The Ohio State University’s Urban Arts Space (UAS) has named Arris’ J. Cohen as the center’s inaugural community artist-in-residence. UAS marked the occasion with a Sept. 13 celebration at the newly renovated Ohio State African American and African Studies Community Extension Center at 905 Mt. Vernon Ave. on Columbus’ Near East Side.

A visual artist, muralist, educator and Ohio State student majoring in African American and American Studies, Cohen is recognized as a major contributor to the Columbus arts scene.

Being named as the inaugural UAS community artist-in-residence “is life-changing for me and my family,” Cohen said. “This is really the dream I’ve had all of my life.”  

The UAS community artist-in-residence program is funded by the Office of Academic Affairs and administered by Lisa Florman, vice provost for the arts. The residency spans six months, from July to December 2023.

The program includes community programming to support the artist’s facilitation of free local arts projects and activities that enable Columbus’ underserved communities to engage with the arts. The residency will culminate in Cohen’s creation and curation of an exhibition in January 2024 at UAS, located at 50 W. Town St. in downtown Columbus, Hopkins Art Gallery or UAS online.

“The goal is to help a local artist to realize a project in and with the community,” Florman said. “That comes with a $10,000 stipend. But just as importantly, it comes with the resources of the Urban Arts Space.”

Cohen previously served as the featured artist for Ohio State’s Frank W. Hale Black Cultural Center’s Juneteenth Celebration and was included in the recent UAS exhibition “Irrepressible Soul.” His work was also featured in the “Arts Beacon of Light” exhibition at the Riffe Gallery. His most recent public mural is on display at Franklinton High School, where he teaches the basics of acrylic painting, mural making and entrepreneurship as part of the school’s Arts and Movement Program.

Cohen said the UAS community artist-in-residence program is just one aspect of a long-term relationship that he hopes to establish with Ohio State.  

“Urban Arts Space is like my second home,” he said. “I plan on continuing to grad school and being a professor at The Ohio State University. That’s been something that’s been on my mind since sixth grade.”

The UAS community artist-in-residence program is designed to support central Ohio artists and fulfill Ohio State’s land-grant mission of service to the greater community, said Merijn van der Heijden, director of UAS and the Hopkins Hall Gallery.

“We work together to allow artists to kick-start careers, to think about what it might look like, not just to study something or to be passionate about something, but to really put that into practice,” she said. “That’s what Urban Arts Space is. We are that kind of bridge space, bringing together different entities that might not always reach each other.”

Terron Banner, UAS manager of community learning and experience, said UAS and Cohen initially connected last year when Cohen displayed his work at the Maroon Arts Group Box Park, which is adjacent to Ohio State’s African American and African Studies Community Extension Center.

Cohen made an impression on UAS staff not only because of his artwork, but his commitment to community service as well, Banner said.

“It was never about the position, it was about passion,” Banner said. “That really speaks to the nature of this position, the community artist-in-residence. His practice is in the community – that’s organic, that’s natural, that’s where it starts.” 

The community artist-in-residence program is part of a larger effort by Ohio State to bolster the Department of African American and African Studies, said Dana Renga, dean of arts and humanities.

“The university has a real commitment to this department,” she said, “its 51-year legacy and the Community Extension Center’s legacy and all of the opportunities for the future.”

Monica Stigler, program manager of the African American and African Studies Community Extension Center, said the celebration of Cohen’s residency offered a sneak peek at the center’s nearly $2 million renovation that began in spring and is scheduled to be completed this fall.

“In the future when we officially reopen, you’ll hear a lot more about our programs and new collaborations and partnerships that we’re currently developing,” Stigler said. “We’ll be putting out some information to the community in multiple ways that you can take part in that are going to be happening in the space relatively soon.”

Urban Arts Space will fund a second artist residency program that will take place from January to June 2024. Applications are open through Oct. 1, 2023, on the UAS website, and all Columbus-based professional artists are encouraged to apply.