See more of the murals here.

"This

probably has been the most ambitious and most challenging project I have worked

on in my professional life," says Arts Council of Indianapolis chief Dave

Lawrence

of 46 For XLVI, the Arts Council's mural project that, since July, has

been enlivening urban walls with works of art in celebration of the city's

hosting the 46th annual Super Bowl.

But

while the Super Bowl may be the pretext for 46 For XLVI, this project is about

a lot more than an operatically hyped football game. It has resuscitated

Indianapolis' faltering public art program, provided artists with meaningful

work and promises to make mural art a nationally recognized part of the city's

cultural profile.

Dave

Lawrence

combines a cherubic demeanor with executive polish. Hours of board

meetings, fund raising calls and public presentations have not dampened his

capacity for enthusiasm when it comes to promoting the arts, particularly when

he sees an opening to — forgive the irresistible gridiron allusion here

— push the ball down the field ... for a big gain.

Lawrence

remembers a summer day in 2010. He was driving into work, thinking about how

the city was trying to come up with a plan to address the decaying murals that

were becoming eyesores on walls along Downtown's Canal Walk. City planners had

been trying to figure out what to do about these surfaces for over a year but

had not taken action. It occurred to Lawrence that the 2012 Super Bowl could be

the trigger to not only get the canal beautified, but launch an even larger

initiative.

"The

mayor had said he wanted us to act boldly," Lawrence recalls. He decided to

take Mayor Greg Ballard up on his challenge. During a meeting with Deputy Mayor

Mike Huber, Lawrence confided, "I've got a wacky idea." What if the canal

beautification plan was connected to Super Bowl XLVI through the creation of 46

murals — not only on the canal, but in neighborhoods throughout the city

— by local, state and even national mural artists?

Huber

immediately texted this idea to Ballard. In a matter of moments, his boss

texted back: "Love it."

And

46 For XLVI was born.

Editor's note: see individual profiles of muralists Pamela Bliss and Damon Lamar Reed.

Murals

for the city

"When

I started thinking about 46 For XLVI, the one thought I had was this really

needs to be a mural initiative for the city," Lawrence says today, "not just

the Super Bowl. It has to live above and beyond that."

Lawrence's

idea started with a Super Bowl connection, but made an extra, important leap

that also linked the mural project with the Ballard administration's desire to

enhance and revitalize neighborhoods. This leap informed the Arts Council's

approach to site selection.

"As

things started to ramp up for the Super Bowl, you started seeing articles in

all the media about city fix-it lists, things that needed to be done and areas

of the city that needed to be addressed," Lawrence says. "We began collecting

those. We also knew there were a lot of partnerships and organizations that

were already doing city beautification efforts that we could work with."

Keep

Indianapolis Beautiful

was an early partner that, in turn, involved the Lilly

Day of Service volunteers.

Lawrence

also saw 46 For XLVI as a way to rejuvenate the city's public art program.

During Bart Peterson's mayoral administration, a board of civic leaders called

the Cultural Development Commission was formed to serve as a nimble cousin to

the Arts Council. Funded largely by the Capital Improvement Board and Lilly

Endowment, part of the CDC's charge included creation of a public art

initiative resulting in, among other things, an annual installation of works by

such internationally recognized artists as Tom Otterness and Julian Opie.

But

a change in mayoral administrations and a tanking economy put the CDC in

mothballs and, with it, the public art initiative.

"Another

track of this," Lawrence says of 46 For XLVI, "was my desire to reactivate that

campaign, get public art happening again in the city, and bring all of those

players back together."

Lawrence

reconvened the CDC's Public Art Selection Committee, a collection of some of

the top curators, gallery owners and museum professionals in central Indiana,

to help with site selection and to adjudicate artist applications. Then, last

January, the Arts Council put out a national Request For Qualifications. "We

were looking for muralists from all over the country: local, regional,

national, to come and do this."

There

were over 150 responses. Among the artists who were ultimately selected to

participate, 58 percent are local and over 20 percent are artists of color.

"One

of the things we were really key on," Lawrence says, "was not putting any

thematic restrictions on the murals. They didn't have to involve footballs or

corn or anything like that. ... We also wanted to bring the best practices of the

mural world, so we could make sure the building owner was protected, the artist

was protected, the artwork was protected at all points."

[page]

Creating

46 canvases

From

the outset, the Arts Council realized that its challenge would be to reconcile

a high level of ambition — Ballard's "bold" thinking — with a

relatively modest budget. Lawrence was able to cobble together $500,000 for the

project — $200,000 that had already been set aside for canal

beautification, $150,000 from the Capital Improvement Board, $100,000 from the

Boner Center and the East 10th Street Civic Association, with

$25,000 each from the Buckingham and Indianapolis Foundations.

This

meant defining a limited, yet acceptable, lifespan for the murals; determining

what paints and other supplies would last and weather well; and retaining the

flexibility to eventually create new works after the initial 46 murals were

completed.

Most

of the murals, depending on materials and site, are expected to be up for 10

years. The paints being used should last 25 years. "Basically what we're doing is

creating 46 canvases throughout the city that, at a certain time, we'll be able

to turn over and create a new round," Lawrence says, adding that creating a

hard end date for the murals was necessary to avoid situations where murals

might deteriorate with no available resources to maintain or restore them.

