Funding for public art on the Hilltop

By Dedra Cordle
Staff Writer

The nonprofit organization Summer Jam West was recently awarded another grant to bring permanent public art to the Hilltop. Executive Director Patti Von Niessen said the organization would not be able to accomplish their goals or fund its annual music and arts festival without the assistance of grantors and sponsors. Shown above is a rendering of the latest commissioned mural that will be located on the westside. The creation by artists Michael Boudreault and Chris McDaniels compliments the organization’s 2020 theme ‘Color Your World Green.’

The submissions came flooding in as soon as the United Way of Central Ohio opened up the application page on its website for Neighborhood Partnership Grant consideration.

Established in 2007, the grant has gained a reputation with small and large nonprofits alike for funding unusual projects. Because of its popularity, applicants knew they needed to strike fast and make an impression on the review committee.

“It is a unique grant in that sense,” said Tina Starner, an administrative coordinator and NPG grant manager with the United Way of Central Ohio. “It has funded quite a few projects that are considered outside of the box.”

With a focus on supporting community building activities and projects that are “meant to strengthen the fabric of the neighborhood,” Starner said the grant has helped organizations establish and expand public gardens, safety initiatives and youth enrichment services to name a few.

The grant also funds public events and art initiatives which is why the local nonprofit organization Summer Jam West was among the hundreds of applicants vying for consideration this year.

Founded in 2014, the organization whose mission is to bring permanent public art to the Hilltop has relied on donations, grants and sponsorships to further its goals and to fund the annual music and arts festival.

“Our budget is nuts,” said Patti Von Niessen, executive director. “You wouldn’t think it would cost that much to put on a small festival but you have to pay for the artists, the bands, the face painters, the food vendors, the permits and all the other attractions that make a festival so much fun.

“It is quite accurate to say that it is a major expense.”

Von Niessen said that while the organization has been fortunate to have had “such solid sponsors and grantors,” they cannot take that support for granted.

“We have to work hard to sell our vision and reach out to as many organizations as we can,” she said.

With that in mind, the Summer Jam West board submitted an application for the Neighborhood Partnership Grant and hoped for a positive outcome. They recently learned that they had received it.

In late March, the United Way of Central Ohio – in collaboration with the Columbus Foundation and PNC Bank – announced that Summer Jam West was one of the 83 funded neighborhood program projects this year.

“Summer Jam West has a great reputation with our review committee,” said Starner, referring to comments made regarding their “innovative approach to strengthening community pride and relationship building.”

“Unfortunately, I have not been able to get out to their art and music festival yet but I have heard nothing but good things from those who have.”

Starner said the nonprofit organization was granted $2,500, which will help offset some of the cost of the festival.

The Neighborhood Partnership Grant was not the first grant Summer Jam West has received recently either. They were also the recipients of grants from the city of Columbus Recreation and Parks Department, ComFest, the Greater Columbus Arts Council, the Ohio Arts Council and Puffin Foundation West.

Von Niessen said they are appreciative of the funding and support from all of the grantors, as well as the funding and support from all of their local sponsors and civic associations.

“We absolutely could not pull this off without them,” she said.

With a majority of the festival and mural project funding shored up, the question as to whether the festival will still go on remains.

In the past few weeks, major arts and music festivals have announced their cancellation or postponement to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Summer Jam West is still mulling its decision.

“We are hopeful that it will happen this year as planned,” said Von Niessen.

What gives her confidence, she said, is the month the festival takes place, the location at which it takes place, and the number of attendees that come each year.

“Our festival in July gives us some more room to plan, as does our central location at Westgate Park,” she said. “What is also beneficial to us is that, while we grow in attendance each year, we do not attract the numbers that the other art and music festivals do.”

She said that if the state is able to open up in the weeks ahead, the festival will be held on July 11. And if it does not, she added, the announcement will come at the end of May.

“We will spend these weeks listening to our health advocates and heeding their advice,” said Von Niessen. “And until we determine it will no longer be feasible to hold the festival, we will keep our fingers crossed, stay home and be good in order to make this happen.”

The Summer Jam West Music and Arts Festival is scheduled to be held on July 11 from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. at Westgate Park. The theme this year is ‘Color Your World Green’ to encourage those to make more sustainable efforts to help the planet. More than 34 local artists and craft artisans are scheduled to attend as are musical acts Folquinox, Carole Walker & the Bittertones, Clemens & Co., The Broken Relics and Simba Jordan. There will also be craft corners for kids, chalk artistry, food vendors, entertainment from the Artists Wrestling League and appearances by local law enforcement agencies and community partners.

For more information on Summer Jam West, visit

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