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Build It Puts Art at the Heart of Community

 Stephanie Rond is the creator of  Women Street Artists and the SDot Gallery. Stephanie Rond, The Rising Son, 2019As an artist myself, I am no stranger to the tantalizing fantasy of the solitary artist working in a remote studio, creating works without the input or distractions of everyday life. And while I may never stop dreaming of a remote studio in the woods, the artists of Build It: Artists Creating Community in Ohio have reminded me that artists are not islands, and that some of our most meaningful work is made in relationship to the people, places, and systems that surround us.

When artists practice community building through research and critical thinking combined with an actual relationship to the people they want to engage with their work, it creates space for storytelling, resources, new initiatives, and meaningful connection. Artist-run project spaces, artist residencies, and ongoing community projects prove that the work of artists is not only viable and sustainable, it also is a key component of a community’s health.

 Calcagno Cullen is the founder and executive director of  Wave Pool: A Contemporary Art Fulfillment Center Calcagno Cullen, CommunitableEvery artist in this show approaches community building and collaboration in a different way, each creating a variety of works that capture, uplift, and engage. The impacts of the coronavirus pandemic might have changed their processes, but it has not stopped their efforts.

A couple of weekends ago, I attended a virtual professional development workshop designed for artists and hosted by Build It artist Calcagno Cullen’s artist-run project space, Wave Pool. Another featured artist, Anissa Lewis, had written the workshop’s manual. Within the digital confines of a few hours, I saw these amazing women pour out knowledge, skills, and support to a group of artists who would likely not have had the chance to make and show work due to a plethora of barriers to entry into the professional art world. The importance of such networking and support that comes when experienced, professional artists give generously of themselves cannot be overstated. We all walked away feeling more connected and solidified in our processes, approach, and goals.

 Anissa Lewis’ work focuses on the power of place in her hometown neighborhood for which she has received a Creative Community Grant from the Center for Great Neighborhoods.  Anissa Lewis, 310 Pleasant Street

Simply put, Build It celebrates the teaching artists, the social practice artists, the researching artists, the mentoring artists, and above all, the artists that find unique ways to problem-solve, bridge-build, and inspire the people in their communities.

Ashley Jude Jonas co-directs and curates for the Blue House Arts in Dayton, Ohio, which she founded with her partner in 2014.  Ashley Jude Jonas, Useful Still

Curated by Erika Hess, Build It: Artists Creating Community in Ohio explores the work of artists who, in addition to making their own artwork, build community for artists and for those in their geographic area. The exhibition features the work of 12 Ohio artists as is on view at the OAC’s Riffe Gallery through April 10.

Featured artists include Anissa Lewis, Ann B. Kim, Ashley Jude Jonas, Calcagno Cullen, Dana Lynn Harper, Eli Gfell, Glen Cebulash, Gloria Ann Shows, Jordan Buschur, Jessica Pinsky, Liz Maugans, and Stephanie Rond.


The Ohio Arts Council’s Riffe Gallery showcases the work of Ohio's artists and the collections of the state's museums and galleries. The Riffe Gallery is located in the Vern Riffe Center for Government and the Arts, 77 S. High St., Columbus, OH 43215.  

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The Ohio Arts Council is a state agency that funds and supports quality arts experiences to strengthen Ohio communities culturally, educationally, and economically. Connect with the OAC on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, or visit our website at


Article by Aimee Wissman, 2020-21 OAC Riffe Gallery Marketing and Exhibitions Fellow
Featured image: "Strong Signs" by Anissa Lewis.

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