People & Places

From fashion and art to food, this Ohio city is reinventing itself

A visual feast of museums, galleries, historic districts

Experience Columbus photo

With its galleries, restaurants and entertainment venues, the Short North Arts District is the Columbus, Ohio, equivalent of New York's Soho.
Experience Columbus photo With its galleries, restaurants and entertainment venues, the Short North Arts District is the Columbus, Ohio, equivalent of New York's Soho.
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Let’s be clear: The old Columbus wasn’t a bad place to visit, just a little staid. But the new Columbus? It’s hip and funky, energetic and captivating, thanks to a new generation of artists, craftspeople and entrepreneurs who are transforming Columbus, Ohio, into a destination city.

“The arts scene in Columbus is blossoming, with more vitality every year,” said Duff Lindsay, owner of the Lindsay Gallery, a business in the city’s Short North Arts District. “It helps that the city is putting significant money into the development of a dedicated arts district. The old Columbus would play it safe with art. The new Columbus is taking risks, becoming more sophisticated, and having fun along the way.”

The Columbus Museum of Art is the granddaddy of art institutions in the city. Founded in 1878, its collection focuses on late-19th and early-20th-century works. A major new wing provides gallery space and room for special exhibitions. Through Aug. 19, for example, the museum will host an exhibit of art inspired by the Star Wars franchise.

The visual feast continues at the Pizzuti Collection, which features works owned by Ron and Ann Pizzuti, who’ve been ranked among the world’s 10 most innovative art collectors. Don’t miss its current exhibition on the offbeat, haunting photography of Alec Soth, which runs until Aug. 12. And on the campus of Ohio State University, the Wexner Center for the Arts celebrates contemporary art in a wide variety of forms, from painting and dance to music and theater.

The lively and eclectic Short North Arts District is home to eateries, coffee shops, theaters and specialty stores as well as galleries — it’s the city’s version of New York’s SoHo. A Gallery Hop, held on the first Saturday of each month, attracts thousands of visitors to dozens of galleries and non-traditional exhibit spaces.

German Village, a historic district of brick-paved streets and 19th-century buildings, also has artistic treasures. If you want to add a distinctive piece of decorative art to your home, stop by Franklin Art Glass Studios, which sells custom-made stained glass. Its showroom stocks more than a thousand colors of glass. Then visit the Keny Galleries, one of the oldest galleries in the city, to see its collection of American art, including works by Ohio artists.

“I grew up in this city, and over the years I’ve seen Columbus evolve and grow as an arts community,” said James Keny, co-owner of the gallery. “Today it’s much more culturally diverse, more economically successful, and more supportive of the arts in general. That has ripple effects throughout Columbus.”

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The city’s artistic vitality extends to its fashion scene. Columbus is the No. 3 fashion capital in the United States (only New York and Los Angeles are larger). That designation is based on the number of designer jobs, indie boutiques and shops, and fashion brands based in Columbus. Major firms with headquarters in the city include Abercrombie & Fitch and the parent company for Victoria’s Secret, Henri Bendel and La Senza.

One of the city’s up-and-coming designers is Celeste Malvar-Stewart, a passionate advocate for ethical and sustainable fashion. On a visit to her workshop, you can see her one-of-a-kind designs and make your own couture wool scarf — an example of her “farm-to-fashion” clothing.

“I buy my materials from local farmers who raise happy animals,” said Malvar-Stewart. “I know the name and personality of every sheep that provides me with wool.”

The vibrancy of the dining scene in Columbus mirrors the creativity of its artistic community. That’s due in part to the city’s Tibetan, Nepalese, Somali, Brazilian, Pakistani, Vietnamese and other immigrant communities. A good place to explore the varied food culture of the city is the North Market, where more than 30 small businesses sell their wares, from butchers and greengrocers to the aptly named Destination Donuts. Be sure to sample the momos at Momo Ghar. The Tibetan eatery has been ranked by Yelp as one of the top 100 places to eat in the United States.

For breakfast, try the locally owned bakeries Flowers & Bread (in the Clintonville neighborhood) and Fox in the Snow (in German Village). For lunch, it’s worth waiting in line at Katalina’s. Housed in a century-old gas station, this colorful cafe serves a mix of Latin American and Southern-inspired dishes. And Basi Italia, located in the Victorian Village neighborhood, serves Northern Italian fare with its own signature twist.

At the end of your visit, you’re likely to leave this creative and dynamic city with plans to return. 

CROSSROADS OF CARTOONING:

Ready for a laugh? Columbus is the place to visit, because the city has ties to many of America’s greatest humorists.

The Thurber House preserves the building where writer and cartoonist James Thurber lived when he was a student at Ohio State University from 1913 to 1917. It now houses a museum dedicated to his life and a literary center that sponsors readings, classes and author residencies.

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On the campus of Ohio State University, the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum contains the largest collection of cartoons in the world. Named after an editorial cartoonist who worked for decades at the Columbus Dispatch, it has original art and manuscripts from cartoonists such as Bill Watterson (creator of Calvin & Hobbes), Walt Kelly (author of the Pogo comic strip) and Mort Walker (of Beetle Bailey fame). The museum’s current exhibit is “Artistically MAD: Seven Decades of Satire,” which explores the cultural and artistic influence of MAD Magazine. The exhibit runs through Oct. 21.

Cartoon Crossroads Columbus, an annual citywide festival celebrating the art of cartooning, will be held Sept. 27 to 30.

IF YOU GO:

  • For lodging: Try the Hotel LeVeque (marriott.com), an Art Deco jewel built in 1927 that’s been renovated into a luxury hotel. Or book a room at The Joseph by Le Meridien (lemeridiencolumbus.com), a boutique hotel in the Short North Arts District.
  • For more information: Contact Experience Columbus at experiencecolumbus.com or (866) 397-2657.

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