It's a Thursday and Shannon Linker is preparing for the next day's exhibition opening at Gallery 924. Ruler in hand, she steps outside to apply vinyl exhibition letters across the gallery's street-side picture window, then fields a last-minute phone call from an artist still needing to drop off artwork later that afternoon.
Professional and attentive, she makes me feel as if she has all the time in the world to meet, even though her schedule is thicker than ever these days. Linker juggles two roles, as the director of artist services for the Arts Council of Indianapolis and the director of Gallery 924, the contemporary art exhibition space within the Arts Council's building on N. Pennsylvania St.
Passionate and visionary about forwarding the role of artists in central Indiana, Linker is the Arts Council's principal liaison on artist issues, with organizations throughout the city and state. "It's my job to stand up and be the voice of the artist," says Linker. And advocate she does, particularly lately, as her forefront priority is to spotlight visual artists during Indianapolis' upcoming Super Bowl XLVI events.
Linker includes the Super Bowl projects — 46 for XLVI, 46 public murals being painted throughout the city, and involvement with the Indianapolis Downtown Artists and Dealers Association (IDADA) Art Pavilion, which will feature the works of local artists the weekend of the Super Bowl — among her numerous other responsibilities: organizing professional development workshops for artists, overseeing an online database of artists and a weekly artist opportunities e-newsletter, scheduling visual arts exhibitions at the notable Indianapolis Artsgarden, and championing for local art and economy through the Be Indypendent campaign. At the end of the day, it is Linker's rapport with area artists that significantly stands out. Respect for her work resonates from visual artists such as Dorothy Stites Alig, who says about Linker, "She might be the perfect person for her job."
A typical office day for Linker is, well, not typical. She might review Gallery 924 submissions or follow up with artists exhibiting the next month, update the Be Indypendent Facebook page and work with Lindsey Lord, assistant for artist services and the gallery. Then Linker may step out to meet with the IDADA advisory board or Super Bowl culture and arts committee, the latter co-chaired by the Arts Council's president and CEO, Dave Lawrence. She also takes the time to answer such artist questions as:
"I did this painting for a client, but do I own the copyright?"
"Are there any studio spaces available around town?"
"I'm looking to show a new body of work — any thoughts?"
Linker thrives in tackling such questions and being a central resource for artists. She proudly states, "I like that people trust me enough to call me."
Nine years ago, when Linker began her career at the Arts Council as office manager, artists did not have a designated person to call. Still, Linker fielded questions from artists looking for programs to support them. She began a long list of what artists said they needed.
"In those days," Lawrence explains, "the Arts Council's funding was restricted to supporting arts organizations, and there was not a lot of funding for individual artists, except for the Creative Renewal Arts Fellowship supported by Lilly Endowment. Shannon was instrumental in taking the Arts Council in a new direction and developed artist services." Private contributions and grants, not city dollars, help support the many current programs for artists that Linker oversees, such as workshops about the business of art.
A workshop discussing tax reporting and accounting is where Dorothy Stites Alig first met Linker and noticed her behind-the-scenes professionalism. "Shannon always placed the limelight on the presenter or artist, never on herself," Alig says.
Alig worked closely with Linker at Gallery 924 last May. "I developed a new appreciation for Shannon as an advocate and collaborator," says Alig, whose solo exhibition Nocturnal Noon was successful in concept and sales. "At every stage of the project, I felt Shannon understood and encouraged my perspective as the artist. She had an opinion about things, but was very flexible and open to discussion. She wears many hats — in-house videographer, curator, marketing specialist, art therapist — and she plays all of those roles well because you can tell that she really understands and enjoys working with artists."
October will mark Gallery 924's one-year anniversary with an exhibition by the Indiana Glass Arts Alliance, a nod to last October's stunning inaugural display of contemporary glass art by Ben Johnson. Linker says of the gallery's opening, "We were all nervous and hesitant at first, until our first show with Ben. Then we saw how beautiful the space could be and peoples' responses. People came in off the street to see it."
It was Lawrence who, in 2010 when the Arts Council moved from its upper-level suite near Monument Circle, saw the potential to develop the 1,300-square-foot gallery as a place to feature the work of central Indiana artists. Situated near the former Ruschman Gallery, there is a history of art in the vicinity. "I was sort of reluctant to get on board because I knew it was going to be an enormous undertaking," Linker admits. "And I was right, but he [Lawrence] just knew we could do it."
Despite the success of Johnson's show and other well-executed exhibits, as well as positive feedback, high attendance and repeat visitors, gallery sales have been unpredictable. But patronage is integral to sustaining a vibrant art scene. The gallery's goal is to sell artists' work and build their careers.
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