TURF: Art pavilion occupies old city hall 

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Like a striated cross-section of sedimentary rock, the building at Alabama Street and Ohio Street shows its history at a single glance. Constructed as Indianapolis's first city hall, it then passed into the hands of the state, which used it for the Indiana State Museum, filling the building's windows with limestone blocks, installing drop ceilings and dioramas. When the museum relocated, the building reverted to the city's ownership, freeing up the space to house the Central Library while the library's new home was being constructed; the library's signage remained in the building until earlier this month.

And now, for the three weeks leading up to the Super Bowl, the building — fallen into some disrepair in recent years, but still viable — will house an exhibition of installation art of unprecedented scope, created by a roster of local and regional artists. TURF: IDADA Art Pavilion, a free event which runs Jan. 14-Feb. 5, will feature the work of 21 artists, 19 of them from Indianapolis and its surrounding counties. The first two stories of the building will be occupied by a range of experiential art — from video art to immersive, multi-sensory environments; from kinetic sculpture to diorama.

Shortly after it was announced Indianapolis would be hosting the Super Bowl, TURF was in the works. Four key IDADA members — former IDADA presidents Mark Ruschman and Jason Zickler, 2011 president Abbey Pintar and 2012 president Kenan Farrell — started by spitballing ideas, with the notion of showcasing the visual arts community and drawing attention to the city.

Ruschman, the TURF project coordinator, remembers Zickler asking, “What about the old City Hall building?” The rest of the crew naysayed, but as soon as they got in the building, they thought it perfect. Then the city came on board, handing over the space for the duration of the event, essentially for free. “A series of highly unlikely things happened in a very short period of time, and all of the sudden we had this building,” Ruschman said.

Installation art seemed a natural choice, according to Ruschman: “For the organization, it goes back to the realization that if we were to create an art fair in such close proximity to all the galleries and studios and independent artists, it would take away from all these other things going on in the city.” Thus, the goal is to bring in visitors to enjoy installation art in the space, and then to arm then with information enough to explore the other arts districts.

Indianapolis has hosted installation events in recent memory, including Installation Fest, which was held in various locations through the '90s (on Mass Ave and Dorman Street, and at City Market), and Installation Nation, an initiative of Primary Colours wherein installations are housed in portable shipping containers. Still, according to Jeff Martin — a coordinator of both Installation Fest and Installation Nation, as well as an artist included in TURF — installation art remains “a fairly new medium” to the city, with “only a few people doing installation art exclusively” on a local level.

“I don't think that, when Indiana is brought up, people start thinking of cutting edge art, by any means,” said Martin, whose TURF installation will consist of a grid of motion-activated nightlights, in an expansion on a similar piece mounted at iMOCA in 2009. “I don't think anyone from Indiana thinks that. I think it's a good foot to put forward for the Indianapolis community. In terms of the art world in general, this is a good way to show that we're progressive and we have original ideas as good as anyone else.”

TURF was intended to be a showcase for local artists — on their home turf — from the beginning. The application process was open only to IDADA members residing in Marion County or the doughnut counties. (One artist each from Bloomington and Chicago ended up in the Pavilion, nominated in a separate process by iDADA member galleries.) Seventy applications rolled in; they were then evaluated by a five-member jury pool, consisting of representatives from IDADA, the IMA, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Arts Council of Indianapolis and 21c Museum Hotel in Louisville. Ruschman notes that artists weren't restricted in terms of subject matter: “The only thing I said as a curator is I don't want fire, and if there's water, I want it filtered.”

The project has a total budget of $160,000, up from an estimate of $150,000. Each artist has been allotted a $2,000 stipend for his or her work. Ruschman estimates that the line items for artists and for construction costs are about equal, even with Wilhelm Construction on board as a sponsor. A roll call of usual suspects on the philanthropic and cultural scene have contributed toward the project, including the Efroymson Family Fund, the Central Indiana Community Foundation and the Buckingham Foundation. TURF is officially characterized as a joint effort between IDADA, the Super Bowl Host Committee, the Arts Council of Indianapolis and the Indianapolis Mayor's office; although IDADA is the prime mover behind the project, Ruschman reports that all parties involved have been supportive.

In all, it's a unique opportunity for local artists — particularly those who lean toward installation work — to show what they can do, according to Ruschman: “A lot of those artists have freely admitted that they don't have as many opportunities to do their work, as opposed to someone doing just painting or sculpture or photography, where they just need a space to mount it on the wall and do an opening. They may have to go out of town or look for a museum gallery or an alternative space. Speaking as a former gallery owner, I think part of it is the economics of it; more often than not, you're not going to find installation work in commercial galleries. Typically, it's a serious commitment of time, energy and space, and sometimes you only have two of those.”

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