Declaring Independents

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

For years, Columbus has been grappling with ways to present an identity that pushes past the boundaries of being a test-marketing-friendly college sports mecca and into something that appeals to the "creative class."

While the concept of naming our burg Indie Art Capital of the World ruffled some sensibilities and stirred others, the idea that independence and creativity are defining features of the city's character has certainly found more traction. This Saturday marks the birth of a Downtown event that organizers hope will help that notion blossom.

The Independents' Day festival will include two stages with hours of live music, strolling performers, comedy, theater, art exhibits, 120 vendors, local food, locally brewed beer and additional events inside the locally owned businesses on Gay Street.

Whether it's the din of the sidewalk-dining crowds or the newly minted spots for scooters and bicycles, there's an energy to that neighborhood that has made it a focal point for a young, creatively driven and urban-centered crowd.

At the heart of the plan is the Couchfire Collective, which immediately pooled help from the Columbus Music Co-op, local artists, businesses and essentially anyone willing to volunteer.

"A lot of us are big fans of South by Southwest," said Adam Brouillette, artist and member of Couchfire. "When we started Agora, we hoped it would turn into something more like that."

With the strong encouragement of city officials and Downtown businesses behind them, the group is hoping that Independents' Day can grow to a scale that the collective's home turf of Junctionview Studios would have never been able to accommodate.

The first of Austin's South by Southwest festivals had 700 people attend, Brouillette points out. While that festival may be most widely known for its music component, there are film and interactive segments as well.

It's possible that art will be the bedrock of the Columbus event, but in a few short weeks of organizing, new ideas have come out of the woodwork. Ultimately, what Couchfire and the coalition of Independents' Day organizers seek to emulate about the Texas fest is its spirit.

According to Mike Brown, Columbus' urban ventures coordinator, there had long been talk among business owners about holding a block party on Gay Street, maybe even a smaller arts festival featuring only local artists, but it hadn't gotten past the point of conversation until Couchfire got involved.

"The mayor has asked me to look for cool, urban opportunities for young, creative professionals and help make things happen," said Brown, who only claims credit for getting some of the parties involved to talk to each other. "We want to nurture that independent spirit as much as possible - it's authentic, it's organic, it's real people doing creative work."

The event has been organized at lightning speed, with an open-handed approach. Couchfire members canvassed the businesses on the street, talking to Tip Top, Due Amici, Cafe Brioso, The Vault and others about the idea, and found them uniformly supportive. The group also asked local people and independent businesses for help and ideas, both in person and through online social networks.

While many of the participating vendors that will have a presence at the festival are visual artists, the core criteria for applicants was operation of an independent local business. So people who run local clothing shops and community organizations, as well as podcasters, bakers, artisans and T-shirt screeners, will be selling their wares or promoting their services at the event.

"We won't fully know what the feel of it is until it happens," said Ginnie Baer of Couchfire.

Michael Reed, artist, former member of Couchfire and participant in the Indie Art Capital discussions, has contributed to the event by locating sponsors, working on its website and organizing an "Interactive/Idea Convention" at The Vault Saturday afternoon.

"It is a place to share ideas. A podium, mic and projection with - hopefully - a few thousand people wandering by and a few hundred stopping in to hear what's going on, to hear people's ideas," he said. "Honestly, though, it will be what it becomes. I have very little control over what it becomes. I can set the stage, have a venue, offer up the space, but the people who step up to the challenge and bring an idea or talk will define it."

Drawing inspiration from, a website that hosts a collection of video talks by "the world's greatest thinkers and doers," Reed employed the method of "just asking people" to pull the idea pavilion together. Bicycle advocates, social media mavens and writers, among others, will step up to the dais on Saturday.

"Next year it will most likely grow, be more intentional and more focused," Reed said. "I have a year to plan for that. I had a month for this [with other Independents' Day duties], so however it goes is fine. This is a wonderful test run. I imagine with some real planning time it will be natural to break away from the Independents' Day idea and become something of its own, so we'll see how things shape up."

