Natalia Naman Temesgen: 'We, The Village People'

April 26, 2014 

I attended the mayoral debate at Columbus State University last Monday as an artist, listening out for the advocacy for culture and artistic opportunity in Columbus.

During the debate, Mayor Teresa Tomlinson described her plan for a creative village that is in the developmental stages. She said she envisions a transformation of the roughly 30 city blocks of property that the government owns just north of TSYS and south of Bibb City.

"It would be created for young people, students -- mixed-income community … for those creative industries which are everything from software design to the arts," she explained.

Her hope is that this will keep bright, artistic professionals in Columbus by bringing in high-paying jobs in the creative industry, and it could help revitalize that area.

Let's assume that this effort comes to pass. What does it look like?

I amused myself as images of bohemian, early 20th-century Greenwich Village came to mind. Can you imagine some sort of alternative, progressive culture developing in that stretch of blocks?

Art galleries, theater groups and tech startups that could revolutionize -- or thoroughly entertain -- millions sprouting up from this little village south of Bibb City?

Actually, I can. And I quite like the idea.

Back in Boston, our friends raved about their artist housing. The city of Boston had assisted in creating artist live/work spaces across the city, and this couple lived in one right on the harbor. Their rent was cheaper than ours, though the square footage was greater.

Some, not all, artist communities will subsidize rent for low-earning, creative professionals. This couple recorded original, contemporary Christian music in their artist loft that they also called home.

In my husband's hometown of Hyattsville, Md., a similar initiative is in place to revitalize a neighborhood that has seen some dim times in recent memory.

Renaissance Square is a residential, 44-unit development that was completed by a local nonprofit and co-funded by local government agencies and politicians. This building is part of a 25-acre arts district, still in development.

Whenever we visit Hyattsville, Pete and I walk into this area of town. The community is youthful and the retail options are new and interesting. It feels like an oasis to me. And with Washington not too far off, I imagine residents appreciate the creative, small-town feel with quick access to the big city.

There are countless other creative communities across the country that can give insight into what may be in store if our own comes into fruition.

Even Serenbe in Atlanta, in its own words "a community of people living in a community of trees," can serve as a point of reference.

Perhaps a bohemian village in Columbus isn't so far fetched if places like Serenbe are just up the way.

Questions I have: Will there be designated spaces for art, or will this strictly be a housing initiative? How much will the commission work with local creatives who want to put down roots -- commercial or residential -- but lack great financial resources? Will this actually happen, or am I getting hyped up on a phantom?

Natalia Naman Temesgen is an independent correspondent. Contact her at nataliadian1@gmail.com or on Twitter@cafeaulazy.

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