtful, provocative and haunting works of art that appeared on dozens of plywood panels installed after some Downtown businesses were damaged during the protests. In fact, GCAC partnered with CAPA to pay modest commissions to the artists to encourage the work and “keep the social justice issue alive.” After window repairs were done, some of the artworks served as temporary fences when building owners restricted access due to COVID-19.

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The bright side is that all of those painted plywood panels—and their heartfelt messages—still exist. Some are owned by their creators and others by GCAC; all are in GCAC custody. There are about 400 in total, created by more than 200 artists. They’ve been on public display in venues such as Easton, the Scioto Mile, Columbus College of Art & Design, Fort Hayes Metropolitan Education Center, the Main Library, Worthington’s McConnell Art Center, the Ohio History Center and the Wexner Center plaza. Some are still at OSU’s Thompson Library, but all the rest are in storage and not currently available for public viewing.

The even better news is that a book about the artworks will be out around March of this year. Described as “coffee table-style” (meaning large format so the images of the art can be reproduced in detail), it will be a lasting tribute to how art can help make sense out of major events.

The Ohio Village is part of the Ohio History Connection. I-71 wraps around the attraction at the top of the photograph.

Ohio Village at the Ohio History Center on East 17th Avenue is fun to visit. Where were all those historic buildings moved from?

Ohio Village is just north of the Ohio History Connection’s modernistic 1970 headquarters and museum (the big brown one visible from I-71). The village took shape in the early 1970s as one of the contributions to the fast-approaching national Bicentennial in 1976 by what was then the Ohio Historical Society. Intended to represent a typical small Ohio community of around 1850, the village opened in July of 1974, with some later additions, such as the schoolhouse and the chapel. Yes, the village is accurate in terms of building types, designs and materials of the mid-19th century, and the structures are arranged in a pattern typical of the era. But, as with some other museum villages, they were built new on-site and are not historic buildings moved from somewhere else.

Ohio Village has always been an active place where visitors could learn from interpreters and see craftspeople at work, but days and hours of operation, along with staffing and activities, have varied over the years. Planning for 2022 is underway, with the village expected to open to the public in May and close in October. Check with the Ohio History Connection for details as opening day approaches.

So, the buildings at Ohio Village are not that old. However, considering that the term “historic” usually means something at least 50 years of age, in just a couple of years Ohio Village could reach that milestone as an example of a creative way to teach our state’s history.

Jeff Darbee is a preservationist, historian and author in Columbus. Send your questions to cityquotient@columbusmonthly.com, and the answer might appear in a future column.

Sources: Tom Katzenmeyer, CEO, Greater Columbus Arts Council; Ohio History Connection

This story is from the February 2022 issue of Columbus Monthly.