The public art initiative features work from 20 Columbus painters.

When the coronavirus pandemic hit Central Ohio, artist Adam Brouillette didn’t hesitate marshaling his resources in support of the local art community. The founder and co-owner of Blockfort, a Downtown gallery and workspace, Brouillette networked with several of his colleagues, including the proprietors of 934 Gallery and the Vanderelli Room.

“We represent a lot of artists, and they were trying to think, ‘How can we help? How can we get artists work? How can we make some sort of impact in the community?’” Brouillette says.

The informal consortium of Columbus arts leaders started small—Brouillette, who runs an annual chalk-drawing festival, helped out with a chalk-drawing day organized by Heather Kyle at Wild Goose Creative—before being approached about expanding their canvas.

Last month, Brouillette was contacted by Mackenzie King of Can’t Stop Columbus, an initiative that aims to help Central Ohioans navigate the pandemic through a mix of cultural and practical resources, from curbside music concerts for seniors to online guidance in mask-making. 

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When King asked Brouillette if he had any projects in mind, the artist suggested inviting area artists to produce public art. “People are out, trying to get out of their house and walk around, and we have all of these frontline workers at hospitals and grocery stores and post offices that could use a little pick-me-up,” Brouillette says.

With that, Gravity Uplifts—a Can’t Stop Columbus-supported initiative using a variety of means to spread uplifting artwork throughout the capital city—was launched. The initiative supports the work of 40 artists thanks to an initial donation by Kaufman Development. The company’s art-friendly multi-use community, Gravity in Franklinton, gives the initiative its name.

“Our group has been focused on collaborating with artists for many years now,” said CEO Brett Kaufman. “When we were brought into the mix, it was a quick thing for us to say yes to.”

Full-size murals—the sort usually painted on the sides of walls—were out of the question. “That’s kind of a hard thing to manage in a short amount of time,” says Brouillette, who in the past had created “mural cubes,” blocky works of art consisting of four separate paintings—one on each side.

Two mural cubes have already been deposited at Gravity and on the Scioto Mile; two more will be placed at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center and OSU East Hospital on May 8.

To get the project up and running, organizers had to fast track an approval process in Columbus that involved conversations with the mayor’s office, City Council and the Recreation and Parks Department. “Which was a lot of hoops to jump through, but we very quickly and agile-y did that,” Brouillette says.

The money from Gravity covered the cost of art supplies and paid each artist $300; those funds are now exhausted, so additional money is being sought through a campaign through the Create Columbus Commission.

The project extends beyond the mural cubes. To raise the spirits of those on the coronavirus frontlines, artists have created posters to be placed at hospitals and elder-care facilities. Original postcards will be used as part of a letter-writing campaign aimed at hospital workers and senior citizens. 

Brouillette hopes that the spirit of the project will outlast the pandemic.

“We’re not thinking about murals as something like, ‘Oh, you just kick artists $300 and then, all of a sudden, you can spruce up a neighborhood,” he says. “Maybe this thing is like a spark that lights more of a fire. . . . This little investment, or this little impact, could be amplified with more resources, more money, larger walls, more space, people dedicating mental energy to the fact that public art is really necessary.”

Peter Tonguette is a freelance writer.