Gallerist Michelle Brandt spearheads project to distribute coloring book featuring a dozen local artists to Columbus City Schools families

In these challenging and uncertain times, we rely on science to help us find a way out and, oftentimes, on art to help us find our way through.

Michelle Brandt, co-owner of Brandt-Roberts Galleries in the Short North, saw an opportunity for the local arts scene to make a difference for at-home Columbus City Schools students, spearheading the creation of a coloring book featuring the work of a dozen Columbus-based artists.

The books, titled "Color Me Columbus," were distributed, along with new packages of colored pencils, to families at meal distribution sites throughout the district. 

"You have ideas, and they sort of percolate, and then after a while you [go on with] your daily existence again. But [the pandemic] was a moment to stop and think about what I'd been wanting to do, so we used the downtime to build this community project," Brandt said.

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Brandt said the initial idea was to make artists' work available on the gallery's website for printing and coloring. "It was presumptive to assume students had internet or a printer," she said. "That's when we started to think we were going to have to make an actual coloring book."

It also became clear she couldn't assume students had their own art supplies, and so the project expanded to include providing the colored pencils, as well.

A generous gift from a friend funded the production of the books, which include work by Laura Alexander, Laine Bachman, Christopher Burk, Amanda Cook, Elsie Sanchez, Grant Gilsdorf, Joey Monsoon, Bryan Moss, Natalia Sanchez, Ashley Pierce, Jeremy Rosario and April Sunami.

"I was hesitant to ask artists, who are always being asked to donate work. But I knew all 12, and they all accepted," Brandt said.

Brandt approached CCS board member Carol Beckerle with the idea, who said she was thrilled. "It resonated with me. I have sons who are in their 20s now, who were in first and third grade when 9/11 happened," said Beckerle, a former teacher in the district. "At one point, one of their teachers just stopped everything and let the kids draw whatever they wanted. It proved a snapshot into what the kids were feeling, and showed how art can, at a minimum, provide an outlet."

"Art is one of those wonderful things that can help people cope with trauma," Brandt said. "I had no intention of replacing any ongoing art education, but just offering both a distraction and expressions."

"We heard often from our families that they needed activities for kids outside of their online classes," said Scott Varner, executive director for strategic partnerships at CCS. "In this project, we recognized it was not only an activity but something that has the potential to be therapeutic, to help with the stress that comes from crisis."

Varner said the books have been very popular and that the district is hoping to be able to print more copies.

Brandt said she would like to someday have an in-person exhibition of the artists' original work alongside that of student coloring.

"I was really happy when Michelle reached out to me," artist Ashley Pierce said. "Right now especially, it's important to find those opportunities to give back. It can be hard when you feel like you're lost and not sure what to do. ... I hope I get to see some of the colored pages."