There can be a positive side effect to economic hard times for some cultural institutions. With limited budgets to launch new shows, curators and educators may take a harder look at what they have hoarded in storage, unearthing precious items that have been out of the public view for too long.

There can be a positive side effect to economic hard times for some cultural institutions. With limited budgets to launch new shows, curators and educators may take a harder look at what they have hoarded in storage, unearthing precious items that have been out of the public view for too long.

Among the sprawling resources of the Ohio Historical Society are a substantial number of artworks by African-Americans collected by the National Afro-American Museum and Cultural Center in Wilberforce. Shining a light on those pieces is central to Soul!, an ambitious exhibition at the Ohio Historical Center.

The exhibit has nearly 120 sculptures, paintings, textile works, jewelry pieces and photographs by African-American artists from all over the country, from the obscure to the well-known, including many from Ohio. There are also a handful of pieces from Africa.

Soul! takes up 6,600 square feet and represents a huge undertaking, as well as a new direction for the historical society.

"We think that art draws us into history in ways that nothing else can," said Connie Bodner, the society's director of education and interpretive services. "We hope that people will look at this collection of art and see their own experiences in it."

Bodner says that from the start, the historical center staff felt uncertain when it came to setting up a major art exhibition, so they pulled together an advisory group of local artists and community activists to help guide them.

"We started this with the idea that this would be a modest exhibit, but as we began to work on it we realized how deep and rich this collection is," Bodner said. "We started to think we have a real opportunity to do something substantial. When the community got involved, the energy level just shot up."

The result is a large and airy gallery where themes like celebration, protest and heritage are organized loosely, leaving most interpretation up to the viewer. The tone of the work is wide-ranging.

Early in the exhibition there are several works by Hayward Dinsmore, once a professor and chair of the art department at Central State, including a remarkable collage of items that he collected as a World War II veteran.

There are traditional, stately portraits in paint and plaster, while the multimedia "Baby Helen in Fairy Land," a single piece by an artist only known as "Tilman," is funny and enchanting. A solitary piece by woodcarver Elijah Pierce - a cross - is surprisingly simple.

Multiple black-and-white linocuts by Baltimore sculptor Valerie Maynard shouldn't be passed up - from whimsical looks at the life of an artist to powerful commentary on political violence, her pieces are a show within a show.

Lithographs, prints and etchings by feminist, civil-rights activist and Antioch University grad Emma Amos provide a window into the evolution of one artist over time.

Because Soul! will be up until early next year, the center will change up two companion spaces to keep things fresh.

Making Music: Jazz Photographs by Luis Figgs features close-ups of jazz and blues greats from Art Blakey to Etta James to George Benson taken at clubs around Ohio.

That show, along with Golden Motions: Celebrating the Art of Dance by Ademola Olugebefola, will remain up through the summer, to be replaced by a series of serigraphs by Jacob Lawrence that tell the story of white abolitionist John Brown. Then quilts and spiritual art will take over in December.

Another space just outside of the exit of Soul! features work by contemporary African-American artists and will change its offerings every six weeks.