Bringing New Art to Indy

Bringing New Art to Indy
Cities are in constant competition with one another. They compete for talented people, new businesses and the kind of attention ñ the buzz ñ that attracts them. Winning cities grow and prosper. Losers become stops en route to someplace better.
The IMA"s Lisa Frieman
In a global economy, cities are constantly searching for ways to lure the international decisionmakers capable of making deals that bring investment to the community. Formula One racing, for example, has introduced Indianapolis to jet-setters who might not otherwise set foot here. But one race a year is hardly enough to make an impression. The contemporary art and design scene, on the other hand, is year-round, global, lucrative and connected to the worlds of finance, industry, entertainment and fashion. It"s a glamorous force. No wonder cities around the world ñ including Indianapolis ñ are engaged in a frenzy of projects aimed at updating their arts institutions. For a long time though, people in Indianapolis have felt as if local links to the contemporary art world were less high-speed modem than tin-can telephone. Anyone in need of information and/or inspiration regarding the international art and design scene has had to make like Marco Polo and head for Chicago, Columbus, Ohio or, that old standby, New York City. This has been a pretty dreary state of affairs, particularly for a city with designs on becoming a 21st century destination. Although the Eiteljorg"s Lilly-funded Native American Fellowship program has enabled that museum to acquire a substantial number of contemporary pieces by important North American artists, and the Indianapolis Art Center"s Julia Muney Moore has shown great curatorial savvy, institutional dedication to the art of the new in this town has been either scant or obscure. The Indianapolis Museum of Art"s Forefront Gallery, tucked away in an upstairs corner, has seemed like little more than an afterthought; and the relatively few people who have actually taken the trouble to visit the Herron Gallery at 16th and Pennsylvania have found the physical obsolescence of that intellectually stalwart space an almost insurmountable handicap. It appears, however, that all this is about to change. Today, no fewer than four initiatives are in the works, all of which are aimed at making contemporary art a high profile presence in Indianapolis. Remarkably, while these projects share an intense belief in the power of contemporary art to connect Indianapolis to the larger world, each one represents a distinct vision and approach. Although all are in different stages of development, none appears to be in direct competition; they appear, rather, to complement one another. NUVO recently caught up with the people hoping to make contemporary art and Indianapolis synonymous. Following is a survey of their works-in-progress. IMOCA (The Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art) First: The Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art isn"t really a museum. It"s about "museum quality." Jeremy Efroymson and Stephen Schaf, two of the creative entrepreneurs launching IMOCA, would prefer we not get hung up on the bricks and mortar aspect of what they are trying to do. The real mission of IMOCA is to put people in touch with the experience of contemporary art. "We"re not going to be a museum in terms of collecting art," Efroymson explains. "We"re going to be presenting different forms of art. We want to go wide in terms of media." "When you go see an exhibition at IMOCA," Schaf adds, "you"ll know the caliber of the work is going to be of museum quality, albeit accessible. It"s going to be a much different experience than the other institutions can offer." Rather than making their efforts dependent on acquiring or creating a building for IMOCA, Efroymson, Schaf and their board of directors want to create a museum without walls that will present or produce a number of art experiences in a variety of selected locations. The first event will feature an installation by local artists Greg Hull and Jeff Martin at the Stutz Show on April 25. This will be followed by two or three additional events in 2003 and four to six more in 2004. "Right now we"re hoping to be more of a mobile museum in that we can quickly and easily react to what"s going on in contemporary art and provide venues that are handpicked for the specific art so the environment becomes part of the experience," Schaf says. Working on a project-by-project basis like this will serve to introduce IMOCA to the community and moderate the pressure to raise funds. "We"re trying to do a grass-roots campaign," Efroymson says. "We"re trying to build up membership." Efroymson has experience in developing arts ventures. He was a backer of Arts Indiana magazine, has been involved in the creation of two existing art galleries in town and undertook the successful development of the Harrison Center on Delaware Street. Efroymson has also endowed a visiting artist lecture series at the Herron School. He would like to see IMOCA build a membership base of 500 people over the next five years. "I think it"s important for people to know that everything they interact with is potentially a form of creative expression," says Schaf, who got the inspiration for IMOCA at an exhibition based on athletic shoes he saw five years ago at the museum of contemporary art in San Francisco. "We"re going to take risks with what we present," he says. "We"re going to do some things that people might find risky, but we feel that"s what contemporary visual culture is about." "We want to set this up so that we are in partnership with other organizations," Efroymson notes. "We are part of the community. We don"t want to end up isolating ourselves." IMOCA, he says, has been three years in development. It has an 11-member board with curatorial and administrative committees. "We want to make art exciting and fun," Efroymson exclaims. "It"s going to be interesting to see how well we do." Herron Gallery Through thick and thin, the Herron Gallery has historically been the one local institution dedicated to showing contemporary art. Since its mission