The Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce charges its Cultural Affairs Committee to form a permanent community arts agency to serve Columbus. The Greater Columbus Arts Council begins its development under the auspices of the Chamber, assuming the administrative responsibilities for the Downtown Festival of the Arts (forerunner of the Columbus Arts Festival) and the compilation of a community calendar of cultural offerings.


GCAC is incorporated as a private, not-for-profit agency on July 5. The Columbus City Council designates funds to be distributed to the Columbus arts community through a grants program administered by GCAC. By contract, City Council provides $50,000 to GCAC for distribution in the grants program. Vonnie Sanford is named Executive Director.


GCAC initiates the Artists-in-Schools program, providing screening of artists, booking services and subsidy of artists’ fees.


In January, City Council officially recognizes the potential of cultural activities “to promote and publicize the city of Columbus as a desirable location for conventions, trade shows, and similar events.” An amendment is made to City Code Section 371.02 to allow arts organizations to share with the Columbus Convention and Visitors Bureau in revenues from the city’s hotel/motel excise tax. The amendment provides funds of $125,000 in 1978 and $150,000 in 1979. GCAC receives a two-year grant from the Battelle Foundation for staff recruitment and organizational restructuring.


The first year of funding through the hotel/motel tax allocation. The Grants Committee develops the General Operating Support system, which includes the Columbus Museum of Art, the Columbus Symphony Orchestra and the Center of Science & Industry (COSI). Ric Wanetik is hired as Executive Director.


GCAC participates in the first national study of the impact of the arts on local economies. The study is sponsored by The Johns Hopkins University and the National Endowment for the Arts; the results are detailed in the GCAC publication, The Arts in Columbus: Impact and Diversity. New guidelines are developed for the grants program.


City Council designates a fixed percentage of the hotel/motel tax revenues (20% of a 4% tax) for the support of the arts to be distributed through GCAC and its grants program.


The Board adopts a five-year strategic plan. The plan focuses on six main areas: the Assistance Program; the Artists-in-Schools Program; City Promotion through the Arts; the Greater Columbus Arts Festival; the Grants Program; and Arts Advocacy. Tim Sublette is hired as Executive Director.  The Business Arts Partnership program is established. The Columbus Arts Festival moves to the downtown riverfront.


GCAC provides administrative expertise and service in the commissioning of art works for Port Columbus Airport Terminal and the Dublin Road Water Facility.


The hotel/motel tax is increased from 4% to 6%, with GCAC’s allocation increasing from 20% to 25%. GCAC and the Columbus Foundation begin co-administration of the Community Arts Fund. A Theater Task Force (comprised of members of the GCAC Board of Trustees, city government, area arts organizations, the business community and concerned citizens) is established to discuss the feasibility of a resident professional theater company in the new State Office Tower (the Vern Riffe Center for Government and the Arts). GCAC moves its offices to the Galbreath Pavilion of the Ohio Theatre. Ray Hanley is hired as Executive Director.


Carol Fineberg Associates is hired to conduct an in-depth evaluation of the A-i-S program and chart a course for its future. For the first time, all performing groups at the Festival are paid a fee and the Streetfair expands from two days to three days. The Individual Artist Fellowship program is established.


GCAC hosts a series of open public forums and a three-day retreat of 66 local arts professionals in order to develop five-year cultural goals and objectives for the community. Let Your Voice Be Heard is published as a result. Several other publications are also issued: Corporate and Foundation Profiles, a guide to local giving programs; The Arts and the Greater Columbus Economy, a publication showing the results of the 1986 economic impact study; and Capitol Square Performance District, highlighting the performing arts organizations and facilities that are located in the Capitol Square area. The Arts Resource Directory for Greater Columbus, the first comprehensive directory of arts organizations and arts resources in Columbus, is published by the Columbus Organization for Arts Resources. This publication has since been updated annually by GCAC and its affiliate, the Columbus Arts Marketing Council.


