Columbus is not a cultural wasteland

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So Columbus is a cultural wasteland, at least according to a recent report from the Columbus Partnership comparing it to 15 other cities.

But American Style magazine has named the city one of the top 10 arts destinations in the country, ahead of Portland, Ore., Streetcar Capital of the Northwest, and Las Vegas, that desert bastion of good taste.

The Columbus Partnership report will no doubt mean another tick on the old Inferiority Complex Meter for those folks who pay attention to these things.

The magazine article will be used as evidence by those who seek to shed our precious Cowtown image.

And in case you’ve forgotten, we’re one of America’s most obese cities, as well.

Now we’ll be seen as endomorphic, uncouth and schizophrenic.

So what are we, a bunch of farm-raised Fellini fans or bulging, beery Buckeye boosters?

The Columbus Partnership report counted amenities, from theatre companies to video rental stores, and even hair salons (why not tattoo and piercing parlors?) per 1,000 residents.

Cities surveyed include Nashville (ranked number 1) to Chicago (number 7) to Cleveland and Cincinnati (14 and 15 respectively).

Columbus came in dead last at 16.

This tallies quantity rather than quality.

I think we have both, at least for someone with limited means and leisure time.

I say anybody who runs out of things to do here isn’t paying attention.

In one weekend in March I enjoyed "The Pubs of Ireland," with traditional Irish music by the Ohio Village Singers, and the next night took in a concert of authentic gypsy music and dancing by visiting Russian artists and incomparable local musicians, violinist Arkady Gips and 12-string guitarist Neil Jacobs.

I could have attended a chamber music recital the next day, but I was pooped.

The Drexel theatres screen the latest indie and foreign films. If you want to keep up on the developments in Sri Lankan cinema or avant garde art, there is the Wexner Center. The Columbus Museum of Art and other venues play to more middle-of-the-road tastes.

The libraries are great, the restaurants are pretty good.

That doesn’t sound like a cultural wasteland to me.

I have either lived in or visited several of the cities on the list, and they all have something to offer.

Columbus doesn’t have the ethnic enclaves of my native Cleveland, but that’s all right. Even amid its white-bread environs, there are places to find markets and restaurants that provide authentic flavors. You just have to look a little harder.

I think it comes down to how you define culture.

To me, culture means whatever makes a place unique. It’s whatever is home-grown and not mass-produced.

It’s what gets us out from in front of our television sets and knits us together as a community.

It could be the Columbus Symphony, or it could be a coney dog at Phillip’s.

It could be a humid midsummer’s night watching a play in Schiller Park, or a scorching afternoon watching your favorite movie in "the air-conditioned splendor of this magnificent old electric pleasure dome," as organist extraordinaire Clark Wilson calls the Ohio Theatre.

You have to get out and explore and find these things.

My dad recently found an authentic Polish bakery in the unlikely Cleveland suburb of Independence, which is like finding pierogies in Powell.

He doesn’t even know what attracted him to the non-descript facade, except that he has a radar for these one-of-a-kind establishments.

So find your own cultural comfort level, even if it’s eating a 10 cent hot dog while watching the Clippers from a stadium that overlooks a picturesque cemetery (at least for one more summer until the yuppies take over).

Quit complaining and embrace your inner Cowtown. It could be worse.

John Matuszak is managing editor and Eastside editor of the Columbus Messenger newspapers.

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