is educational, Herron is free to show work without regard for its commercial appeal. Now Herron is moving to the IUPUI campus. It will be part of a signature art school building being designed by architect Jonathan Hess and, most important, will enjoy a considerable expansion ñ of space and capacity. "I see Herron becoming a real destination," says the dean of the Herron school, Valerie Eichmeier. Eichmeier is on the last leg of raising funds for her new $26 million facility. "People are still giving and that makes me feel really good, because it tells me they care about Herron, they care about art and culture, they realize Herron"s a valuable resource. This," Eichmeier adds, "is a once-in-a-lifetime shot for Herron." Located 50 yards from the downtown canal walk, the new Herron Gallery will have 3,600 square feet for contemporary art exhibition space. It will feature movable walls, 16-foot-high ceilings and the latest in fiber optics and wireless technologies. There will also be an auditorium. Outside, the gallery will sponsor a sculpture garden with permanent and rotating works. Ground has already been broken for the project, which is expected to open in spring 2005. Eichmeier sees the new Herron taking a rightful place along with the State Museum and the Eiteljorg in the burgeoning White River Park campus. And she thinks contemporary art experiences will play a key role in making Indianapolis a destination for young adults. "The energy that you receive from a community vibrant with arts is basically interesting," Eichmeier observes. "That benefits the entire city." Eichmeier says that all the activity concerning the contemporary arts that is currently under way makes this feel like a "renaissance period." She"s glad to see it. "I think it"s wonderful. I don"t feel in competition or threatened by any of the other initiatives. In fact, we all know each other and have been able to successfully collaborate, and I think that will be even better once we all realize our projects." Eichmeier says the new Herron Gallery will continue with the mission it has pursued for the past 100 years, "Which is to serve our student population, to be an educational factor to the community and also to bring contemporary art that we normally wouldn"t see in Indianapolis." The IMA (Indianapolis Museum of Art) Since breaking ground for its new expansion project, hard hats have become as commonplace at the Indianapolis Museum of Art as paintings and sculpture. The entire museum is getting a multimillion dollar makeover (another score for architect Jonathan Hess), which will take us well into 2005. While the new facility is in the works, new people have come on board, most notably, Lisa Freiman, the museum"s curator for contemporary art. Freiman"s charge is to make contemporary art a major part of the IMA"s new identity. "One of the first things I did when I came," Freiman says, "was say we need to grow and acknowledge that contemporary art is popular and people are interested in it. And there"s been a lot of support from the institution to do that. There"s an awareness of how important it is for this institution ñ and for the city and our own current culture. It"s the time we live in. It"s the work that reflects our experience." The new IMA will dedicate virtually its entire third floor to contemporary art. The Forefront Gallery will triple in size, to 3,000 square feet with 20-foot ceilings reinforced with steel beams to hold the weight of installation work. In all, the museum will devote 25,000 square feet to contemporary works. "There are many contemporary art museums that don"t have that much gallery space," Freiman notes. The IMA is also developing its Art and Nature Park on land across the canal. The museum plans on commissioning internationally renowned artists to come and create site-specific installations in response to the park"s various precincts, which include woodlands, wetlands and Hidden Lake. "This is a unique site," Freiman observes. "There are very few museums anywhere in this country that have this kind of land." The museum is assembling a national advisory board, including museum directors, artists, landscape designers and public art specialists, to consult on park planning and the selection of artists. "We"ll probably commission a number of senior contemporary artists in the international art world to do projects," Freiman says. "But then I"m also looking at an emerging or mid-career program where we commission a number for the course of a few years and continue doing that on an ongoing basis so that the work gets replenished, because some of it will be intentionally ephemeral." A big part of Freiman"s job will be to build the museum"s contemporary collection with the help of donors and affiliated groups like the Contemporary Art Society. She points to how acquisitions of work like Bill Viola"s video piece, "Quintet," enhance the IMA overall: "That piece has this wonderful dialogue with old master paintings and so it enriches our collection and enriches viewers" experiences." Freiman believes contemporary art"s international character is one of its most important qualities. "There"s no single center of the art world," she says. "There"s a global network that is just a fact of the current state of things. You look at artists who are doing interesting work and they happen to come from all over the world." She points to the recent show by Brazilian artist Vik Muniz and how the opening brought out an unexpectedly large contingent of Muniz"s fellow Brazilians who happen to live in Indianapolis. "It makes the city more interesting." Another aspect of Freiman"s job will be to develop programming for the new facility. "I"m trying to get more of a sense of what people want and to create more of a dialogue and more openness so I can take those thoughts into consideration as I"m doing programming," she says, noting that being new to Indianapolis should be an asset for her. "I"m thinking about things differently because I don"t know how they were. I think that"s a good position to be in when so much change is happening." Circlecity Cultural Initiative International Of all the plans being floated or in the