Short North construction: from eyesore to artwork

Suzanne Goldsmith

An arts district cloaked in construction barricades might not seem terribly artistic. So the years-long High Street Streetscape Improvements Project, a facelift for the Short North’s streets from Vine Street to East 9th Street, could be both inconvenient and unsightly for residents of and visitors to the Short North Arts District—no matter how much the improvements are needed.

The project, which will stretch through 2018 and most of 2019, will widen and resurface sidewalks, address safety issues such as lighting and signage, and increase accessibility along the High Street corridor. It will flow northward along the High Street corridor, with construction taking place from Poplar Avenue to West Starr Avenue in 2018 and from Starr to King Avenue next year. That’s a lot of time for this butterfly of an arts district to be cocooned in construction barriers.

So how will the neighborhood’s leaders solve the problem? With art, of course. The Short North Alliance plans a series of three public art projects with the aim of beautifying and enlivening the in-progress neighborhood—even disguising the construction barriers--throughout the construction period.

In the first phase of the project, called “ArtPaths,” more than 400 construction barriers will be the canvases for 23 unique artworks produced by seven CCAD students. They call it “Waldo Short North,” with the whimsical artworks densely populated with people and other figures in the spirit of the Where’s Waldo series of children’s books. The colorful and whimsical artworks, which depict elements of life in the vibrant neighborhood, were created digitally, printed on vinyl and permanently applied to the barriers. They will be installed Feb. 5 and will move around the neighborhood throughout 2018.

“The construction will make its way fluidly through the district from the south to the north,” said Short North Alliance executive director Betsy Pandora. She noted that the barricades will be reconfigured and relocated almost every day. But “wherever those barricades are assembled, there will be art,” she said.

The second phase, called “Modulation,” will send buskers, performing arts groups, spoken word artists and other performers into the streets for a series of art events built around the theme of change. In the spirit of transformation, performers are asked to incorporate retired construction materials into their work. The first deadline for artists to apply to participate will be March 5.

Repurposed construction materials will also be featured in the third phase of the project, a series of eight temporary three-dimensional art pieces to be installed in pocket parks along the corridor, beginning in August. According to the Call for Artists, “all submissions must utilize retired construction materials as their main material.”

The $85,000 project was funded with grants from the Ohio Arts Council and Greater Columbus Arts Council, with support coming as well from the City of Columbus, Columbia Gas of Ohio, Columbus College of Art & Design, Complete General Construction, Orange Barrel Media and the Short North Alliance.