Editor’s note: As Fountain Square holds center stage in conversations about gentrification in Indianapolis, independent art gallery and shop General Public Collective closed in mid-July. During GPC’s four-year run on Virginia Avenue, the venue served as a hub for artists, musicians, writers, designers, vintage clothes lovers, skate fiends, small press operators and various and sundry outcasts. Often, during the wee hours of First Friday, the sidewalk just outside of GPC held just as many gathered artists and art-lovers as the packed space inside. In the wake of its closure earlier this month, we asked co-founder Rachel Peacock to share her thoughts.
After nearly four years operating under a handful of eccentric masochists, the physical location of artist-run gallery and concept shop General Public Collective gave way to new development, and finally members chose to dismantle the project to work on other endeavors and potential new spaces.
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GPC was one of the last independently standing art galleries in Fountain Square, a neighborhood touted by the city as an arts district and cultural hub. While the accuracy of those descriptors could be debated, it stands to reason that this closure is a true loss for community-driven expression in all mediums for Indianapolis.
I couldn’t decide if it was more fitting to write an obituary or a love letter to the project that defined much of my twenties, so you’re getting both. I may have been the least likely candidate around to help fund and run such a space, but that was what made it all so visceral. We were all, at least in part, slightly clueless, all in possession of a naïveté that suited the ethos of rag-tag entrepreneurship. While the general public itself may have been perpetually clueless as well, the act of sitting in the shop and smiling and explaining our values every Saturday afternoon to wandering window shoppers was part of the servitude of ownership.
The answer is yes
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GPC was an experiment in learning and collaboration, with a truly diverse group of artists represented. Work was the underlying principle and inclusivity was what drove us. In total, General Public Collective saw 18 artists oversee the space, with 500+ performances across many mediums take stage. Around 200 others represented in goods for sale in the concept shop. Alumnus Erin Drew described it to me as a place where “the chemical exchange [of] gin brats and rappers dance with a pack of homeschooled kids, steam melting the paint job off the windows while thousand dollar minimalist drawings flap in the wind.”
While our community has had a variety of responses to the closure of the space, the reactions are not exclusively negative.
Lisa Berlin, another co-founder and operator, told me, “I thought I’d be more bummed out, closing up shop after four years. But, for the most part, closing has kind of just withdrawn the needle from this long shot. And all the wealth of experience and artists and audiences that came through there is left in my system, inoculating me against a certain loneliness that only shared creativity does.”
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There’s no doubt the changing scenery around the gallery played a role in its demise.
“It’s bizarre to think that I have spent most of my twenties and now early thirties living, working, and contributing to the landscape of Fountain Square and now we are hammering a nail into the proverbial coffin of a neighborhood that used to have such a pulse,” co-founder Jessica Lykens told me.
In truth, it’s our kind being buried, not the other way around. The space had always operated on a frequency that barely jived with reality, winking rather than spitting in the face of convention. We mostly went unnoticed, but sometimes made waves in a city far too conservative for its own good. The subversive elements of the space were always presented with a tongue in cheek. Playful as they were prodding, we enjoyed little censorship in the work we presented, which sometimes led to fanatical opposition by a single concerned mother or neighborhood crusader from time to time. I once overheard another gallerist say, “GPC can do whatever is wants.” It felt that way.
The New York Times once described the space — but did not mention it outright — as a “scrappy gallery.” Primitive sketch drawings of the space were featured in Juxtapoz magazine. We even lost a 2015 NUVO Cultural Vision Award to Werner Herzog. These are the kind of misfit accolades that seem to encapsulate our strange, shared vision. It took on its own myths and stories.
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“Once it’s over, it’s a thing. That’s when it walks the earth on its own, without your labor,” Lisa told me.
We’ve seen this cycle before. Every project of this nature plays out in time, but I dare say ours played its part well. Perhaps I don’t deserve the final words on a place that had such a profound effect on the arts community of Indianapolis, but I am grateful to have them.
When I pried Jason Arnold, the man responsible for so much of GPC’s existence, for his thoughts, he stated simply: “Thank you authors, designers, artists, patrons and freaks. Without you I’d be a skeleton sniffing panties and writing hopelessly romantic torture porn alone.”
That’s GPC: It was too much fun and too uncouth to institutionalize. I look forward to walking in the doors of whatever tapas bar or cat café into which the space reincarnates. Even then I am sure I will hear the walls whisper, “It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay.”
And it is.