Longtime Columbus poet/writer/performer/presenter opens Near East Side arts and event space

On the counter inside the front door of Streetlight Guild, Scott Woods' new arts and event space on East Main Street, is what Woods refers to simply as his “idea book.” The concept is simple: Have idea. Write idea down. The ideas contained in the book, though, aren't simple, which should be obvious to anyone who's been paying attention to Woods' decades-long career as a performer and presenter.

On the other side of the counter is an oversized wall calendar. The challenge, both clarified and amplified by virtue of Woods' becoming the owner of such a space, is getting everything from one side of the counter to the other.

“It's my brand, manifested,” said Woods, who's also an Alive contributor, in an interview inside Streetlight Guild. By way of timelines, that brand existed before the name Streetlight Guild, which Woods adopted a couple of years back to give that brand a name. And now that brand has a physical home.

“It's a laboratory, and I'm the mad scientist,” Woods said, only half-joking. “Here's a place where you'll be able to see the things that Columbus offers. There just aren't enough places to see it. And here I want to create a place where artists can be free. It's everybody else's lab, too.”

It's almost inevitable that Woods will make the occasional appearance on his own stage, but that's not the intent of Streetlight Guild, of which Woods serves as founder and CEO.

“It's not about me in that way. I didn't need to create bills to do what I do,” he said, referencing the need to keep the lights on at the Guild, a responsibility Woods bears happily. “I want to see what everybody else does and is going to do.”

Woods will primarily book Streetlight Guild, although he said he's willing to listen to ideas and proposals for programming. But he views the space as an institution, offering programming for the community, rather than an event space looking for pop-up tenants.

It was a goal of Woods' from way back to have his own space, and the opportunity finally came after one of Woods' 2017 Holler programs when local attorney Glen Kizer offered to find and purchase him a venue. “It was a get-off-the-pot kind of moment,” Woods said. “Glen had asked me what it would take for me to do [arts/event programming] full-time, and I answered, ‘A venue.' I'd always wanted a venue — a place to create culture that was Columbus-based and Columbus-centric.”

And so, Woods intends to answer the question long-asked in the city, including by himself: “What is Columbus culture?”

“There is a certain question I want to go away, and there are other questions I'm going to ask and that the performers are going to be free to ask. There's going to be a conversation within these four walls, and I'm the facilitator,” Woods said.

And Streetlight Guild will be black.

“Extremely black. One hundred percent. It's the aesthetic, the value system. Those things are very clear,” Woods said. “But the space isn't about that. It's a celebration, and anyone is welcome as long as they understand what it is we're celebrating.”

Streetlight Guild opens Saturday, June 22, with performances by the Ogun Meji Duo of Mark Lomax and Eddie Bayard. The artwork of Richard Duarte Brown, whom Woods refers to as “the new Aminah Robinson,” will fill the second-floor gallery space. The gallery is booked already for most of the remainder of 2019, including a duo show by Lisa McLymont and Cat Sheridan, the partners' first-ever combined show. Programming in the first-floor performance space is also robust, including a 30-straight-days-of-Columbus-poets event in September Woods is calling “Rhapsody and Refrain.”

“It's artist-owned. It's black-owned. It's Columbus-owned,” Woods said. “My goal is to have everybody in Columbus come here at least once.”