The News Journal is counting down the year’s top stories. Today we look back at a famous singer’s exhibition at the Mansfield Art Center and plans to build an indoor sports center near the intersection of Interstate 71 and Ohio 97.
8. John Mellencamp’s artwork featured locally
The Mansfield Art Center scored a major coup when it presented the artwork of the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer during a weeks-long exhibit last summer called “Paintings & Assemblages.”
More than 55 of Mellencamp’s pieces were on display, including some that had never been seen before.
Mellencamp is best known for a string of hits in the 1980s, including “Hurts So Good,” “Jack & Diane” and “Pink Houses.” The Indiana rocker has sold more than 60 albums worldwide.
In addition, Mellencamp is an accomplished painter, collector and activist. “Paintings & Assemblages” documented American’s heart and soul, exposing unsettling, but beautiful truths with an attitude of defiance and narrative sensibility.
Mellencamp’s paintings are as provocative as his political statements.
In one of his paintings, called “Gun Control,” Mellencamp wrote the words, “So this is gun control” above a painting of a young boy with a hole in his chest. Below were the words “the 2nd Amendment in action.”
Another provocative piece, called “Strange Fruit II,” references the Billie Holiday song that protested the lynching of Black Americans, comparing them to fruit hanging from trees.
Mellencamp updated the work in 2020 with a painting in the bottom left-hand corner of George Floyd, who died when a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for several minutes.
As Mellencamp’s musical career flourished, he began to paint earnestly in the 1980s. His affinity for portraiture shares a kinship with German Expressionism of the early 20th century.
His large-scale oil portraits and mixed-media pieces examine subjects that speak to the viewer with a voice as powerful as his songs.
Mellencamp was invited to the opening of the exhibit but was on a family vacation. His father did attend.
George Whitten, executive director of the Mansfield Art Center, and Tim Gorka worked with Mellencamp’s team for nearly a year to bring the exhibit to town.
Staff eventually got to meet Mellencamp at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, where they received VIP treatment for the dedication of a permanent exhibit.
“We all wore the John Mellencamp T-shirts that we had on sale here,” Whitten said last week.
Employees of Hoffman Entertainment, which manages Mellencamp, have been through Mansfield while going back and forth between New York City and Indiana, the singer’s birthplace.
“It was a huge success,” Whitten said of the exhibition. “He’s a celebrity, and we got to work with him. It was definitely a big deal.”
7. Indoor sports center coming to Richland County
The YMCA of North Central Ohio announced plans last summer to build an indoor sports center near the intersection of Interstate 71 and Ohio 97.
The sports center, initially projected to cost $12 to $15 million, will be located on nearly 35 acres offered to the YMCA by retired Mansfield industrialist James C. Gorman.
“We have nearly completed design and site work. We are working with Adena Corp and KE McCartney along with soccer athletes, coaches and others to ensure that we can build the best we can on our donated acreage,” project Manager Chriss Harris told the News Journal. “It is likely that the cost of the project will exceed $20 million, considering that we’ll have at least six outdoor soccer fields with at least one on turf and under lights.
“With our funding plan underway, we are hopeful that we have secured project funding by late 2023 and can break ground around that time.”
The plan is for a 125,000-square-foot complex to feature soccer, basketball, volleyball, pickleball and track, as well as at least six outdoor soccer fields and a walking trail, according to Christen Gilbert, CEO of the YMCA of North Central Ohio.
Gorman said while serving in World War II in New Guinea, there wasn’t much of an opportunity to spend money, so he sent his monthly checks back home and told his father to buy him something. Gorman’s dad purchased a farm along Ohio 97.
The state later built I-71 through the middle of the farm.
An economist predicted that $12 million would be pumped into the county annually during the construction phase and more than $8 million annually once the sports complex is completed.
The economist predicted the sports center would attract more than 35,000 visitors every year, as well as adding 100 jobs.
Richland County Commissioner Tony Vero previously said the project is expected to bring in a 30% net increase in annual operating income to the YMCA.
Vero added it would also mean an increase of about $80,000 in income tax to the village of Bellville.
The YMCA’s board of directors approved the development of the project after seeing the results of a proposed feasibility study.
The study showed significant support for the sports center from area residents, including many families who travel to Lodi, Columbus and out of state for indoor soccer tournaments.
“There has been a tremendous need for a sports center like this in Richland County for a long time, and we want to make it a reality,” Gilbert previously said. “Thousands of athletes and their families will visit from out of our area, requiring food and overnight stays.”
The sports complex will be built just south of the I-71 and Ohio 97 interchange, behind a relatively new Bellville health clinic.
Tentative plans are to open in 2025.