Letter to editor from musician challenges lack of arts development in Columbus Ohio

From the Columbus Dispatch, August 24th “Arts venue would have been welcome”. Letter written by Russ Gill, a long time member of the Columbus Symphony and a bassist.

The original article, published August 14th in the Dispatch, heralded a grand plan to rebuild Veterans Memorial and to include a new performance venue for the orchestra. (Although i do not see a reference to a concert hall in the current web version of the article. Perhaps the mention of the hall was removed.)

Three days later, August 17th, another article announced an about face, dropping the original idea and presenting a plan which failed to mention the arts at all. That article was headlined “Veterans Memorial board plan would save building, cost $100 million.”

Here is Russ’s letter:

I respond to the Aug. 14 Dispatch headline “Riverfront rebirth.” To those of us whose lives are invested in the arts, particularly the performing arts, it might just as well have been titled “Death by the river.”

The front-page article and diagram described the latest proposal for the Scioto Peninsula Development Plan.

Two months ago, the original plan called for the focal point to be a “new arts venue” that would be “an amphitheater or auditorium.” For the arts community that has been patiently waiting for many, many years for a performing arts center, that was the news we thought would never come. Finally, we thought, someone has recognized the fragile position of this city’s performing arts and has decided to do something about it.

When we saw the most recent “adjusted” plan, we were just plain shocked and horrified. Nowhere in the entire plan is the word art or arts even mentioned.

The arts and culture of a city are its backbone. It is what gives the city its soul, its vibrancy, its dynamism. Largely because of antiquated facilities and an “acoustically challenged” venue, the performing arts in this city have been suffering for many years. In the past five years, this city’s symphony musicians have had to endure a cut of 20 weeks to its season and a 40 percent cut in its salary. I’m sure the opera and ballet have made similar sacrifices.

This is a rare opportunity for this city to show its commitment to the arts. Now is the time for this city’s leaders to step up to the plate and show their courage and determination in making Columbus a destination city, with world-class performing arts and a world-class performance hall to showcase the talents of our own symphony, our own opera and our own ballet.

Former Sen. John Glenn headed a committee of 30 military veterans to help determine this latest proposal. How many Columbus arts leaders and representatives were consulted?

Because my wife is a military veteran, I can say without any hesitation how much I admire and respect all they’ve done to serve and protect our country. Certainly, the city needs one or more memorials to commemorate all of their sacrifices and hard work. Why can’t veterans be incorporated into the name of the performing-arts center?

A vibrant night life is crucial to a vibrant, dynamic Downtown. Will these three cultural institutions in the new plan be open at night? How many of the museums’ exhibits will change week to week and month to month? The entertainment provided at a performing-arts facility would change day to day. And not just the symphony, ballet and opera — an iconic venue could bring in world-class talent almost daily.

An inspiring, majestic, state-of-the-art performance center will make a bold statement. It will be a game-changing investment that will send a strong message to other cities our size. It will represent our determination, our aspirations and our dreams, and be a springboard for Downtown development.

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