At the request of City Council, a Public Art Committee, comprised of board members and civic and arts leaders, is created “to develop a policy for the maintenance of a comprehensive program for the creation, preservation and interpretation of works and projects of art in public places and spaces of the city of Columbus.” GCAC begins involvement with the development of the Son of Heaven: Imperial Arts of China exhibition. GCAC takes on a major role in the cultural planning for Columbus’ quincentennial celebrations in 1992. The Columbus Arts Festival expands to eleven days, with the Streetfair remaining a three-day component.


GCAC schedules 73,000 students and teachers to tour Son of Heaven. The Artists-in-Schools program, in conjunction with the Columbus Museum of Art, coordinates all the educational programming for Son of Heaven. GCAC and the Public Art Committee draft legislation to enact a public art policy for the city. GCAC becomes actively involved in development of plans for a major downtown riverfront park and cultural facility on the Central High site. International involvement increases as GCAC works to develop programming in recognition of the 1992 quincentennial celebrations.


The Columbus Arts Festival signs three-year sponsorship contracts worth $1,075,000 with BancOhio National Bank, WSYX TV6 and WSNY FM. The Festival becomes a major producer of concerts and exhibitions, holding 26 concerts and two major exhibitions during its run. Festival promotion is significantly expanded. GCAG changes the title of Executive Director to President and the title of Board President to Board Chair.


GCAC hosts the National Assembly of Local Arts Agencies convention during the Arts Festival, bringing more than 400 arts leaders from around the country to Columbus. Strides are taken to increase international recognition for Columbus with the exhibition New Currents: Recent Art in Spain, a joint project between GCAC and the Ohio Arts Council; Columbus’ Spanish sister city, Seville, hosts the Jazz Arts Group in November; and, in collaboration with the Luis Cernuda Foundation in Seville, GCAC sponsors the six-week residency of the Sevillian artist Pepa Rubio at the Cultural Arts Center. The Downtown Special Events funding program is created and $64,500 is awarded to nine major downtown special events.


The year commences with a series of five public forums on arts issues, sponsored by Mayor Buck Rinehart. For this year only, the Festival is expanded to ten days. Work is started on the central Ohio portion of the Save Outdoor Sculpture! (SOS!) program to survey and catalogue publicly accessible outdoor sculpture. The Artists-in-Schools program, in collaboration with the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the City of Columbus Recreation and Parks Department, places an artist-in-residence at Sullivant Gardens Recreation Center to work with children.


The 20th anniversary of GCAC. The National Endowment for the Arts awards an $800,000 challenge grant to GCAC, signaling the start of the Columbus Arts Stabilization Project. Upon securing a $332,000 federal AmeriCorps™ grant, Children of the Future is launched through the collaborative efforts of GCAC, the City of Columbus Department of Recreation and Parks, Department of Public Safety and the Columbus Metropolitan Housing Authority. The Festival adds an international component, featuring Canadian artists. Business First signs on as the sponsor of the Business Arts Partnership program.


The National Arts Stabilization Fund approves Columbus as the site of a $6.9 million stabilization project aimed at eight organizations. GCAC initiates a pilot working capital reserve program for four midsize arts organizations. Children of the Future launches programming in seven recreation centers around the city. New guidelines for the Downtown Special Events Program are adopted from the recommendations of a working group representing the City of Columbus and a host of private organizations. Mexico is the featured nation of the 1994 Arts Festival, supported by the Mexican Government Tourism Office and the Mexican Cultural Institute.


The Fund for Working Capital Reserves, an innovative stabilization program for smaller arts organizations, gets underway with a special one-time grant from the City of Columbus. The SOS! program is completed with the help of many dedicated volunteers in Franklin and seven contiguous counties. At the invitation of the Franklin County Engineer, GCAC takes on the management of the artist selection process for sculpture on the Broad Street bridge. Two Columbus artists undertake residencies in Leipzig, Germany, as part of an International Artists Exchange. The Columbus Jazz Orchestra tours Columbus’ sister cities of Odense, Denmark and Seville, Spain. The Franklin County Board of Commissioners provides $100,000 to support the Artists-in-Schools program.


