First Friday's Circle City Industrial Complex 

click to enlarge Circle City Industrial Complex artists and shopkeepers (left to right): Samma Parcels, Martha Nahrwold, Mike Lyons, Nancy Lee, Wug Laku and Nick Allman. Photo by Mark Lee
  • Circle City Industrial Complex artists and shopkeepers (left to right): Samma Parcels, Martha Nahrwold, Mike Lyons, Nancy Lee, Wug Laku and Nick Allman. Photo by Mark Lee

It's just before 5:00 p.m., on Friday May 6, and Wug Laku is precariously perched on top of a ladder, affixing a spotlight to the ceiling to light a sculpture below. The sculpture is that of a life-sized "zonkey" -- a combination donkey and zebra -- by Stacey Holloway. The venue is dubbed the Back Hall Gallery and it's one of the many common areas of the Circle City Industrial Complex located at 10th Street and Brookside Avenue on Indy's Near Eastside.

But it's Wug Laku's own gallery (called Wug Laku's Studio & Garage) that's the biggest First Friday draw in this vast 13 and a half acre complex in which a small, hardy group of artists and craftspeople have found a foothold.

In the corridors of the central section of the complex, off Brookside Avenue, you'll find galleries displaying hand-crafted jewelry, painting, sculpture and furniture -- as well as the studios where these items are made -- not to mention a bakery and a fashion boutique.

On this particular First Friday opening, the abstract paintings of Doug Arnholter are on display in Laku's space. By the time Arnholter arrives at 5:30 p.m., Laku has come down off the ladder and is ready to play host to the First Friday guests who are beginning to wander in. It's not so unusual these days for Laku -- a photographer, painter, furniture maker and Creative Renewal Grant recipient -- to manage multiple exhibits at once.

But Laku's role goes beyond coordinating First Fridays. He's also an informal gatekeeper.

"He doesn't have control over who gets a lease," says jewelry maker and sculptor Nancy Lee. "But he's the first person an artist talks to when they think they might want to locate here. He makes sure it's a cohesive group of people doing a really good job in what they've chosen to do."

One of the people she cites as an example is the astoundingly talented sculptor and painter Matthew Davey who has his studio located in the center. (Come July 1 new studio spaces will become available in the center for artists and craftspeople).

Lee herself has both a studio and gallery space near the Brookside Avenue entrance, Nancy Lee Designs, where she displays her handcrafted jewelry and sculptural work.

"I came here because a tree fell on my studio at home," she says. "And I was getting ready for a show out here that I was coordinating with Wug Laku and several other people from Smaller Indiana and the show was called 'Elegant Funk.' I was working on a piece at the time and I needed another place to go."

"Most of us career artists," Lee says, regarding those who locate in the complex. "We do this full time to make a living."

Nahrwold the pioneer artist

The first artist to locate her studio in the complex was Martha Nahrwold, whose Five Seasons Studio is just down the hall from Wug Laku's space. Nahrwold, a practitioner of an impressionistic painting technique she calls "objective marbling," came to the Circle City Industrial Complex back in 1991.

She had previously been running a floral arrangement business out of her home and found herself running out of space. At about the same time, the company from which she bought art supplies, Dolphin Papers, moved to the Circle City Industrial Complex from their old Walnut Street location.

"I had to track them to this building when they moved," says Nahrwold. "And at the same time I had been looking for available space but what I found on the north side was more finished office space. I wanted a space where I could spill paint or water."

So she moved in, and found herself benefiting from referrals from her art supply store neighbor.

"There were two different printing businesses here," says Nahrwold. "One was a silkscreen business and the other was a commercial printer... There had been a book bindery in this building between the diesel testing lab moving out and it being open to these others and I got a ten foot long work table that had been left over from there."

The history of the Circle City Industrial Complex, however, stretches back much further back than 1991. Back in the late 1920s, when it was built, it was known as the Schwitzer Building. Since then it has served in a wide variety of manufacturing purposes including as a Cummins Engine testing facility during World War II.

Wug Laku arrives

"We're definitely the most industrial [arts space] in town," says Laku. "Because there's an auto parts store here, there's a couple of metal fabricating place here, there's a billboard shop here..."

Laku came to the Circle City Industrial Complex in 2007.

"I needed multi-use space because of all the things I do -- the painting, the drawing... at the time I wasn't really doing that much photography but also the woodworking and the lightboxes," says Laku. "So I was looking for decent-sized studio space at a really affordable price. I thought about the Stutz, thought about the Murphy [City for the Arts], all the usual suspects. A, the price wasn't right. B, I knew people in both of those buildings and other places in town and I knew that if I moved in there I'd have knocks on the door all the time and I wouldn't get anything done."

A friend told him about the complex, and Laku felt at home because, like Nahrwold, Laku also used to buy his art supplies from Dolphin Papers. "I came in, walked down the hallway and in fact the old Dolphin paper logo was still in the window where it used to be located," he recalls.

He immediately fell in love with the space that would become his studio. It turned out that this space, which had previously been a biomedical manufacturing facility, was perfect for showing art. So he began showing artists he admired in his space. He got involved with the Indianapolis Art Dealers Association (IDADA) gallery walks.

At first it the response was lacking, but over time, word of mouth spread and the complex has seen upwards of 300 visitors show up on the First Friday art walks.

While 300 visitors didn't walk through the corridors of the complex on that May First Friday, it was still a respectable showing. And IDADA is taking notice in the increasing popularity of this venue. It so happens that the 2011 IDADA Annual Member's Exhibition will be held in Wug Laku's Studio and Garage.

"We've got the awards, the grants to back it up. So it's a really strong mix of people," says Laku of the artists in the complex. "It's got a little different vibe than every other place in town on First Friday. I don't know how to explain it or describe it. I just know that it is."

For more: Circle City Industrial Complex visit:

Plus, you can find CCIC on Facebook.

SIDEBAR: CCIC artists:

Nancy Lee: 317-937-1652

Nikki Blaine Couture

Wug Laku

Martha Nahrwold

The Pastry Station

Matt Davey

Mike Lyons

Jari Sheese
Lisa Atchison
Samma Parcels
Sallie Gurth

Nick Allman

Robin Long-Jordan

Ted Ross

Guest Artist
Indianapolis Fashion Collective

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