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Opinion: RAW offers Columbus chance to see genuine art, performances

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Your city is more than you think it is.

I walked down Front Street through a bit of slush in the Brewery District, close to the sides of buildings blocking the wind. Eventually making it to Shadowbox, I entered through a side door, because models and auxiliary pretty people blocked the main entrance waiting for drinks at the bar.

Inside, the concept of the mannequin was overtaken by actual human beauty. Models posed in real-life freeze-frame, set in place presenting their designers’ works. They stood still — blinking here and there — while gawking ticket-holders snapped their own stills on iPhones.

The models would switch out to become a new batch of mannequins every 15 minutes, one of the models, Jess Fraley, said.

Fashion, visual art, burlesque, photography, jewelry, along with the Shadowbox supply of food and drink — this month’s RAW was a pleasantry and congenial as the mobile models busy being beautiful within the venue.

For those unaware, the RAW showcase is a nationwide performance essentially allowing local artists of all realms to lay their own s— down in front of the type of eyes who otherwise couldn’t give less of one.

I’ve heard some Columbus cool-guys pissing on RAW time and time again, as it’s a “pay to play” setup where artists must either sell 20 $15 tickets or pay the unsold deficit (sell more and keep the cash). Maybe it’s the fact that local shows around here hover around the free to $5 price range. Maybe they’re having difficulty dealing with whether they want to spend money on the ABBA Columbus Symphony Orchestra, a 30-rack of Hamm’s or on the art-party.

Or perhaps they’re simply the type of people who insist that you put them on the list even though won’t sleep with you after any of the shows. Who knows, bro?

Cute jokes aside, the production actually seems to scratch the artists’ back in turn: do a show in your hometown, and do another RAW show anywhere else in your country void of ticket sales — aka pay for the gas and some fast food and you’re on your merry way to the fresh eyes of a bigger city.

But, Columbus seemingly would like to hold its own.

Showcase director Dayna Melton said her shows had been increasing in traffic since last year, noting December was specifically large. She also noted that the RAW artists were showing their works to an audience on the upwards of 500 people. It appears that these events are beginning to gain some serious support from like-minded, bright-eyed core who are truly “tryna.”

A bloom of basic, meaningful human interactions; business card exchanges, people saying “‘sup, this is cool” and “thanks,” stressed-out smiles and a variety of high-fives.

“This is easily one of my best experiences ever for an art showing, the biggest scale I’ve ever participated in. I’ve done café shows and small galleries, but the exposure — just meeting everyone, and hearing peoples’ story, and how they just love my art — I don’t know, me watching them being happy about my art just does me so much good,” local artist Cone Bread (Taron Jordan) said.

After wandering about the bar, the tables for talking, the theater filled with art and music, I figured it was worth taking the camera out of the bag. The hip locals were making friends with people no one had ever seen before. Fingers extended to this art and that art before turning back toward another performance from a burlesque dancer.

Regardless of the promiscuity, all ages were welcome to the experience; I saw a young boy in a sports jacket at the f—— bar, which led me to feel under-dressed (we might assume he was drinking apple juice).

While the plethora of art was out there in the can’t-miss-it kind of way, the catwalk portion ending the show was brilliant, being the main event based on the magnetized crowd. It was the moment where the lines at the bar thinned where some of us understood that we’ve missed the front fifth of the ladies-with-attitude gliding up and down the catwalk.

Cameras flashed while the audience fluctuated between cheers and silence.

Between each performance and each walk, the otherwise dead-space was filled by D.J. Moxy’s (Maria Wheeler) dancey stylings. Moxy, who has made her own strut about Columbus as a distinguished noise-maker in electronic music, is no rookie to a RAW showcase.

“I think it’s a super amazing opportunity for professional and amateur artists alike to get people who aren’t necessarily the general public to see their work – myself included,” DJ Moxy said. “It’s a really cool atmosphere for people to experience what I do in a totally different venue, ‘cause who knows … maybe this place is all they know.”

Erin Gilson’s gorgeous paintings left her in conversation with so many different people that I struggled to get in my own two cents until she was packing up to leave after the show had long ended.

“I had a really great experience so I mean, that says more than anything; it was really fun to see people walk by my stuff and stop, and look at my piece — and I can watch people have conversations about what I did. That meant the world to me,” Gilson later said about the showcase.

So make up for being two-months absent from your art community and go to the next one on Mar. 31.

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