The Fabric of a Great American City: Art and Design in Columbus, Indiana

IU Center for Art and Design Dedication
Columbus, Indiana
October 31, 2011

Introduction: Living, Breathing, and Using Architecture

Thank you, John [Burnett]. It is a pleasure to join you as we dedicate the new IU Center for Art and Design here in Columbus.

In a recent article, architectural observer Eva Hagberg wrote, “Here in Columbus, there is a Robert Venturi fire station close to an I.M. Pei public library that [is situated] just a short drive from a Robert AM Stern hospital. .  .  . [I]t is clear that the people of Columbus live, breathe and use their architecture, constantly aware of what it does for them without stepping into self-conscious territory.”1

Architectural masterpieces are part of the fabric of everyday life here in Columbus. Today, as we dedicate the IU Center for Art and Design--Columbus, we recognize the vital importance of that rich, cultural fabric to the life of this city and to the state of Indiana.

An Intellectual Partnership

This center will be an important part of that fabric, integrated as it is in the heart of the city. It grows out of a partnership between IU and the Community Education Coalition of Columbus, led by the tireless John Burnett and will specialize in teaching design studies, drawing upon the great strengths and unique assets of this wonderful city.

This is an intellectual partnership between a city ranked the sixth most architecturally significant city in America and Indiana University. It allows IU students to work in the superb laboratory of art and design that is Columbus.

Here they can study transcendent buildings designed by some of the greatest architects ever: I.M. Pei, Eliel and Eero Saarinen, Richard Meier, and Kevin Roche; they can analyze the subtle interplay between interior and exterior design in a number of Irwin Union Bank buildings; they can study the magnificent public art of Henry Moore and Dale Chihuly; and they can study the masterpieces of landscape design by Dan Kiley and others.

IU, Columbus, and The Spirit of Collaboration

Indiana University has had a long and productive presence in Columbus, a presence that has, as its foundation, this city’s great belief in the power of education. Over the years the Indiana University-Purdue University Columbus campus has fostered the very spirit of collaboration and partnership that brings us here today.

But the center we are dedicating today has roots that extend far beyond IU’s presence here. Those roots go back to the prescience and philanthropic spirit of J. Irwin Miller, who, along with his family, helped transform this city into the cultural and architectural treasure that it is today. And the Millers were not alone. It took an entire city, and renowned architects, designers, and artists from around the world, to create the jewel that Columbus has become.

Irwin Miller’s son Will Miller was among a number of community leaders who proposed a broad vision of how IU could bring its resources to bear to further highlight and build upon this community’s strengths in art and design. This center has grown in response to that community vision.

Drawing on IU Bloomington’s outstanding Department of Apparel Merchandising and Interior Design, the center will offer students the opportunity to study, first-hand, Columbus architecture, art, parks, and public spaces. Those students will also be looking at design in a broader context, which includes interior design, industrial design, and fashion. The center will also add a vibrant element to downtown Columbus through its design gallery, exhibitions, and continuing education opportunities for people in the community. My colleagues from the College of Arts and Science will share more details about the center in just a moment.

Testimony to Leadership

None of this would have been possible without the tireless efforts of Columbus community leaders. I have mentioned Will Miller and John Burnett, about whom I cannot say enough. I would also like to add a word of thanks to Columbus Mayor Fred Armstrong, who has been an ardent supporter of this project. Let me also add my thanks to Rick Johnson, who will be speaking in just a few minutes, and whose family has played such an important role at Indiana University, with a special welcome to Ruth Johnson, who is with us this morning.

Jack Hess and the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce also deserve our thanks for their support of this project. I would also like to thank Mark Gerstle, Cummins Inc., and the Cummins Foundation for their leadership in this effort. And I also wish to acknowledge the work of local architect Louis Joyner whose talents are manifest in this space we dedicate today.

In addition, let me recognize the Columbus Redevelopment Commission, the Arvin Gift Fund, the Heritage Fund, the Community Foundation of Bartholomew County, Johnson Ventures, the Irwin Sweeney Miller Foundation, and Hotel Indigo, for all that those organizations have added to this project.

I would be remiss if I did not add a word of thanks to my colleagues in the College of Arts and Sciences at IU Bloomington. Dean Larry Singell, Interim Dean David Zaret, Executive Associate Dean Jean Robinson, and especially Professor Kate Rowold—all have been instrumental in this effort. Let me also commend Kelly Wilson, Associate Professor of Apparel Merchandising and Interior Design and Director of this new center, for the energy and spirit he is bringing to this project. Finally, I would also like to recognize the efforts of IU Vice President for Engagement Bill Stephan who has also played an important role in this initiative.

All of these people and organizations have played vital roles in helping us reach this day of celebration.

That this list is so long is testimony to the true spirit of collaboration behind this new center.

Conclusion: Beauty in Context

Let me close by turning to Cesar Pelli, one of the great architects who has long been associated with the city of Columbus. As you may know, Mr. Pelli was the original architect of the structure that has become home to the IU Center for Arts and Design—Columbus, and, as with so many architects, his spirit remains in the design.  I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Pelli at the dedication of the Advanced Center for Manufacturing Excellence, which he designed. Mr. Pelli has observed that “We should not judge a building by how beautiful it is in isolation, but instead by how much better or worse that particular place . . . has become by its addition.”2

That is the standard by which we might also measure this new center as it adds to the city of Columbus where people live, breathe, and use the art and architecture that surrounds them.

Source Notes

  1. Hagberg, Eva.  “Best in the Midwest.”  Wallpaper Magazine August 2006:  157-62.  Quotes on page 159-60 and 162.  http://www.bendheimwall.com/press/pdf/Irwin-Union-Bank_Wallpaper.pdf
  2. Architectural Digest. August 1998.