"The Arts Council launches initiativeto build a local arts market

Editor's note: NUVO is a supporting partner of the Be Indypendent: Buy Local Art campaign, along with the Arts Council of Indianapolis and the Indianapolis Cultural Development Commission. We are also sponsors of the IDADA First Friday gallery walks each month.

There is definitely a buzz about Indianapolis in the art world,” says Katherine A. Bussard, stepdaughter of local G. C. Lucas Gallery owner, Greg Lucas. Currently working on her Ph.D. in art history through City University of New York, Bussard is also the assistant curator of photography at the Art Institute of Chicago.

Having lived previously in Boston, New York and L.A., everywhere she goes, Bussard says she hears about “the exciting things happening in contemporary art at the IMA [Indianapolis Museum of Art] and iMOCA [Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art].”

Bussard’s assessment mirrors that of Carla Waldemar, a writer and editor from Minneapolis who visited Indianapolis this past April for the Midwest Travel Writers Association meeting. Waldemar was exposed to the entire city but opted for a breakout tour of the city’s art scene, which featured museums, public art exhibitions, local galleries and studios, and the city’s designated cultural districts.

After her tour, Waldemar says that she and her colleagues were “overwhelmed, surprised and delighted to find such a vibrant art scene,” and had no idea that Indianapolis is so “culturally forward.”

It’s hard to find a downside to compliments like these about our city, no matter how anecdotal they might be. The idea of our local arts community being increasingly known for its vibrancy is not just good for the ego, however. It can also be a valuable and viable part of the economy.

According to a recent study, “the arts” in Indianapolis also generate nearly $470 million a year for the local economy. And if a new initiative by the Arts Council of Indianapolis and the Indianapolis Cultural Development Commission are successful, that amount of money flowing into the Indianapolis arts community will not only increase — it will find its way into the pockets and bank accounts of as many local and independent artists around the city as possible.

The push to buy local

Three years ago, the Arts Council of Indianapolis brought together artists and gallery owners in an effort to evaluate what services would be most valuable in growing the Indianapolis arts economy and sustainability.

The meeting was regarded by many in the local visual arts community as a sign of good faith that the ACI, which had been previously criticized for focusing more on the city’s large arts non-profits than on individual artists, was finally willing to address artists’ bread and butter issues. It was hoped that under the leadership of President Greg Charleston, Vice President David Lawrence and Shannon Linker, artist services manager, the Arts Council was headed in a direction that would benefit more artists more directly.

Since then, ACI has ramped up its artists services to include an artist’s database on its Web site (www.indyarts.org), providing artists’ statements, samples of artwork, bios, contact and other information for over 400 visual artists, and a weekly e-newsletter to artists announcing grant proposal opportunities, commissions, fellowships, job opportunities, etc. The ACI also meets quarterly with members of IDADA (Independent Downtown Artists and Dealers Association), Stutz Artists Association, Indianapolis Art Center, Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art, Hoosier Salon and Primary Colours.

In its latest effort to support local artists, the Arts Council and the Cultural Development Commission have now partnered in a new campaign aimed at getting Indianapolis residents to buy the artwork of Indianapolis artists.

The “Be Indypendent: Buy Indypendent Art” campaign will first seek to educate the general public about the wide variety of local art available for purchase in Indianapolis and where to buy that art. After focusing on increasing general and local patronage, the campaign will expand to include targeted advertising for out-of-town art buyers and corporate buyers.

Linker hopes the campaign reaches a wide audience that might not typically consider buying local art. “We want to teach potential buyers that galleries aren’t pretentious or intimidating, where there is no set protocol and that owners are not standoffish and artists unapproachable. We want them to see [buying local art] as an enjoyable and even fun experience.”

Mark Ruschman, owner and operator of Ruschman Gallery for over 22 years and founding board member of the Indianapolis Downtown Dealers and Artists Association, thinks the partnership between the city’s arts organizations, dealers and individual artists in this campaign is a natural and valuable one.

“It’s no longer the case that people don’t know that we have quality artists here. I actually think they know it. Now we just need to effectively remind them that these are events they can participate in and spend their money at on a regular basis,” Ruschman says.

Indicating that he is “seeing lots of new faces and we are not preaching to the same old choir,” Ruschman believes that initiatives such as IDADA’s First Friday gallery tours, the two-day Stutz spring art tour — which recently attracted nearly 7,000 people — and the current “Be Indypendent: Buy Indy Art” campaign increase awareness and sustainability of local arts.

“If you’re thinking about buying art, give the local arts scene a real hard look,” Ruschman says. “We have the quality; it’s on the wall, and you’re investing in the local art community — you’re investing in artists who live here, work here. By buying locally you can connect with the artist. By spending your money locally you make the most impact.”

The corporate customer

In addition to getting individuals to make personal art purchases, organizers hope the “Be Indypendent” campaign will attract more corporate patrons who will buy local art for their businesses and personal collections and serve as role models for their peers.

Drew White and his partner Kevin Cooper, principals of Axis Architecture + Interiors, have been a driving force in showcasing Indy artists. They are known for their distinctively edgy style in Axis projects like the Wheeler Arts Community, Business Furniture Headquarters and White River State Park Visitors Center.