At the request of City Council, GCAC commissions a re-use study for the old Police Station building. Opera Columbus and the Jazz Arts Group receive the first stabilization grants to be awarded by the Columbus Arts Stabilization Project and National Arts Stabilization. The Columbus Arts Festival celebrates its 35th year. The city of Columbus hosts the first forum of the American Canvas project, a series of six regional forums sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts. GCAC also hosts Working Off Balance: a Dialogue on Arts Stabilization which brings together 21 major communities using Columbus’ arts stabilization project as a basis for discussion.


Artists-in-Schools’ Artists Preview Night is presented in the Riffe Center for the first time. The Columbus Cultural Trust is officially launched and incorporated as a nonprofit corporation. Stabilization grants are awarded to BalletMet, CAPA, the King Arts Complex and the Columbus Museum of Art. GCAC becomes a partner in the speaker series Growing Inward: Rebuilding the Center City, a two-year lecture series featuring nationally and regionally recognized experts on urban issues. Planning efforts start for the celebration of GCAC’s 25th anniversary. An evaluation of the Children of the Future program shows significant positive changes in the behaviors and attitudes of children who participate in the program.


GCAC commissioned the release of the “Cultural and Arts Market Study for Columbus,” a comprehensive market research analysis that identifies both the obstacles and opportunities that will challenge Columbus’ arts and cultural entities over the next decade. The research provides the first-ever, in-depth view of current audience participants, attendees and contributors to Columbus’ arts and cultural organizations: their demographics, lifestyles, perceptions, knowledge/interest base and the factors that influence their buying habits. At GCAC’s 25th Anniversary celebration, Bank One introduces its “One for One” membership initiative, a three-year $750,000-plus program designed to increase and sustain new members and subscribers who become local participants in local arts organizations.


Legislation passed by Columbus City Council in March provides GCAC with $500,000 to create and implement a marketing campaign to increase awareness of the cultural offerings in central Ohio. In 1999, Columbus College of Art and Design and Columbus Symphony Orchestra each qualify for Columbus Stabilization grants of $1 million, awarded over a four-year period, as restricted working capital reserve. The Children of the Future program expands its reach to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Columbus’ Westside unit. The Columbus Arts Endowment Board is formed to manage an endowment established from Arts Festival profits.


Sunshine Artist magazine, the premier publication for art shows and festivals, releases their “200 Best” and the Columbus Arts Festival earns the #1 ranking in the fine craft category and #5 in the fine art category. The magazine annually ranks the best arts festivals in the country on the basis of artist sales as reported by participating artists. GCAC’s grant proposal for funding of Children of the Future is approved for the full amount of up to $987,679 over three years. This represents an increase of nearly $45,000 per year in potential federal support for the program. GCAC launches a major new television campaign to increase awareness and positive image of central Ohio’s arts offerings. The television campaign serves as the primary source for driving viewers to a new arts Web site, www.ColumbusArts.com. Created by GCAC in partnership with the Columbus Arts Marketing Council, is the most comprehensive site where our audience can be exposed to the collective experience of the variety and breadth of arts entertainment options available in Columbus.


GCAC is an active partner in the redevelopment and revitalization of downtown. GCAC President Ray Hanley joins the Downtown Task Force, which is responsible for providing input to the Mayor about his overall plan for downtown. GCAC continued to explore ways in which the arts can provide energy and activity to downtown, and opportunities to link other revitalization projects to the already successful arts and cultural activities in the city. GCAC begins studying the feasibility of creating affordable artist live/work space in downtown Columbus. A two-day information and public-interaction session conducted by Chris Velasco of Artspace Consultants, Inc. yields a high level of community interest in an artist live/work project.

2001 marks the end of the decade long Columbus Arts Stabilization project. With continued input from National Arts Stabilization, GCAC will continue to manage the three grants remaining in the Columbus Stabilization program.


At the request of Mayor Coleman, GCAC works with the City of Columbus to develop a Public Art Program. GCAC partners with staff from the Department of Planning and Development to design a program unique to Columbus, but based on the experience of successful programs in other cities.

In July, GCAC moves into new administrative office space on the 22nd floor of the Bank One building at 100 E. Broad St. The new offices are both cost-effective and functional, as GCAC expands working, meeting and storage space. GCAC also offers (free of charge) the use of a new large conference room to the non-profit arts community.


