Youth art at Second Sight celebrates Franklinton history

Mona Gazala had an idea that would bring together Franklinton's past, present and future in a celebration of neighborhood pride. And the arts would be the instrument to make it happen.

When she moved to Franklinton in 2012, Gazala couldn't have known how much her new home neighborhood would come to not only inform her art practice, which had always concerned issues of history, archaeology, place and agency, but to literally become it. She has operated Second Sight Project as gallery, studio, residency and laboratory for the past seven years, along the way becoming part of the community in more than physical ways.

Always looking for ways to engage her neighbors and Franklinton's young people through her art, Gazala had approached Jessica McAdoo, director of Family and Community Engagement at Columbus Collegiate Academy, about providing augmented art opportunities for its middle school students. Around the same time, she discovered stories being shared on a Facebook group for people who grew up in Franklinton by a former resident named Mike Ingles. She put the two together, asking CCA students, as well as other groups of young people in the community with whom she works, including Girl Sprouts and the Dowd Education Center, as well as students at Ohio State, where Gazala is teaching as part of her master's studies, to consider these personal stories of Franklinton's history and create illustrations for them.

Some of the results will be on display Saturday, April 20, at Second Sight Project's Sign House, along with the text of seven of Mike Ingles' stories. The project was funded by a Bellows Grant from the Franklinton Arts District.

"The stories are so beautifully told, I felt like something needed to be done with them. And because I like getting people involved in civic engagement, I thought I could use Mike's stories in a community project," Gazala said in an interview at Sign House.

"My family moved to Columbus from McDermott, Ohio, in 1959 when I was 7 years old. Like many southern Ohioans of the time, [my dad] was out of work and looking for a job. The transition from country boy to city kid was difficult, but after a time, ‘The Bottoms' became home," Ingles said. "The Bottoms was a working-class neighborhood at the time, and although we were poor, no one had yet told us kids, and so we enjoyed the moment and all that it offered."

Ingles' recollections center mainly on four places: Gladden Community House, Sunshine Park and pool, Starling Middle School and Central High School. Gazala read the stories, to which she gave titles, to the various groups of young people. She then set them to work providing illustrations using materials purchased with funds from the Bellows grant.

Gazala said the young people, most of them Franklinton residents, recognized street names and landmarks. They were drawn to stories about the people, such as Ingles' friend, Peanut, who came into his life and left just as quickly, and Carol, a girl in Ingles' second-grade class for whom the author saved his milk money so he could buy her a birthday gift. And they were also drawn to stories of youthful exuberance, Ingles' hijinks, including bringing a bag of snakes to show-and-tell that, of course, got loose in the classroom.

"It was fun to think about what that looked like, and the images just popped into my head of what the snakes would have looked like in the classroom," said CCA seventh-grader Justin Tanner, who has two pieces in the Second Sight exhibition. Tanner said he could relate to the stories about young people like himself growing up in the same neighborhood, even though Ingles' tales were from decades earlier.

"Arts can keep kids motivated," Gazala said, "and neighborhoods like ours are often the least likely to have built up the kind of social equity I hope to provide through the education offerings through Second Sight.

"This is not what I had planned when I came here. But the neighborhood is changing so rapidly, and the residents sometimes feel like they're being steamrolled, so there's some creating spatial justice in this program. History and justice are strongly connected, and if I can get some of that through the art ... I'd rather serve the neighborhood."