works right now, this proposal is the most visionary ñ and the most difficult to pull off. Created by the father-daughter team of Harry Kennerk and Emily Kennerk of the Sycamore Development Group, Circlecity Cultural Initiative International consists of three interlocking parts that aim to do for the east side of downtown what an earlier Kennerk project ñ the downtown canal redevelopment ñ did for the west side. The Kennerks want to see the city insist on placing an International Contemporary Art Museum on the Market Square Arena site. They also propose turning the old State Museum into an International Curatorial Studies and Urban Development Program, and transforming the City Market into a Creative Professional Center to house firms for architects, designers, printers and film producers. The Kennerks argue that creating this kind of creative triangulation will bring professional people downtown, attract international tourists and electrify Massachusetts Avenue and the residential areas immediately east of 465. The Kennerks assert that to think smaller than this is to risk the city"s future. "When you look at that site," Harry Kennerk says, "you say, "How do we use it to leverage Indianapolis?" That"s really the issue. That site is within eight hours of 75 percent of the population of the United States. To capitalize on what we have we really think you need to do something international. We need to leverage ourselves into the international market." "It can be a dynamic entrance to the city," adds Emily Kennerk, an artist herself, with degrees from Herron and Cranbrook in Michigan. "We would like to partner with an institution with an international collection like the Guggenheim," she continues. "I think the site is strong enough so we could attract an internationally known collection." Harry acknowledges that they are late in bringing their ideas to the table ñ the mayor is already entertaining proposals for the MSA site from other developers. But he still hopes for a hearing. If you look at the three ideas encompassed by their proposal, he says, "You"re looking at an arts district. What that district does is enhance apartment buildings and residential living. We need 18,000 more single-family or residential units in downtown Center Township to support the Center Township tax base. That"s why we"re getting such emphasis on these apartments. In our opinion, the site"s too valuable to put apartments on, or even an office building ... With an arts district, your housing comes and your commercial comes and it develops that east side of Indianapolis. We need to activate that. Then we need something that will jump the interstate and encourage development and housing over there." Emily describes her arts training as "problem solving." For her, and many people like her, a major problem has to do with the current cultural state of Indianapolis. "How am I going to operate in a city like this?" she asks. She believes that a large part of the answer lies in creating the kind of creative infrastructure this proposal would help institutionalize. "We need to do a venue that attracts businesses, that brings new net jobs in, that increases our educational base," Harry adds, referring to economist Richard Florida"s research that cities prosper when they are able to attract the so-called creative class of highly educated workers. "Apartments are not going to attract an intellectual labor pool." The Kennerks are passionate about the opportunity they see here. They plan to proceed with some variation of their project, whether they are able to persuade the city about the MSA site or not. Emily recalls being a kid and going for a drive with her dad. "He drove us downtown and said, "See that drainage ditch? That"s going to be something."" That drainage ditch became the downtown canal, the first major redevelopment project in downtown Indy in half a century. "We love Indianapolis," Harry says. "It"s been good to us and we see what other cities are doing around the country and I think we"ve got to get competitive."
Ready for public art
Gretchen Freeman, together with her business partner Deborah Whitehurst, has been helping people ñ from university presidents to big city mayors ñ think about public art since 1994. That"s when they founded their public art consulting firm, eponymously known as Freeman Whitehurst, in Phoenix, Ariz. Freeman Whitehurst specializes in large municipal projects. The company has helped cities like Minneapolis, San Antonio and Atlanta establish the guidelines and procedures necessary not only to help deal with public art and artists, but to do so in ways that express their particular sense of place or identity. Since last September, Freeman and Whitehurst have been coming to Indianapolis for meetings and research regarding the public art component of Mayor Bart Peterson"s cultural initiative. They will be presenting the city with their recommendations in July. NUVO recently met with Gretchen Freeman in the Art Council of Indianapolis offices for a conversation about how the work is going so far. A melting pot "What has been remarkable to us is how ready Indianapolis is for this," says Freeman, who began her arts career working with the corporate art collection of the Chase Manhattan Bank in New York, but whose speech retains the soft touch of her native Arkansas. "People are wanting an expression of who they are in their community ñ and want to make their community unique, because there"s so much homogeneity around the country." Indianapolis, says Freeman, is in a good position to undertake a program like this at this time. "This is not a new concept. It has been done in other cities and Indianapolis is probably one of the last large cities that hasn"t either considered it or established a public art program." Freeman has been meeting with various stakeholders, beginning with the city"s public works departments. "One of the ways that public art can be accepted by a community," she says, "is to attach it to things that people know are necessary ... We"ve been talking to a very eager public works department. I have to say that they are ready. The public works director has said we want this to