In January, a delegation from Columbus including City Council President Pro-Tem Michael C. Mentel travels to Washington, D.C. to accept the 2003 Excellence in Arts Programs for Youth award for GCAC’s Americorps program, Children of the Future. This prestigious award, given annually by Americans for the Arts & the U.S. Conference of Mayors, recognizes Children of the Future’s ongoing commitment to changing the lives of young people in central Ohio through arts-based after-school programming. However, despite the President’s call for an increase in federal funding for Americorps, GCAC is informed that next year’s allocation for Americorps has been reduced by 80%, and federal Americorps funding for Children of the Future is eliminated. Now in its ninth year, Children of the Future employs 30 full time artist-members, averages well over 400 individual contacts with children per week, and reaches 2,500 children per year.

In the fall, legislation is submitted to City Council regarding the creation of a public art program for the city of Columbus. The proposed legislation is the culmination of several years of research on public art undertaken by the city’s Department of Development and GCAC.


In March, GCAC Board of Trustees Chairman David Citino receives the 2004 Ohio Governor’s Award for Individual Artist. GCAC’s Associate Artist Jim Arter receives the 2004 Ohio Governor’s Award for Arts In Education. The Governor’s Awards for the Arts in Ohio is a competitive awards program celebrating the achievements of Ohioans and sponsored by the Ohio Arts Council and Ohio Citizens for the Arts Foundation

In February, the Franklin County Neighborhood Arts Program is launched to create funding opportunities for educational and avocational nonprofit arts organizations. This small-grant program supports the efforts of countless groups who enliven our city and neighborhoods with their creative and educational activities.

In addition to using the Public Forum to receive community input, GCAC hosts a Board-to-Board discussion with arts and cultural organizations that have recently received operating support from GCAC. The meeting features small table discussions, each of which involve several arts organizations and is moderated by a GCAC Board member about issues facing the cultural community in Columbus. GCAC will host a second Board-to-Board discussion in early 2005 to hear feedback from recent recipients of GCAC project support.


GCAC launches an online ticketing system through ColumbusArts.com for the Columbus Museum of Art’s Renoir’s Women exhibition.

The Community Arts Education Department begins a professional development program in partnership Columbus Public Schools, BalletMet Columbus, Opera Columbus, and the Jazz Arts Group that will benefit over 200 Columbus Public Schools teachers and local professional teaching artists over a three-year period. The program is funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Education.

A research report on cultural endowments in Columbus and six peer cities, Building Creative Capital, is commissioned by GCAC and conducted by Benefactors Counsel.


In May, GCAC awards the largest grant amount in its history to artists and cultural organizations in Columbus. The expanded grant amount is made possible by an increase in funding from GCAC’s contract with the City of Columbus, and the release of temporarily restricted funds.

GCAC begins offering arts and cultural groups the opportunity to apply for grants online.

For the first time, artists apply for the Columbus Arts Festival through ZAPPlication, an online application process that revolutionizes the jury review.

ArtZine, GCAC and WOSU television’s partnership to showcase the arts and culture in Columbus, wins a regional Emmy award.

President Ray Hanley announces he will retire in 2007 but dies tragically and unexpectedly. Bryan Knicely is hired as president after a national search.

The Columbus Cultural Leadership Consortium (CCLC) is formed.


GCAC starts a long-range strategic planning process in January, the first one in over 20 years.

The Grants Department unveils a new system for reviewing and awarding Project Grants. Criteria for reviewing applications are now tied to a scoring system and allocations are made according to score.

Staff and board implement a new Project Grants process that involves peer review panels drawn from the Columbus Metropolitan Service Area.

GCAC and WOSU’s monthly television magazine program ArtZine wins two regional Emmy awards.


In January, GCAC receives funding from the Franklin County Board of Commissioners to for its new arts education program Art in the House and partner program TRANSIT ARTS.

Columbus is named a top ten “City for the Arts” by AmericanStyle magazine.

GCAC’s professional development series for artists, OPPArt (Opportunities for Artists) continues to grow and expand.

GCAC announces that it will change its Business Arts Partnership awards to the Community Arts Partnership awards and will expand to six award categories – three for individuals and three for businesses.