But

what if — as is likely to happen — the public or a building owner

falls in love with a particular mural and it becomes a city icon? "There is a

clause that if the building owner is OK with it and wants to keep it up, then

we certainly don't have to get rid of it." The Arts Council, which will

maintain the murals for the first 10 years, is prepared to work to raise more

funds for further maintenance if need be.

Making

art visible

The

46 For XLVI project represents somewhat of a departure for the Arts Council. In

the past, the council has facilitated the arts through a grant-making process

to individuals and other nonprofit organizations. Rarely has it played such a

prominent role in actually commissioning new and highly visible work. Lawrence

believes this advances the council's mission.

"When

we created our strategic plan in 2010, one of the key tenets of that and

something that is my ultimate responsibility, is to raise the visibility of the

arts in Indianapolis and central Indiana. One of the beauties of this program,

and what public art does, is it puts the arts out there."

Lawrence,

of course, is aware that the city has been embroiled recently in controversies

involving public art, including protests over the placement of a proposed piece

by Fred Wilson and the attempt to remove a piece by James Wille Faust at the

Indianapolis International Airport. Controversy is a risk he's willing to

accept. The murals, he says, have created worthwhile dialogue.

"I

think even negative dialogue is still dialogue about the arts. If we're getting

people to talk about the arts and personal expression and community

beautification, I think those are positive things. Another tangible benefit (of

the project) has been to give folks a sense of ownership and a sense of pride

in either where they work or where they live. ... This really is a conscious

effort by us to make sure that it reaches neighborhoods in Marion County and

engages discussion and imagination of folks on a variety of different topics

and subjects. I've told our board, 'You're not going to like all 46 of them,

and that's OK. That's the nature of public art.' "

Lawrence

also thinks the mural project has become a case study in the benefits of

putting artists to work. "There are ways that creative people can be very

beneficial to solve community issues. I mean, that's what artists are: creative

problem solvers. When (the city said, 'We have all this money, we're going to

have to address the canal and we don't know what to do' ... let's get artists to

help us solve these sorts of issues."

And,

through that process, create an opportunity for artists to have a decent

payday. Artists commissioned for the project are paid, Lawrence says, depending

on such factors as the size of the mural and materials used. The range for the artist

commissions spans $4,000-$30,000. The Arts Council was also able to establish a

relationship with Sherwin Williams, providing artists with a significant

discount on paint.

According

to Lawrence, involving artists from other parts of the country helps create a

positive image for Indianapolis. "We now have a lot of ambassadors out there

that are talking about their experience. They are going across the country and

we are getting a lot of national buzz about this program. Suddenly Indianapolis

is a mural city. It's someplace you need to come and see."

Local

residents benefit, too, thanks to the ways the addition of a mural can turn a

neglected or underutilized space into an asset. "Murals and public art help

create public space. The Summit Realty building is a perfect example. They have

a courtyard that sits between their building and the Regions Bank building that

they'd like to make greater use of. I think the mural there helps define that

space and allows them to think of it as a place where things can happen."

Lawrence

points to a location that has long been one of Downtown's chronic liabilities,

the underpass at South and Capital streets. "For years the city and others have

tried to address that area," he says. The space suffered from poor lighting and

drainage problems. Now, with the addition of a new mural, as well as its close

proximity to the Cultural Trail: "All of a sudden, this dark, dingy corridor is

a safe pedestrian throughway that connects Lucas Oil Stadium to Downtown in a

way that didn't exist before."

As

for the Downtown stretch of the Central Canal — the location that began

the process leading up to the development of 46 For XLVI, Lawrence says,

"What's wonderful about the canal is it's really a sort of mini gallery. You

have 10 murals. You can go down there and you'll see 10 different works of

art."

[page]

Mural

city

For

Lawrence, 46 For XLVI is just the beginning. The mural project is already

generating so much positive buzz that the Arts Council is convinced it's on to

something that can benefit the city well beyond the ten years originally

envisioned as the project's life span. "We really want to see this grow because

we've had such wonderful success."

Lawrence

says that plans for two more murals are in the works. "We're going to

aggressively go after more funding opportunities to continue this."

Given

the public works that have been created by the Cultural Trail, including the

imminent completion of a major piece inside the Virginia Avenue parking garage

south of Maryland Street by internationally renowned artist Vito Acconci,

Lawrence sees the mural project as adding a dimension to the city's growing

portfolio of public art. The murals, he says, can, in effect, provide the city

with a special claim to fame.

"When

we talk about convention visitors coming in there are must-sees," he says. "You

must see the IMA. You must see the Children's Museum. And the Eiteljorg, and

the Speedway. But you should also have to walk around and see the public art

program everyone's talking about."

The

beauty part to all this is that where, for example, commissioning a monumental

public sculpture like Anish Kapoor's "Cloud Gate" (better known as "the Bean")

in Chicago's Millennium Park can cost millions of dollars, the city can find

itself bedecked with murals for a fraction of that cost while, at the same

time, finding a practical way to provide paying work for artists who, Lawrence

is quick to say, need jobs as much as anybody else.

"The

knee-jerk reaction now is to say there's no money for public art, so let's get

an artist to donate it. We are opposed to that. I think it is critical that we

are paying artists for the work they do. We're showing that it is possible to

do a project without a lot of money, pay artists, celebrate them and have a big

impact. At the end of the day, I want people to see Indianapolis as an art

city, as well as a sports city."

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