Ardine Nelson trains her camera lens on places that most of us tend to ignore, like gardens we rush through on the way to work, or the vacant, beige retail spaces we coach ourselves to look away from as we drive past. Within them, she manages to locate strange and beautiful landscapes, even as they're falling apart.

Ardine Nelson trains her camera lens on places that most of us tend to ignore, like gardens we rush through on the way to work, or the vacant, beige retail spaces we coach ourselves to look away from as we drive past. Within them, she manages to locate strange and beautiful landscapes, even as they're falling apart.

In Here and Beyond, a group exhibit of Ohio Art League members currently on view at the Ohio Arts Council's Riffe Gallery, Nelson's contributions examine the ceilings of places like the old Lazarus building (before it was remodeled). But it's not immediately apparent what the fixtures, pipes and peeling paint actually are.

"People don't really realize what they're looking at because ceilings aren't familiar to them," said Nelson. "They never look up."

An associate professor at Ohio State, Nelson has recently been focused on three distinct bodies of photographic work, bound loosely by their examination of different forms of decay and regeneration.

She has a series about the virtually ignored, natural regeneration of community gardens in Germany, the layers of paint and retrofitted technology in older buildings and, most recently, "things that are being recycled before their time," like City Center mall and tracts of empty stores on Morse Road and State Rt. 161.

She welcomes any invitation to shoot inside structures due for demolition or repurposing.

"People might not realize how interesting what they think is nothing might be," she said.

One of visual art's greatest services is that it often catalyzes dialogue about larger issues. Nelson's photographs are a reflection of the state of real-estate development and the American economy, which you can currently look at for free in a public building. And it addresses issues that are timely, as you need only walk out the door to High Street and look south to see.

With the current economic woes of cultural institutions, nonprofit organizations and philanthropic foundations, the publicly funded arts foothold in Ohio - long one of the strongest and broadest in the U.S. - is diminishing.

The Ohio Arts Council, the state agency that operates the Riffe Gallery and provides funding to hundreds of Ohio's individual artists, arts organizations and programs, has had its budget slashed nearly in half.

The cuts have forced its board to examine which of its grants and services can be saved, let alone reduced, repurposed or recycled. The latest in a series of major cuts, the OAC's state support is now back at the same budgetary levels it received in the mid-1980s.

In a board meeting on Monday, members did not make any firm decisions about how they would cope with the cuts. They did discuss the agency's future priorities and restate their intention to maintain a commitment to the agency's key funding areas: operating support for cultural institutions and project support for organizations, arts education and individual artists.

Staff will investigate options like drumming up private funding or creating partnerships with other public institutions to reduce costs and generate new revenue. They also plan to talk to past grantees to find out which services are considered most worth maintaining before coming to terms with the cold, hard numbers.

Nelson received grant money from the OAC in the early 1990s - money that helped her buy materials and afford some time to develop her work. In 2008, she was honored with a prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship.

She's now seeing regular notices from arts organizations that grants and fellowships for individual artists are either drying up or being suspended.

"Suddenly there is no route to even try to apply for anything in Ohio, which is going to hurt a lot of people," she said. "While there are only a few chosen each year, it's been a real opportunity for artists."