GCAC’s Art in the House programming begins in partnership with TRANSIT ARTS and the Columbus Federation of Settlements. By the end of the year, Art in the House is operating out of four Settlement Houses.

Photographer Abdi Roble wins the first Raymond J. Hanley Fellowship. The Fellowship – an award for an individual artist who lives or works in the Columbus area and who has demonstrated an unusual level of achievement – is administered by GCAC and supported through the Hanley Arts Fund of the Columbus Arts Endowment. The Columbus Arts Endowment was created to honor former GCAC President Raymond Hanley upon Hanley’s death in 2006.

GCAC hosts its first Community Arts Partnership awards, an expansion of the former Business Arts Partnership awards. Three individuals and three businesses win an award for their support of the arts in the Columbus area.

GCAC and Columbus celebrate the Big Read, funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, in May. Columbus residents are encouraged to read Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club. Big Read programming culminates in a visit by Tan.

Milt Baughman is hired as interim president due to the departure of Bryan Knicely.


In 2010 The Columbus Arts Endowment awards Geoffrey Nelson, longtime artistic director at CATCO the 2nd annual Ray Hanley Award.  After serving as interim President of GCAC Milton D. Baughman is named President in September, 2010.


The Columbus Arts Festival celebrates 50 years, and a final year in the Discovery District.  As part of the Anniversary Celebration the Festival launches a number of new initiatives including the Emerging Artist program to assist Central Ohio artists in learning how to present their work at Festivals.

GCAC’s services expand with the redesign of ColumbusArts.com and the launch of the multi-disciplinary artist directory serving artists in the disciplines of visual arts, dance, theatre, literature and music. The Arts Legal Assistance program is launched in partnership with the Columbus Bar Association.

GCAC begins planning for the city’s Bicentennial and receives a $150,000 Our Town grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to support Finding Time: Public Art 2012.  In addition, GCAC launches the JP Morgan Chase Neighborhood grant program with $200,000 from JP Morgan Chase to support Bicentennial activities in Central Ohio neighborhoods.

GCAC’s Ohio Association of Nonprofit Organization’s certification is renewed, establishing the organization as a highly respected and trusted non-profit in Ohio.  Gerard Charles, artistic director of BalletMet Columbus receives the 3rd annual Raymond J. Hanley Award.


2012 was the city’s Bicentennial and important milestone in the community.  With the financial support of the city and the collaborative energy of many community partners, GCAC was given the opportunity to celebrate what makes Columbus unique and a vibrant place to live, work and play.

GCAC also took a leadership role to identify funding solutions to sustain the arts–both short-term and long-term.  The effort was part of a collaboration with city leadership, Experience Columbus and the human services sector to work the Financial Review and Advisory Committee to address the funding needs in our community.

In response to two studies that pointed to a need for GCAC to focus on its mission as a granting agency and its current work to secure a lasting arts funding solution that will make the entire Columbus cultural community more vital, the Community Arts Education programs of GCAC were transferred to a new home with the Ohio Alliance for Arts Education (OAAE) in July 2012.  The components of the program, including Artists-in-Schools, Art in the House, Professional Development for Teachers and the Franklin County Neighborhood Arts grants continue under the leadership of OAAE.

The city opened the newly renovated Scioto Mile and Bicentennial Park in 2012 and the Columbus Arts Festival moved back to its long time home.  More than 400,000 people attended the Festival for three days of art, music, food and fun.

Photographer Kojo Kamau receives the 4th Annual Raymond J. Hanley Award.


Milt Baughman announces his retirement and Tom Katzenmeyer is hired as president.

GCAC creates a fiscal sponsorship program to assist new arts organizations in the process of obtaining tax-exempt status.

Power2give.org is launched. This online marketplace is devoted to supporting non-profit organization.  Funding partners included: the City of Columbus through the grant program, Cardinal Health, JPMorgan Chase Foundation, PNC, Loann Crane and The Columbus Foundation.

In collaboration with CCLC, GCAC embarks on a marketing and branding campaign for the arts sector to focus on building awareness and engagement from patrons, donors and corporate and community partners.

