Branding effort balances changing with the times and preserving the work done to make Franklinton a haven for artists
“The more things change, the more they stay the same.” Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr's now-commonplace epigram has become a mainstay for cynics everywhere.
But in the case of the recently announced rebrand for 400 West Rich, the former warehouse turned artist studio and gallery space that helped focus the city's artistic attention on Franklinton, the hope is the statement holds true in a literal sense likely not intended by its author.
Urban Smart Growth, a Rhode Island-headquartered company that owns 400 West Rich and a number of neighboring properties, is rolling out an updated brand, 400 Square, this weekend. The branding doesn't change the name of any existing entities, but rather formalizes a relationship among Urban Smart Growth properties in the neighborhood, including 400 West Rich, Strongwater Food & Spirits, Chromedge Studios and the Vanderelli Room.
“We hope that the renaming of the campus states loud and clear who we are and what we want to be doing,” said Seth Stout, director of operations for 400 Square, in an interview at the 400 West Rich offices. “We want to position ourselves where we need to be to serve the community and preserve the ecosystem that developed here originally.”
Chris Sherman would know. The vice president of development and operations for Urban Smart Growth moved to Franklinton in 2004. He's managed 400 West Rich and overseen the increase of Urban Smart Growth's presence in the neighborhood. So as the city's economic attention has followed artistic attention to the near West Side neighborhood, there is a hope to retain some of what has made the neighborhood attractive in the first place, Sherman said.
“The idea of branding scares me. There's definitely a little bit of anxiety,” Sherman said. “But we've been starting to get concerned about losing the identity not only of the building [at 400 West Rich] but also the neighborhood. Calling the campus 400 Square keeps that identity and amplifies it, expands it into those other areas. We don't want to lose what we've done, which I view as precious in the neighborhood.”
An existing team of directors will continue in their current roles, albeit in a more integrated manner. Food & Beverage Director Lauren Conrath, Event Director Molly Blundred and Community Director Stephanie McGlone are joined by Alicia Vanderelli, who joined the team earlier this year as arts director. Vanderelli said it's her goal to coordinate usage of the available exhibition spaces in the campus.
“It's been cool to go back into 400, which is where I started in the city. It's reintroduced to me the reason why I'm here in the first place,” Vanderelli said.
She will continue to operate the Vanderelli Room as a standalone exhibition and event space, while overseeing programming for the three gallery spaces at 400 West Rich: the Promenade Gallery on the building's first floor, the newly coined #2 Gallery upstairs and the Bridge Gallery, formerly Ohio Art League X Space.
“The hope is to show the potential of the spaces and to have exhibitions that are exciting and fresh,” Vanderelli said.
Vanderelli said the Promenade Gallery will focus on 400 West Rich tenants' work or shows curated by tenants. The smaller upstairs gallery will provide a space for emerging artists or those who create small work as practice. Her plan for the Bridge Gallery is for collectives and groups from throughout Columbus to show work there, as a means to “bring the culture of the whole city to 400 and to build relationships throughout the city.”
400 Square kicks off with a weekend of programming concurrent with the Columbus Arts Festival, which has, in recent years, adjusted its footprint to attempt to connect to the artist community in Franklinton. (This year, the festival's Big Local Art Village will move west down Rich Street, just under the railroad trestle from the parking lot/outdoor event space at 400 West Rich.)
“The railroad tracks have proven a barrier in the past, through no fault of the Arts Festival,” Sherman said. “Moving the [Big Local Art Village] closer is something I think is good and positive.”
Programming includes Hillbilly Hot Tub Friday and Saturday, the Artists Wrestling League's “Massive Art Attack” Saturday afternoon and a “Square Show” in each of the galleries at 400 West Rich. Stout said the 400 West Rich building will be open throughout the weekend, as well, offering open studios and other opportunities for both festival patrons and the artist tenants.
“I was a fly on the wall during that sort of Wild West period in Franklinton,” Stout said. “I like to think of this as putting on my big boy pants.”