Art dominates the Indianapolis landscape in ways big and small, obvious and subtle.
Drive around downtown, and you’ll find yourself looking up at massive murals of local residents who’ve gone on do us proud in arts and entertainment.
There’s a 30-ft mural of poet Mari Evans on Mass Ave, as well as an even taller Kurt Vonnegut. In the Lockerbie neighborhood, you’ll find a giant James Whitcomb Riley smiling down from the corner of College Avenue and Michigan Street. Across from the Federal Building, you’ll find the newest addition to this famous faces collection with Pacers legend Reggie Miller going for the three-pointer on the side of the building known as “The Mich.”
Outside the mile square, all you have to do is look up to see more local art. On billboards around the city and along the I-465 loop, you’ll see images of the artwork of participant winners in the Arts Council of Indianapolis’ High Art project. Each year the works of 10 Central Indiana artists are selected out of a pool of applicants wanting to show off their work to passing motorists.
Getting off the interstate on the westside of town brings you within striking distance of the Newfields campus, where you’ll find the Indianapolis Museum of Art, the eighth largest encyclopedic art museum in the country and an absolute starting point for admiring art in Indianapolis. Highlights of the impressive museum include one of the most comprehensive collections of neo-impressionist paintings in the world, the Asian art wing, and the expansive grounds that include the groundbreaking outdoor sculpture park 100 Acres.
The Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art (iMOCA) is a much smaller museum by several orders of magnitude. The museum, which abandoned its old space in Fountain Square in late 2016, continues to exhibit in temporary spaces and pursue partnerships with Indy arts organizations.
You can check iMOCA’s temporary digs at Alexander Hotel at CityWay. On Soft Ground, an exhibition of prints by artists represented by Paulson Fontaine Press, San Francisco, opens Jan. 11., free and open to the public.
Two other great museums in terms of the visual arts are the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art, which has just completed a major revamp of its western art galleries. Next door to the Eiteljorg is the Indiana State Museum, which periodically has art exhibitions under the auspices of their savvy curator, Mark Ruschman. And we can’t forget to mention the The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, the world’s largest children’s museum which is also home of NAMOS, the National Art Museum of Sport.
Indianapolis is a hub of nonprofit activity in the visual arts. An example of an established nonprofit arts organization adapting to new audiences is the Indianapolis Art Center, where you can take courses in traditional forms of art making just like those offered by the center 30 years ago. But the Art Center’s interest in exhibiting the most contemporary of contemporary art in their exhibition spaces is a much more recent development.
Then there are (relatively) newer arts nonprofits like Big Car Collaborative, which runs Tube Factory artspace and Listen Hear in the near southside neighborhood of Garfield Park. Tube Factory is a hybrid between an art museum and a community center while Listen Hear is a space for sound art, Listen Hear frequently has programs involving experimental music, and they host visual art exhibitions as well. (They also house WQRT radio 99.1 LP FM, an FCC-licensed radio station that broadcasts 24 hours a day, seven days a week, described as an "on-air home for contemporary art, music, and community.")
From its inception in 2004 Big Car has driven in the lane of social practice art, which can be described as art that aims to affect positive social change.
The nonprofit Harrison Center, which houses 32 studio artists—and holds four or five art exhibitions that rotate on a monthly basis—is another organization that strives to do good works in its Near Northside neighborhood and beyond through a multiplicity of programs.
Tube Factory, Listen Hear, and Harrison Center are regular participants in the monthly First Friday art receptions that are a highlight of the Indianapolis art scene. One of the prominent First Friday participants is Gallery 924, the house gallery of the also aforementioned Arts Council of Indianapolis.
As of late the Indianapolis Public Library has served as a very strong multi-venue of note for African American artists in particular, and hosting many group exhibitions hosted by Flava Fresh! and other organizations. Central Library, where many said exhibitions occur, is home to the Center for Black Literature & Culture which opened in 2017.
The recession of 2008 was not kind to Indy’s commercial gallery scene, but said venues seem to be staging something of a comeback. One to watch in 2019 is the westside space at 1495 N Harding St. shared by Edington Gallery and Christopher West Presents. An equally notable commercial gallery, that just celebrated its first birthday, is 10th West Gallery. Long-Sharp Gallery, in the heart of Downtown Indy, is another venue of note.
The gallery has featured the work of Andy Warhol and Nelson Mandela—to mention a few highlights—as well as many living artists, both locally-based and internationally-known. (Walter Lobyn Hamilton, who had a solo show at Long-Sharp in March 2018, is both locally and internationally-known for his mosaics that employ bits of cut-up vinyl records as a medium.)
While Indy’s commercial gallery scene can’t be said to be particularly strong, there are an abundance of communal artistic spaces where artists both make and sell their work. The most prominent of these is the Stutz Business and Arts Center. A fixture of the Indianapolis arts scene is the annual Stutz Open House, run by the Stutz Artists Association, that raises money for its resident artists program.
The massive Circle City Industrial Complex just east of Downtown has also come into prominence recently as a hub for studio artists as well as fixture in the monthly First Friday art scene. Another valuable component of that scene is Fountain Square, where you’ll find the Murphy Art Center—the Heartland Film Festival headquarters is located there as well as multiple music venues. There is also the Fountain Square Clay Center offering classes and space for ceramic artists.
A group of recent Herron School of Art grads have recently opened up a space called The Oilwick—also near Fountain Square—that serves both as studio and exhibit space for young artists; while Healer, a new venue on the Southside, is working to create a space for art and music unlike anything else in town.
The best way to experience arts in Indy is to start with First Fridays. Each month, NUVO publishes a preview of what exhibits are opening at what galleries and art spaces, along with a handy map to get you around town with ease.
The Arts Council of Indianapolis is also an excellent resource for artists and art-lovers to stay connected with organizations and events throughout the year. Find more at indyarts.org.
Editor's Note: some adjustments and corrections have been made in the online text to more accurately reflect Big Car Collaborative's programs and facilities. Additional text regarding Long-Sharp Gallery and Indianapolis Public Library has been added, and the breaking news (as of 1/15/19) that iMOCA is no longer moving into a space in the old Ford assembly plant has been acknowledged.