Since moving into their present space in 2000, they have granted artists, such as Kyle Ragsdale, Artur Silva, Matt Eickhoff and Drew Endicott, the opportunity to exhibit their work throughout the Axis studio, a former Sun Beam Bread Company warehouse, located at 618 E. Market St.

White, who sat on a Riley Area Development Corporation committee to select public art for Massachusetts Avenue, says he and Cooper are often in a position to recommend and even drive the purchase of local art by clients. He cites the Indianapolis Fire Department Station 14 on West 30th Street where Cooper brokered a commission and also helped to raise funds for a sculpture by Jeff Laramore, of a fireman carrying a child.

“I think there are definitely more firms out there that understand the importance of visual art. Because we’re architects, we have a better understanding of how it can enhance space and make a great statement,” White says. “But I think there is a great opportunity for other businesses to incorporate it and invest in local artists at the same time.”

Probably one of the best models of how the corporate community can effectively support Indianapolis artists is Community North Hospital, which recently completed a $177 million expansion.

RTKL, a Dallas-based leader in health care architecture and design, was hired for the project, and funds were raised via a capital campaign administered by the Community Health Network Foundation with Bill Kingston, its president, at the helm.

When RTKL indicated that it was planning on using a Houston arts consultant to purchase art from around the country, the foundation board president stepped in and called a time-out. She just happened to be philanthropist, art-lover and Indianapolis Arts Council board member: Yvonne Shaheen.

Together with Kingston, who also has a passion for art, Shaheen proceeded to facilitate and drive collaboration between the foundation, the architects and the ACI, with Shannon Linker functioning as a broker, to identify and secure the work of local artists for the new Indianapolis hospital.

The total amount paid for the works of art, which included paintings, photography, sculpture and other media purchased locally for the project, was $450,000. Among the 17 commissioned artists were John Domont, Jason Zickler, Scott Westphal, Stephanie Lewis Robertson, William Denton Ray, Susan Hodgin and Christopher Jordan.

The inclusion of the art, Kingston says, is what sets Community North apart as an institution that recognizes “its healing holistic value to the patients and their families.” For Kingston, it was also a successful experiment in non-traditional philanthropy in that “it demonstrated how to draw donors to health care who otherwise would not support it, but because of the art connection, they did.”

The Indypendent artist

Part of the “Be Indypendent” campaign is to educate Indianapolis residents about the quality and quantity of good art available locally. “We want to dispel the notion that some have that ‘if they are so good why aren’t they in New York, Chicago or L.A.?’” Linker says. “The fact is we have nationally and internationally known artists of high reputation living here who not only show in these cities but other large markets in the U.S. and around the world.”

“There’s definitely a buzz around the country in the art community that Indianapolis really has it going on right now,” says Artur Silva, a visual artist who works with acrylics and the computer. His installation of an oversized sculpture of a Chinese-food take-out container, titled “Thank you, enjoy,” is currently in place on the pedestrian bridge in White River State Park. Another is mounted on a large storefront window south of Monument Circle. Silva, who is a native of Brazil and graduate of the Guigard School of Fine Arts, relocated here from New York City over five years ago.

“I hope Indianapolis will become its own unique place, with it’s own identity and not a cookie cutter city that copies the design mode of other places with different needs,” Silva says. “For some it’s just about quality of life, to me it’s about life itself. The arts in Indianapolis have great potential but it will require the involvement of all.”

Calling himself his own “administrator, promoter and sales person,” Silva believes that until attitudes and values regarding art change and conditions contributing to help artists sell more work improve, local artists will have to take more responsibility for themselves and become more proactive.

Visual artist Constance Edwards Scopelitis also believes it’s up to the artists themselves to promote their work and find opportunities to get their work seen and ultimately purchased.

Holding a BFA from IU and a periodic student at the Art Students League in NYC, Scopelitis has successfully gained a national following and a slew of collectors. Her realistic portrait work is done in oil and graphite and her creative figurative paintings, which are expressionistic, incorporate subject matter from Greek mythology, the Old and New Testament, South Pacific culture, Arabia and Africa.

A passionate artist’s advocate, Scopelitis is emphatic when she says, “Though support such as that offered by ACI is crucial and the public needs to respect artists and their chosen profession, the burden also needs to be on the artist to be on his or her game.

“Get those Web sites up. Send those e-mails. See and be seen. Quit being lazy,” she says.

“There is a moral side to respecting and lifting up your community’s artists who are trying to do something that you will never do in your life,” Scopelitis says. “But if the artist himself doesn’t believe his work has value, trust me, the public won’t see the art as having any value either.”

Aware that some artists abhor the term “affordable art,” and are wary that such a campaign will send a message that “you should buy art made in Indy because it’s inexpensive,” Linker stresses the diversity of options.

“If you’re a college student and you can only afford a $100 painting of high quality by an emerging artist you can find it here,” she emphasizes. “Or if you are a seasoned collector and you have $10,000-$20,000 to spend on work by an established artist, you can find that here too and anything in between.”


An informal launching of the “Be Indypendent/Buy Art” campaign and an occasion for the community to celebrate their “Indypendents” will take place at the First Friday after-party on July 6 at Alchemy art & aesthetics in Fountain Square.

For more information about “Be Indypendent/Buy Indy Art,” call the Arts Council of Indianapolis at 317-631-3301 or visit www.beindypendent.org. To view the database containing information about individual artists, visit www.indyarts.org.



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