“A Street Called Home” Mural Is Demolished

Back in August I posted an article about how “my mural” was to be demolished. On September 16, 2019, the tear-down actually began, and a few days later some local residents and the media figured out what was going on, and finally then there was an outcry. Not enough of one to save the mural, however.

I am grateful to Columbus Alive columnist Scott Woods, who cared enough to write this excellent piece:

Creating the mural (and then later restoring it) devoured years of my life, but I loved the project because so many people passed by while we were working and talked about their memories of the neighborhood. Making this mural actually changed the way I think about art-making, because no painting I’ve made on an easel in my studio ever elicited as rewarding a response as the one we got from the mural, or connected me more strongly to the artwork’s viewers. It was important to make Aminah Robinson’s work large and make it public; we believed we did something positive for Columbus and that it would last forever. We built it to last forever – State Auto paid for the very best materials and we maintained it with expensive UV-protective coatings. State Auto used to be invested in the work, deeply… so much so that I thought they would at least try to save the wall and incorporate it somehow into the new garage design. But something changed after the mural was last restored in 2013. Unique and specific histories like the one told by the mural would clutter up slick new architecture. And as Scott Woods asked in his essay, what does that say about what it means to live in Columbus?

“A Street Called Home” Mural to be Demolished

I left my teaching job at the Columbus College of Art and Design and moved away from Columbus, Ohio in 2013, to take the position of Associate Director of the University of Georgia’s Cortona Studies Abroad program in Cortona, Italy. I have lived full-time in Italy for almost six years now, and have drifted out-of-touch with the goings-on in downtown Columbus. It was therefore a shock when my friend Fred Fochtman, a painter and art conservator who helped me restore the mural in 2013, messaged me to share the news of State Auto’s decision to demolish the warehouse on which the mural is painted, in order to build a parking garage.

The mural today…
State Auto’s proposed four-story garage (Rendering via Realm Collaborative / WSA Studio)

I supervised the mural project in 2005, with the help of so many good people: CCAD President Denny Griffith, State Auto AVP Win Logan, CCAD art students Brent Payne, Jenny Carolin, Tyrome (“TJ”) Stewart, Julie Vieth, and Joey Macklin, to name just a few. Through the project I also met the artist Aminah Robinson and WOSU-TV producer Cindy Gaillard, not to mention dozens of Columbus residents who knew the area back when it was a working-class African-American neighborhood, as vibrant and colorful as Aminah depicted it in her painting. The project taught me valuable lessons about working large, working collaboratively, and working publicly. It also gave me many “non-art” skills that I use constantly as an arts education administrator today: planning, budgeting, using spreadsheets, researching and ordering supplies, job site safety and risk management, tracking employee hours and payroll. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever taken on, which is why its rewards have been so rich. It is certainly one of the accomplishments I’m most proud of in my life.

When I looked online for information about the city’s decision to approve State Auto’s plan for a new parking garage, I didn’t find much of an outcry from the public against the destruction of the mural. I myself am depressed that our idea to beautify the area and honor its history, and our passion and dedication and all the hard work it took to make it happen, will be reduced to rubble. But at the same time I know that progress and development are inevitable forces, and there is little I can do to fight such forces from halfway around the world, especially when there is no one asking for the mural to be saved. Aminah Robinson passed away in 2015, we lost Denny Griffith to cancer in 2016, the students have graduated and scattered, and I don’t think Win Logan works for State Auto anymore. According to Kyle Anderson, the Head of Communication at State Auto Insurance Company, the current administrations of the CMA and CCAD have accepted the mural’s destruction. As someone who has frequently in her life packed up and left, moved away and shut the door on the past, I suppose I can walk away from this. Vita longa, ars brevis.

“A Street Called Home” Mural Restoration Begins

I am currently leading the restoration of the mural we painted for the State Auto Insurance Company in 2005.   The painting itself is still in great condition, even after seven years — due primarily to the protective powers of the UV-blocking Golden MSA varnish that covers it.   But the warehouse wall the mural is painted on has settled, and some serious cracks had formed in the cinder block.  The repairs to the building, which were completed last summer and included grinding out old caulk and putting in new mortar, damaged the original painting.  In order to repair it, we will re-paint the damaged areas, then re-varnish the entire mural to give it another 5-10 years of protection.

See step-by-step documentation of the mural’s restoration here.

2013.05.17 Mural Restoration

“A Street Called Home” Mural Restoration

This summer, it looks like I’ll be managing the restoration of the mural we painted for State Auto in 2005.   The painting itself is in great condition, but the warehouse wall it’s painted on is settling, as walls are wont to do… old cracks are opening up again, and new cracks are forming.  The repairs to the building, which include grinding out old caulk and putting in new, will damage the painting.  In order to repair it, we’ll need to remove the varnish, re-paint the damaged areas, and then re-varnish the mural.

One section of the Street Called Home mural, with damaged areas outlined in tape.