Saturday, October 10, 2009

The mystery of Main Street

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been waiting for 11 years for something to happen to Main Street.

That’s when the Columbia Museum of Art opened there, but instead of putting a push to revitalize the street, the city of Columbia spent the next eight or so years making it worse mostly by ripping up the street. Last year the city got around to fixing the busted-up sidewalk in front of the museum. And what did they do then? Put a big, ugly gray metal electrical box on the corner of the block where one enters the museum plaza. I'm assuming they also store city planners' brains there.
OK, I'm already off track.

The other night I was on Main Street where Frame of Mind has been generating a little bit of action during the past year or so, with its little art shows. In conjunction with the latest show, the shop (it’s actually an eyeglass store) blocked off a few parking spaces for performances– a little theater, a dance, a music. A relatively undressed belly dancer has a traffic-calming effect. Things segued over to Gotham Bagel where a jazz band was playing. With all those windows in Gotham – the old Kress store - and tables on the sidewalk, it was pretty inviting.

All that got me thinking about the Vista in its infancy when artists often moved into empty buildings and did shows, usually very cool short-term installations. (With all the empty new and old buildings, some right in the center of Gervais Street, in the Vista that could still be done.)

Matt Kennell, director of the City Center Partnership said doing something like that on Main Street has been discussed. The problem, which didn’t surprise me, was the liability. But he did say someone is working on it and it might transpire by the winter.

At Gotham I ran into a woman (whose name escapes me) who was talking about doing some art things in the windows of both occupied and empty buildings on Main Street. Back over at Frame of Mind, I found artist Marcelo Novo, who has done several installation pieces, and we talked about it the possibilities on Main.

There was an installation project on Main Street a few years ago, but it was spread out, not very well-planned, mostly inaccessible and poorly attended. (It did get a lot of attention because city workers thought one of the installations was trash and swept it up and threw it away.)

That project might have been a little before its time, Kennell said.

Still mulling this over a day later I strolled down Main counting the empty buildings. None of those empty places bother me much. For almost 20 years I’ve strolled along the street looking at them and thinking about the potential.

What did bother me was what was happening on the plaza in front of the museum; you know, the mostly empty plaza with the big gray electrical box on the corner? The Main Street Marketplace, run by City Center Partnership, was taking place. If you need a plastic belt or a toy you could have bought at the dollar store or a cell phone charger you’ve come to the right place. In the front yard of the art museum.

So if art is going to make its way into the windows of buildings and maybe into empty buildings, it need to be quality art by appropriate artists and organized by professionals. Or it will end up like this market - filled with junk.

How about setting up a group that includes some of the high-powered and art savvy business leaders on Main Street who have a serious interest in art (and there are quite a few), some artists and a couple of curators or other art professionals to look into it. Otherwise empty buildings – like any empty plaza – would be better.


  1. The Main Street Marketplace used to have fresh baked goods, flowers, handmade stuff with some artistry....sad to see it go downhill.

    I think there are now so many farmers markets (All Local is weekly and at one location, a weekly at the botanical garden, etc.), craft sales, etc. Maybe there is a saturation point?

  2. Jeffrey, these are good ideas. Please let us know how we can support them, and who we need to contact / pester / bribe.

  3. Hey Jeffery! Just to let you know I'm doing another curated Crafty Feast, Indie Craft Sale on December 12th in the Tapps building. I'm so excited to be bringing it to Main Street!

  4. I think the city needs a serious Five Year Plan for bringing Main Street alive with arts based investment and that Anna Redwine should be hired to oversee it.

  5. It will happen, I think, but it will take the next rebound in the economy to do so. Meanwhile, thinking about Matt Kennell's comment re the earlier Main Street installations being "a little before its time,"---it's people doing things before their time that makes "the right time" eventually arrive.


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