Public by Design, the 2022–2023 theme of Exhibit Columbus, explores the power and potential of community action

Going Public

Public by Design, the 2022–2023 theme of Exhibit Columbus, explores the power and potential of community action

View of the June community kickoff event at Mill Race Park in Columbus, Indiana, introducing the six Curatorial Partners of Exhibit Columbus 2022–2023. (Hadley Fruits/Courtesy Exhibit Columbus)

Nearly four months after Exhibit Columbus first announced a reimagined, community-centric approach for its 2022–2023 edition, the flagship program of nonprofit Landmark Columbus Foundation has revealed a formal curatorial theme: Public by Design.

The theme of the 2020–2021 iteration of Exhibit Columbus, helmed by Mimi Zeiger and Iker Gil as inaugural co-curators, was a sweeping survey of “middle places” that invited participants and the public alike to contemplate what the future holds for civic life in the ever-shifting geographic center of America as its residents collectively confront myriad challenges both new and familiar: climate change, racial injustice, mobility, health access, and on. Developed by a multidisciplinary team of six Curatorial Partners, the theme of the fourth cycle is a decidedly more intimate but no less potent one, focused on historic downtown cores and the key role that community engagement and empowerment can have in reviving them. Downtown Columbus, Indiana, will, naturally, serve as a proving ground of sorts for this exploration as the backdrop for the upcoming Exhibit Columbus Symposium held on October 21–22 and Exhibition in the fall of 2023.

As noted in a press announcement from Exhibit Columbus, the Curatorial Partners conceived the Public by Design theme as a means to examine “how collaborations between communities and designers can revitalize and reimagine historic downtowns as equitable, beautiful, healthy, and joyful places. Public by Design serves as a platform for other communities around the country to become energized by the values of inclusivity, care, and generosity. This cycle celebrates creative methods of collaboration that communities and designers can use to grow a sense of belonging and connection in public spaces.”

Public by Design represents an opportunity for each of us to play new and transformative roles in shaping a public life that is more connected to public places and public institutions,” the announcement added.

The previously announced cohort of Curatorial Partners, who were formally introduced at a June 15 community kickoff event entitled Downtown Reconsidered, are: Paola Aguirre, an urban designer and founder of collaborative research and design practice BORDERLESS; Chris Merritt, founding principal of Indianapolis- and Pittsburgh-based landscape architecture studio Merritt Chase; Lauren M. Pacheco, a cultural and civic artist who serves as founding director of the Gary, Indiana-based Steel Studio FoundationBryony Roberts, a designer, writer, and educator (and past Miller Prize recipient) whose eponymous design and research practice is based in New York; Raymund Ryan, Curator-at-Large of the Heinz Architectural Center at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh; and Holly Warren, Assistant Director for the Arts in the City of Bloomington’s Economic and Sustainable Development Department.

“Our organization is proud of this curatorial direction because it captures so perfectly what the curators and our community want to explore,” said Richard McCoy, executive director of Landmark Columbus Foundation, in a statement. “We are moving in a new direction and we are doing it together. It feels like a very special moment in Columbus.”

As noted by the event organizers, next month’s Symposium, much like the overall curatorial approach, will deviate from past cycles of Exhibit Columbus by placing the diverse communities of Columbus at “the center of the conversations” through engagement opportunities with the curatorial team and a quartet of leaders from four Columbus organizations serving as Community Curators. These interactions will help to influence temporary outdoor installations—designed by the four yet-to-be-announced 2022–2023 recipients of the J. Irwin and Xenia S. Miller Prize—that will be on view throughout downtown Columbus next fall  “The installations can serve as prototypes for permanent change in the urban core of this city and examples for other communities to consider,” the announcement explained.

In July, Exhibit Columbus launched the University Design Research Fellowship (UDRF) competition. While the UDRF is not a new component of the event, this is the first time it has been staged as an open competition—and one juried by a cohort of community members. Competition participants were invited to “respond to, enhance, and/or critique” downtown activation strategies recommended by James Lima Planning + Development within the firm’s City of Columbus-commissioned Downtown Activation Study. The selected projects are envisioned as ones that will spark conversations about the future of downtown Columbus, a mid-sized city in south-central Indiana, famous for its sizable trove of public art and modernist architectural landmarks designed by the likes of Eero and Eliel Saarinen, I.M. Pei, Robert Venturi, César Pelli, Harry Weese, and others.

The 2022–2023 University Design Research Fellows will in attendance at next month’s Symposium alongside the Miller Prize winners, High School Design Team, curatorial team, and others. The two-day event, like the Exhibition component of Exhibit Columbus, is free and open to all.

Ahead of that, AN will circle back when the Miller Prize recipients participating in Public by Design are announced.