Bartlett Center at CSU set to put Columbus on the map as ‘community of creatives’

It’s been over two decades in the making, but The Bo Bartlett Center is set to officially open this week.

Bartlett, a Columbus native, is one of the most highly respected painters of American realism. His work has won him numerous awards and honors throughout his career, although his greatest achievement is perhaps just around the corner.

The Bo Bartlett Center at Columbus State University will serve as a cultural epicenter for creative development wholly unique to our region. With rotating exhibits, regular masterclasses and a groundbreaking archive, the Bartlett Center is set to put Columbus on the map as a destination for cultural development and arts education.

Sunday Arts reporter Carrie Beth Wallace recently corresponded with Bartlett to discover the artist’s vision for the Center, the new personal archive of his work, the opening exhibitions and his dream for the artists and numerous visitors who will visit the Bo Bartlett Center at CSU.

Q: What are you looking forward to most about the Center's opening?

A: Well, as you might know the Center has been over twenty years in the making. I can only speak for myself, not for The Bo Bartlett Center which is officially a part of the College of the Arts at Columbus State University, a part of the University of Georgia system.

That being said, it is a great relief to finally be placing paintings inside architect Tom Kundig's glorious space, to share the work with the community. To finally have the opportunity to share his space and this work.

The opening exhibition brings together many artists from around the country — many of the leading contemporary figurative artists alive today. There has never been anything like this in this part of the South.

Q: Can you describe the archival portion of the Center? How will the resources be available to the public?

A: Some of the archival materials will be on display in the opening exhibition in the gallery called "Bo's Brain." The Center holds a massive archive of my work, sketchbooks and journals. We intend to be an archive for other artists’ notebooks, journals and sketchbooks for educational purposes.

The Center will be open every day except Mondays and will be free and open to the public. It is a Contemporary Art Center for creative and cultural development, not a collecting institution like a museum. It will have scheduled quarterly rotating exhibitions curated by Director David Houston.

Q: What is your dream for the Center's arts education impact?

A: Besides the work that we are already doing and have been doing for a number of years with Art Makes You Smart in the schools and Home Is Where The Art Is within the homeless community, my own personal dream is to start an Atelier program which will draw students from all over the country to Columbus to study art in a traditional manner.

This program will be rigorous, with students drawing and painting eight to twelve hours a day from the live model. There is nothing like this in the South and nothing like it anywhere in a University setting. It will do for the art program what the Schwob School has done with the music program. This will teach skills which can be utilized in other applied arts, not just studio work.

Graduates from other Atelier programs in Florence and New York are frequently hired by major animation studios because of their exceptional abilities in drawing, sculpting and painting. And with CSU's new animation department and with the Georgia Film Academy here we are poised to provide the raw talent to a growing film industry in Columbus.

The goal is to grow and retain our creative capital. The zeitgeist is here and we are all a part of it.

Q: Can you provide a list of work that will be on display when the Center opens?

A: The opening exhibitions three separate shows. The first being "Peers and Influences," an exhibition co-curated by myself and my wife, Betsy Eby. This show has over twenty-five stellar pieces by contemporary artists at the top of their game. Artists like Jeff Koons, Eric Fischl, Odd Nerdrum, Jamie Wyeth, Wolf Kahn, Amy Sherald, Inka Essenhigh, Will Cotton and many others.

The second show is "Bo's Brain," a densely packed exhibition of objects collected over many years combined with sketchbooks and journals set in a poetic chronological display inside vitrines. It is a meditation on the power of objects — how they hold and retain power.

The final exhibition is a "Retrospective" of my work dating from 1977-2017, mural-sized large paintings many of which haven't been seen in over twenty years.

Q: How do you feel the Center will impact our community?

A: I believe in the power of art to transform lives. The Center continues to expand its outreach. In February, I'll start working with Neil Richardson on an Art in Jails program. I believe in an all-quadrants, all-levels approach.

Everyone in the community, from the underserved to the cultural pillars, will be involved in the orbit of activities around the Center. It serves both an aesthetic, cultural purpose and a social communal service.

Although it is an eponymous Center and I am honored, it is not "my" Center, it is Columbus' Contemporary Art Center. It was begun as an idea by Otis Scarborough and has been supported by numerous community, business and civic leaders such as Shannon Candler, Helen Hobbs, Kay Broda, Jimmy Yancey, the Cheves, the Turners, the Yarbroughs, the Hechts and the Woodruffs. There are so many supporters — too many to mention — as well as the board of advisors, the volunteers, students, the team of Development, the donors, the President, the Dean, the Director. It takes a village.

Q: Do you have any scheduled master classes at the Center this year?

A: Yes. We will have Master Classes this year ... the dates and instructors have not been announced yet.

Q: What else would you like our readers to know?

A: We are all in this together and the community of creatives in Columbus is growing as we speak. When creatives are staying instead of leaving, it grows the psychic infrastructure of a community. We have incredible talent here. There are unlimited stories to tell. We will be a part of the larger cultural fabric of this nation if we embrace our identity and courageously tell our stories. Art, film, music, theater, dance, literature — our region is teeming with talent.

The Center will help nurture and develop our creative capital, and it will draw others to Columbus to experience our growing cultural hub. Columbus is the center of the South, and The Bo Bartlett Center will be the center for creativity in the South.

More to Know:

The Bartlett Center opens on January 18 at 921 Front Avenue. For more information visit or call 706-507-8432.