Poet Scott Woods brings a full month of events to assorted venues around the city

What is Columbus culture?

Sure, the city's making everybody's “cool places to go/be for this or that reason” list, which is great, but, again, what is Columbus culture?

Scott Woods is giving us 31 days to begin to see if we can find the answer.

“Columbus is really good at building things; it's really good at developing; it's good at expansion. It's not so good at culture,” Woods said in an interview at a German Village eatery. “We have all the trappings of an awesome city. But it's really hard to put a finger on just what is genuine Columbus culture, and to be a truly awesome city you have to have that. You have to have something that you generate that is creative, that is original and that in some way defines your space in the world. Columbus struggles with that.”

So Woods put himself out there. In a conversation with the folks at the Greater Columbus Arts Council, he proposed a month-long, daily series of arts events and performances highlighting black artists from the Columbus area in a host of mediums and disciplines: music, dance, spoken word, DJ, visual arts, drama … you name it. And, thus, “Holler: 31 Days of Columbus Black Art” was born.

“Something that I'm always talking to artists about is that Columbus is a great city for you to build something in. You can make your opportunities here,” Woods said. “So I figured it was time to show by example. The point being to let Columbus know, ‘Hey we are here and we are good.'

“I could do this for two months if I had the strength. I think the point's made in one.”

“We knew that if someone could do this, Scott could,” said Jami Goldstein, vice president of marketing, communications and events at GCAC. “He has great ideas about lifting up African-American artists. All of which helps us tell the story of the amazingly talented people we have here in our city.”

Beginning Wednesday, March 1 with The Ogún Meji Duo (drummer Mark Lomax and tenor saxophonist Eddie Bayard) at Art of Republic in the Short North, Woods has curated more than 60 individual artists and acts at 11 venues around the city. Woods knows you probably won't be able to make them all, but he said you should try.

“You should go to half of the month, whatever that looks like to you. If you just picked one week and planned to do everything that week, not only would you see artists you probably don't know, but you would end up in a venue you're probably not familiar with and might even be in a part of town you might not know. Ultimately, I think people will see their city differently,” he said.

“It's flattering to be asked to participate,” said artist and illustrator Bryan Christopher Moss. “Not to romanticize it, but it's another important opportunity to talk about why art is important and why people should support it.”

“I'm very honored to have this in our city,” said spoken word artist Meaca Moore. “As a black woman, there's a real question here of community and how we think of ourselves. Columbus even sleeps on itself sometimes. There are people here doing incredible things.”

Four things were key, Woods said. First, that the events not be held in February, i.e. Black History Month. He didn't want this event, which is not only contemporary in nature but also specifically about the artists and the city, to get lost or misappropriated, allowing it to have its own conversation and its own identity.

Second was that the artists not change who they are for “Holler.”

“I need you to do whatever represents you,” Woods said he told participants. “This is all about you. This is about you showing Columbus what you are capable of. Once Columbus sees that, they will support you moving forward.”

Third was that the artists get paid.

“‘Holler' gives every artist their chance to shine, and for once, to get paid what they're worth,” Woods said.

And lastly, that there be a necessary multicultural aspect to the entire event, its focus on black artists notwithstanding. Woods said, for ensembles or bands, he employed what he called the “Prince and the Revolution rule.” “If your band is fronted by a black singer, I will consider it. But if your band has like one guy out of eight who's black, it's probably not going to work,” he joked.

The audience, too, should represent the broader community.

“I don't think it's possible, moving forward, to not have a multicultural audience. That doesn't mean you should change your art, but you live in an interesting city,” Woods said.

“‘Holler' is going to be one month that's going to feel like you're in Harlem,” he continued. “You're going to have to go around, but every night you can think about black art you can find some – and it's yours. These are artists who, if you like them, you can see them again, or you can book them again.”

In the end, “Holler” is not just about building audiences for artists. The event is also about building up Columbus as a city with a culture. Woods' idea is that “Holler” wouldn't have to become an annual event, because if it does what he hopes, these artists will become a regular part of what's happening all the time here.

“I love Columbus, but Columbus has a lot of work to do when it comes to [its] culture building,” he said.

“Columbus is a cool city that can become a great city.”

For a full schedule of “Holler: 30 Days of Columbus Black Art” events, visit holler30days.wordpress.com.

Correction: The article initially listed Art of Republic as being located in Grandview, not the Short North. Alive regrets the error.