Arts under construction

LAMP, a contemporary art gallery, recently celebrated its third anniversary with a move from Ninth and East streets to Massachusetts Avenue. “That’s a big deal,” said Jennifer Kaye, the gallery’s owner. “Most galleries don’t even make it past six months.”

Kaye held down four part-time jobs to keep her gallery afloat before making the risky move. “When you own a gallery people think you are independently wealthy and funding just falls from the sky,” Kaye said.

Funding actually doesn’t come from anywhere. Local government sources like the Arts Council of Indianapolis and the Cultural Development Commission can’t give money to help galleries cover operational costs. These entities can only funnel money to non-profit organizations or, once a year, to for-profits through fast-track grants for events.

That leaves the regular costs of rent, postcards, food, wine and advertising up to the gallery owner. Kaye is LAMP’s public relations person, Web site manager, artists’ liaison and bookkeeper. She works about 55 hours a week, with an assistant.

Now, Kaye is crossing her fingers and hoping that her quadrupled rent will be covered with increased sales in the high-traffic location and her newly launched program renting art to businesses.

Shannon Linker understands the plight of the gallery owner and individual artists. Linker, artists services manager at the Arts Council of Indianapolis, says that the council does everything short of giving money to gallery owners and artists. She cites efforts such as the pamphlet gallery guide, the cultural concierge at the Artsgarden and the council’s online calendar and database that profile each individual registered artist.

The council’s partnership with IDADA to launch the First Friday Art Tour, a monthly gallery tour of over 25 downtown galleries and art venues, has been one of the council’s most successful efforts.

Artists versus institutions

John Domont, owner of Domont Studio Gallery in Fletcher Place, applauds the “people in power” such as the council for their sincerity in trying to get the public interested in the arts. He said that the local artists’ relationship with the council is positive compared to past years. When asked about this past relationship, he says that he “won’t go there.”

Jeff Martin will go there. Martin, former owner of the now defunct J. Martin Gallery, said the “people in power” are the Arts Council of Indianapolis and the city’s Cultural Development Commission — a partnership he calls “incestuous.” Martin said that before leadership change at the council, attention was going to the same institutions: the Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra and the Indianapolis Arts Center.

Domont agrees, calling institutions like the IMA and the Eiteljorg Museum a “safe choice” for people. And he notes the Eiteljorg’s proximity to the baseball stadium. He calls this an “entertainment package.” People can go to the baseball game and then stop by the museum. “That’s the way people will take art in this town, as entertainment, not art for art’s sake or for concept or content,” Domont said.

Linker acknowledges the Arts Council’s past oversight. “Individual artists are no different in my mind than these institutions … supporting people that actually make the art is key. A couple of years ago we realized we were lacking this.”

In the streets

The Arts Council’s current strategy to expose the community to art and to encourage people to eventually buy it is noticeably more aggressive than in past years. In 2004, the Indianapolis Cultural Development Commission gave a quarter of a million dollars to the Arts Council to launch a public art program.

Instead of depending on the public to come to museums and galleries, the Arts Council put art in the streets — in the public’s face. Tom Otterness in Indianapolis, an exhibition of 25 sculptures by the New York sculptor, was a breakthrough.

Sculptures placed in public spaces throughout downtown Indianapolis inspired people to e-mail the Arts Council and give glowing feedback. Public Art Indianapolis will continue this month with a mural painted on an abandoned building on East Washington Street and with installation pieces in windows of the Chase building on North Pennsylvania, all by local artists.

Although this type of art education does not involve the traditional 50-pound art history book, Kaye thinks that it is a step in the right direction. “People will probably burn me at the stake for saying so, but art education needs to be visual. People need to actually see the art and what they like … they need to get in front of it.”

Growing the audience

Joanna Taft is determined to get people in front of art, even if it takes a highly constructed theme party that would make a high school prom committee jealous.

“We introduce art and put on theme shows. People say we make art fun,” said Taft, executive director of the Harrison Center.

The Harrison Center, a non-profit gallery and workplace for artists, also hosts open studio nights where people can meet the artists and learn about their processes. Taft believes this helps people connect with the artists and their work. But mostly Taft hopes that all of the events at Harrison reach out to people who are too intimidated to buy art and turn them into patrons.

The Harrison Center is also working towards growing a cultural population in Indianapolis. In the fall of 2006, what was once Herron Art School will become a charter high school that will infuse art into every subject. Taft envisions a high school that will turn out artists and patrons, and a society that will appreciate the arts. “Indianapolis wants to be a world-class city, but it needs world-class citizens to become that,” Taft said.

Nobody knows the exact cause or solution for this city’s lack of patrons in art galleries and a low interest in the arts. Some speculate that sports dominate Indianapolis, that the media doesn’t cover the arts as it should or that progressive change will arrive with future generations.

“You know, change takes time. You don’t change an entire society’s consciousness overnight,” Kaye offered.

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