happen and that"s their charge." Artists and neighborhood associations have also been high on Freeman"s list of contacts. "You don"t want to create something artificial in any way," she notes. "You want it to come from a community and be very much tied-in and have people feel as though the art is responding to what life is like here. Very site specific. It could not be anywhere else than Indianapolis." To this end, Freeman and her colleagues have been immersing themselves in local history. They are looking particularly at the city"s residential character. "More than a lot of large cities, Indianapolis is really a melting pot," she observes. "You might go to Chicago or Milwaukee and say, "Where is the German section?," or, "Where is Chinatown?" People can point to it. Here that"s not really the case ... Neighborhoods are really what Indianapolis is about. I think these cultural districts that have been named are certainly areas that are identifiable, but a lot of the neighborhoods are not as identifiable as one would like and that makes it a little bit difficult. I think that identities are beginning to form ñ or re-form. Perhaps they"ve existed in the past but they"ve reconstituted. Some of those neighborhoods are really exciting to go into." Learning how the people in a neighborhood think of where they live is a crucial part of Freeman"s process. These ideas can inform whatever art might someday be placed there. "A project, if it"s done in a good way, engages the public in looking at itself and thinking about what speaks for them in a visual form." The local history that Freeman and her colleagues uncover is included in their report to the city and can be used by artists as reference material for future projects. "It"s going to add a layer of meaning and purpose and belonging ñ and some sense of pride as well." A sound working process Freeman stresses the importance of creating a sound working process for public art in order to defuse what can easily turn into public controversy. "Though you try very hard, you"re not going to please all the people all the time," she observes. "That"s why a public art program should embrace diversity and variety ñ if you don"t like one project, perhaps you"ll like another." She points out that many notable works of public art ñ the Eiffel Tower, for example ñ were abhorred when they were first introduced, only to become beloved landmarks. Freeman expects Indianapolis to devote public, foundation and corporate dollars to a public art program. Doing so will enable citizens and tourists to see a greater variety of artworks, most notably temporary forms of expression. "I think it"s extremely important, if one can do it, within a city to have a component that is temporary, more experimental. It allows artists to take some risks at a relatively low cost and communicate with the public. Often artists don"t have experience building large-scale, permanent works. Temporary projects become a kind of laboratory. We will encourage temporary works in addition to the permanent, landmark kinds of projects." It has become common for cities with successful public art programs to require that all public works projects set aside a certain percentage of their budgets for art. Freeman thinks that 1 percent is too low and likes to see cities adopt higher standards so that maintenance of completed work is included. "You can put this stuff out there but if there"s no one to take care of it you lose your investment and it just detracts from the whole reason for doing it in the first place." Freeman Whitehurst"s recommendations for public art will be presented to the city in July. Freeman knows that many people here will want to see results as quickly as possible, but cautions against being hasty. "The more quickly you rush into this, the more at risk you are for doing something that will be extremely unpopular, will not be inclusive and subsequently may be so controversial or so despised that it will set the public art program back years. What is shown to the public initially is exceedingly important. "We"re going to be producing a list of projects that should be done probably within the next five years," Freeman says. Some of these projects will be linked to building projects ñ like the airport expressway ñ that are already in the planning stages so those opportunities aren"t missed. Others are likely to be temporary projects that don"t require large budgets and can serve to build artist capacity for permanent projects later on. Once again, Freeman comes back to the importance of process. "That"s not to diminish the importance of outcome," she explains, "but it"s so important to have a fair, consistent, equitable process. That way people feel they have an opportunity to be heard and that they"ve had an opportunity to compete ñ I can"t stress that enough." -DH
Art museums going up
Over 40 art museums are currently under construction in cities around the world. Many of these buildings are expansion projects like the Indianapolis Museum of Art, but many others will represent new destinations in the communities where they are being built. Following is a partial listing of museum building projects in the United States ñ note the many within driving distance of Indianapolis. Akron Art Museum Akron, Ohio $29 million expansion Art Institute of Chicago Chicago, Ill. $200 million expansion Austin Museum of Art Austin, Texas $65 million new building Calder Museum Philadelphia, Pa. $35 million new museum Cleveland Museum of Art Cleveland, Ohio $170 million expansion Denver Art Museum Denver, Co. $110 million expansion Detroit Institute of Arts Detroit, Mich. $91 million expansion Forum for Contemporary Art St. Louis, Mo. $7.5 million new building Guggenheim Las Vegas Las Vegas, Nev. $30 million new museum Institute of Contemporary Art Boston, Mass. $35 million new building Lois and Richard Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art Cincinnati, Ohio $34.1 million new building Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth Fort Worth, Texas $60 million new museum Walker Art Center Minneapolis, Minn. $50 million expansion

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