Our Journey

How we became Milo Arts.

The citizens of Milo, Ohio, built Milo Public School in 1894. The architect was J. M. Freese, who also designed the Franklin Park Conservatory. The town of Milo was absorbed into Columbus in 1908 along with the adjacent village of Grogan. Around that time, Timken Roller Bearing established one of its original factories in the neighborhood, eventually expanding, building homes and creating much of the prosperity of the district. Other businesses that flourished in Milo were the Pennsylvania Railroad, Ohio Malleable, Columbus Dye, Columbus Transit Company, several brickyards, as well as neighborhood shops, grocers, and restaurants.

In the 1960s, the Milo-Grogan area saw the construction of Interstate 71. The splitting of the neighborhood by the highway resulted in the loss of approximately 20% of its land area including 400 homes and businesses. Furthermore, the eventual closure of Timken and Ohio Malleable, dramatically and adversely affected the neighborhood, leaving it one of the very poorest in Franklin County.

In 1983, Richard Mann and Russell B. Snider acquired the old Milo Public School (closed since the late 1970s). In 1984, Victory Mission opened at the old Milo Public School. Victory Mission created a revolutionary program offering unique aid to homeless families. With the assistance of Victory Mission, Habitat for Humanity began organizing its first central Ohio chapter and succeeded in building 70 homes on previously vacant lots in the Milo-Grogan district by the late 1990s.

In the summer of 1988, Rick's wife, Donna Mann, artist Pat Durkin, and Darrell Duncan approached Rick with a unique vision "to transform the old school building into a space where artists could come together to live and work". Word spread through the informal network of artists within the city, and twenty-six artists joined before the first article appeared in the Columbus Dispatch. As the number of artists increased and the vision for Milo grew, it became necessary to seek a new zoning variance from City Council that would legitimize their activities and provide for future expansion including, gallery spaces, performance spaces, and more. In the true spirit of the founding principles, the artists won the hearts of their entire district through workshops and community cleanup efforts. The vision for Milo, the dream as it was later called, was lauded by numerous arts and political figures from the central Ohio area.

The early years of Milo Arts yielded fruit, both as hosted events and exhibitions around Columbus. The original vision, which focused on the visual arts, expanded to accommodate music and performing arts as well. The community of artists also collaborated to produce several successful fundraisers for the continuing renovation work throughout the building. Sadly, long-time supporter and founder Russell B. Snider died in August of 1995. His sage advice and wisdom are sorely missed.

Throughout the latter half of the 1990s, renovations to the building continued and amenities, such as private baths and kitchens, were added to many of the studios. The Milo complex grew to include several buildings fronting on Cleveland Avenue, including a recording studio. In spite of these positive developments, the artist community that had burst forth in 1988 began to change.

Residents who were happy to help with even the basic maintenance of the building were gradually replaced with those who failed to grasp the community spirit. The costs of operation relative to income started to grow. On September 12, 2000, Columbus mayor Michael B. Coleman and members of the Milo-Grogan Area Commission were touring the area, and the old Milo School was pointed out as an eyesore. Nine days later, an army of fire and building inspectors descended on Milo Arts, and the following day, September 22, an order was delivered requiring all residents to vacate the building within 72 hours.

Despite the order to vacate, an overwhelming majority of the residents remained in the building. A hearing was scheduled on September 29, 2000, in the lobby of Milo Arts to determine its fate. Pending the outcome of the hearing, a fire watch was ordered. Two off-duty Columbus firefighters patrolled the hallways around the clock and smoking, cooking, and open flames were all prohibited within the building.

On October 4, 2000, Franklin County Environmental Judge Richard C. Pfeiffer Jr. denied the city's request to evict the residents, but left in place many of the fire safety restrictions. Over the next three months, some of the requested repairs were made the remainder of the requested repairs required plans to be approved by the city. Following a hearing on March 8, 2001, a temporary occupancy permit was issued, but litigation continued until September of 2001.

In their pursuit of justice without retribution from the city, the Mann's debt load had increased, including lines of credit needed to fund their legal costs, operate the fire watch, settle with the estate of Russell B. Snider, and make the alterations to the building requested by Judge Pfeiffer. Unfortunately a number of long-term artist tenants whether from fear of loss of their homes and businesses or from the inability to resist taking advantage of the weakened position of the Manns ceased to pay rent and ultimately had to be evicted. The strain and loss of reputation caused by the lengthy trial reduced the occupancy of Milo Arts from 95% (which was typical throughout the early years) to barely 65%.

The situation appeared impossible. Meanwhile, a group of Milo artists had begun meeting in order to rekindle the vision they had glimpsed when coming into Milo. This has grown into physical effort on maintaining the building and work toward founding a nonprofit organization, the Artists Community of Milo which would focus on the Milo properties, making the necessary improvements and renovations, and preserving the Milo Dream for future generations.

In 2011, Failsafe Ventures, LLC, helped secure Milo for future generations. A close family member acquired Milo Arts, jumpstarting current operations. This new lease on life has put Milo Arts on more solid ground than it's been in a decade. We are currently re-building our community. There are 29 artists living/working or just working at Milo Arts. In the upcoming months we are looking to add 5 more renovated studios, as well as renovate some existing studios with kitchens and baths.

We are excited about our momentum. It is our hope that those who are considering Milo Arts as their home have the same drive and forward motion and will share that with the Milo Arts Community.