One of the event's sponsors is Capital Crossroads SID, which represents the interests of Downtown property owners of both residential and commercial space. Part of the reason that the Gay Street area has developed, says executive director Cleve Ricksecker, is because there are more small-property owners there.

"The Downtown is really reaching out to independent startup entrepreneurs," he said. "All of the chain stores packed up in a herd and ran to the suburbs, but the demand for retail really hasn't gone away. One of our objectives is to help people in their 20s and early 30s develop some emotional ownership of Downtown."

Independents' Day has been pulled together in just a few short weeks, but it's exceeded organizers' expectations in terms of enthusiasm, volunteer efforts and new ideas.

Said Brouillette, "We want to keep going in a way that's inclusive and inspiring so that people are ready to pick up the torch and help make this an amazing event."

Independents Day: The Full Schedule

Gay Street Stage

12-1 p.m. This Is My Suitcase

1-2 p.m. Stretch Lefty

2-3 p.m. Deerhead

3-4 p.m. Random Movement

4-5 p.m. The Exceptionals

5-6 p.m. Rosehips

6-7 p.m. Six Gallery

7-8 p.m. Pirate

8-9 p.m. Happy Chichester

9-10 p.m. Two Cow Garage

Pearl Alley Stage

12:30-1:30 p.m. Our Cat Philip

1:30-2:30 p.m. Paego Paego

2:30-3:30 p.m. Karate Coyote

3:30-4:30 p.m. Lo Pan

4:30-5:30 p.m. The Slide Machine

5:30-6:30 p.m. One Point Three

6:30-10:30 p.m. Damon Day Parade Performers featuring: DJ Detox, DJ Trueskillz and Catalyst

Music Inside the Vault

6:30-7:30 p.m. Flotation Walls

7:30-8:30 p.m. Phantods

Wandering Musical Performance

Mono to Mono

Couch Forts

Apollo and the Nation

Late Show at Skylab

Starting at 11 p.m.

Earth Crown

Secret Abuse

Vile Gash

Alive After Party at The Vault

DJs and dancing from 10 p.m.-2 a.m.


DJ Dave Espionage

DJ Mister Shifter

DJ dKilla

Projections by Rainer

Alive writers and editors serve as guest bartenders!

Interactive/Idea Convention at The Vault

12 p.m. Welcome and introduction, Mike Reed

12-1 p.m. How to build local community using online communications and tools, Andrew Miller and the Columbus Social Media Cafe

1-2 p.m. The Drama Foundry presents Arvin Donner

1-4p.m. Fuse Factory Course: Intro to Drupal

2-2:30 p.m. A Crash Course on Freelance Writing, writer Sandra Gurvis

2:30-3 p.m. Creative Columbus Presentation, Jung Kim of Community Research Partners

3-3:30 p.m. Cycling as Transportation, Meredith Joy of Consider Biking

3:30-4 p.m. A Geek's Approach to Managing Everything Else: Agile Development For Non-Technical Stuff, Jim Cropcho

4-4:30 p.m. Introduction to wearable technology, Alison Colman of The Fuse Factory

4:30-5 p.m. Honoring your Unique Nature through Scientific Alternative Medicine, Kimberly Kalfas of Bexley Healing Arts

5-5:30 p.m. Local Cultural Shift to National Impact, Matt Barnes

Daymon Day Parade

Parade forms at Fifth Avenue & High Street at 5 p.m., and ends at Pearl Alley stage

Art Show at The Shelf and Skylab

Work by Colleen Grennan and Josh Erb

Due Amici Performance Arts Space

1-2 p.m. Club Theatre Company

2:30-3:30 p.m. Shadowbox

4-5 p.m. Available Light Theatre

5:30-6:30 p.m. Grimaldi Circus

7-8 p.m. Columbus Dance Theatre

8:30-9:30 p.m. MadLab

10-11 p.m. Anna and the Annadroids