Increase in hotel/motel bed tax is allocated to GCAC and the removal of a cap results in over $600,000 of additional revenue.

Susan Van Pelt Petry receives Hanley Award.


53rd Art Festival is held and showcases more than 1,000 artists and performers with record breaking crowds on Friday and Saturday.

The Annual Public Forum is held in February on the topic of Arts in our Community:Roles and Results. Over 200 people attend.

$100,000 in additional support from the city of Columbus for new Community Impact grant program.

Community and Street Performer database is launched to connect community partners with performers and compensate artists.



History Hide Timeline

Years before the first official funding agreement with GCAC in 1973, the City of Columbus financially supported the community’s three major arts institutions—The Columbus Gallery of Fine Arts (Columbus Museum of Art), the Center of Science & Industry (COSI), and the Columbus Symphony Orchestra—in return for specific public service events. In 1973, City Council recognized that the Columbus arts community extended beyond these three organizations and that the needs of the three institutions extended beyond the small sums allocated.

By contract, City Council set aside funds to be administered in a grants program by GCAC. Properly incorporated, nonprofit arts and arts-related organizations serving the citizens of Columbus would be eligible for funds, which in 1973 totaled $50,000.

During the first five years of the grants program, 77 grants totaling $270,000 were awarded to 34 different organizations who served the general cultural interests of Columbus citizens. The City’s commitment to its major organizations continued with the Gallery, Symphony and COSI receiving a total of $86,095 in grants. Many worthwhile projects that would also serve the needs of the community did not receive grants simply because there were not enough funds.

In January 1977, Columbus City Council officially recognized the potential of cultural activities “to promote and publicize the City of Columbus as a desirable location for conventions, trade shows, and similar events.” Council amended City Code Section 371.02 to allow arts organizations to share with the Greater Columbus Convention and Visitors Bureau in revenue from the hotel/motel bed tax. The amendment provided for funds of $125,000 in 1978 and $150,000 in 1979.

While the allocation of hotel/motel tax funds did not alter the terms of the funding partnership between the City and the Greater Columbus Arts Council, the increase in funding made a dramatic impact on Columbus arts organizations. In the first nine months of 1978 alone, 38 grants were awarded to 27 organizations for a total of $114,871.

In 1979, a long-range plan developed and adopted by GCAC trustees articulated in writing for the first time the agency’s specific goals in the areas of technical assistance, advocacy and grants-making. New guidelines clearly delineated the criteria on which funding decisions are based, emphasizing the primary importance placed on the impact of the proposed activity on the City of Columbus. Revised application forms were specifically designed to encourage sound project planning and to give proposal evaluators the opportunity to examine carefully the rationale behind each request. In the context of the arts council as the city’s primary arts service provider, the plan defined the mission of the grants program: “To maximize funding for Columbus arts organizations through the responsible administration of a grants-making program…and technical assistance aimed at increasing the level of grantsmanship skills among the GCAC constituency.”

In May 1981, Columbus City Council made another commitment to the arts as an investment in the economic development of the city. Ordinance 947.81, passed unanimously, designated for the first time a fixed percentage of hotel/motel tax revenues (20% of a 4% tax) for the support of the arts to be distributed by GCAC and its grants program. The commitment followed years of a successful funding partnership between GCAC and the City that had brought Columbus distinction as a vanguard city in the support of arts development.

During the late eighties and early nineties, the arts community enjoyed steady growth in the number of dollars generated by the tax. But in 1991, the Board of Trustees faced the challenge of granting sharply decreased revenues to more non profit organizations than ever before. By reviewing and modifying grant guideline and application procedures, the Board was able to fairly disperse the reduced dollars that year. The Board reviews grant guidelines and application procedures annually and with careful consideration and revisions, the rules allow fair treatment for arts entities seeking public funds.

Today more than 70 organizations share over $2,000,000 in city support. While this represents less than 5% of operating budgets, it reaffirms continuing bipartisan support for the arts and the role they play in civic development. From Individual Artist Fellowships, to Operating and Project Support for organizations, these city funds provide the financial bedrock from which our community pursues its creative goals.