Easy on the eyes, loosens up with liquor, eager to earn a buck. At the tender age of 15, the Stutz has a reputation.
Fifteen years ago, 21 artists were carving out a niche in the Stutz Business Center at Capitol Avenue and 10th Street when they decided to open their studios to the public. With the lure of icy Buds floating in blow-up swimming pools placed strategically around the 400,000-square-foot building, they drew 400 curious art patrons. Today, the annual Stutz Artists Open House is a landmark on Indianapolis’ cultural trail, a two-day festival drawing a thirsty crowd of 7,000.
Stalwart revelers know that for a $12 entrance fee, which supports two Stutz residency scholarships, one can “drink in” the art by the bottle or kegger cup. While a pub sells libations on the former automobile factory’s first floor, more than 60 artists display their workspaces and pour Three Buck Chuck for free. In between sips, studio hoppers eat gallery munchies, listen to live music in the people-pressed hallways, ogle collectible cars and, perhaps, buy art.
While most of the building’s artists embrace the Mardi Gras atmosphere, there’s been a concerted effort to turn down the volume on the amplifiers and shift the focus back to art.
“It was party central, with bands playing, but I came to see the art,” says Jerry Points of the open houses before he started painting at the Stutz four years ago. Now, as president of the Stutz Artists Association, the retired graphic designer is using his marketing skills to put the artists forward. He helped create the new Stutz Art Space gallery, whose inaugural exhibition offers a sampling of resident works, each sized 16-by-16-inches. During the open house, the squares serve as a map legend to the Stutz. Once you find the square you like, you can take the freight elevator to the artist’s studio.
The Stutz Space is also where the association holds a pre-open house Boot Camp. How are you going to make that sale, veterans advise rookies, if you’re standing behind the bar? Studio spring cleaning is a must. Your studio is your gallery. Don’t forget business cards — get your name out there. And consider creating smaller, more portable art for the event. If you can’t sell a $1,000 couch-sized abstract, close the deal on a 5-by-7-inch canvas for $100.
If part of the Stutz rep is for selling art, that doesn’t necessarily mean selling-out.
“I’m not fond of the starving artist routine,” says Stutz metalsmith Andrea Jackson, who teaches from her studio and at the Herron School of Art and Design. “I’ve never seen art as a sell-out, because you’re making money at it.”
Constance Edwards Scopelitis, who helped organize Stutz’s first primitive beer bash, confesses to making a very nice living in portraiture commissions and gallery purchases nationwide. She works six days a week from her 1,200-square-foot studio, reserving time to mentor an Indianapolis high school student. Over the years, she has tried to stay relevant.
“I have challenged myself to evolve over the years many times. I try new things. The main comment that I get at every open house is, ‘Is this still all your work?’”
Ranging from $350 to $850 per month, Stutz studio rents are considerably higher than at buildings like the Harrison Center for the Arts, the Wheeler Art Community or the Murphy Art Center. The Stutz tends toward an older demographic of well-established artists, retirees and others holding day jobs. Painters are in the majority among sculptors, printmakers, illustrators, metal and wood artists and one 19-year-old photographer. To foster young and emerging artists, the Stutz Artists Association sponsors two resident artists each year.
In 1999, the Stutz scholarship helped Kyle Ragsdale launch his Indianapolis career, after moving here from Texas. These days, he paints almost full-time, while acting as curator at the Harrison, which has 30 artist studios and hosts four open houses annually, with about 1,000 visitors each.
“One great thing about the Stutz tour is that a lot of people drive in from the suburbs,” Ragsdale says. “It opens people up to new experience. It’s a great service.”
Mixed media painter Kate Oberreich credits her 2006-2007 residency scholarship with getting her out of her parents’ basement and into a thriving artistic community. “It’s an incredible association,” Oberreich says.
In between big building events, like the open house and November’s holiday show, artists visit each other’s studios regularly to talk across mediums and, when artistically stuck, help each other get unstuck. Like actors swapping audition news, they tell each other about upcoming art shows, saying, “It isn’t right for me, but it might be for you.”
After her free year, Oberreich switched to a larger Stutz studio, sharing rent with two other artists. In addition to painting 20 to 30 hours a week, Oberreich is curator of an Eli Lilly art collection and runs the education center for Stutz Art Space. Now in their first semester, Stutz artists are teaching 10 classes, ranging from metalwork to photography.
Though the artists feel at home, they don’t actually own the place. Of the 225 units leased at the Stutz Business Center, only 60 are artist studios. “The space is small, but the spirit they add is undeniable,” says building owner Turner Woodard of how the artists mesh with an eclectic mix of design firms, architects and one manufacturer. “There’s lots of office space in town. For this, you have to have a special vision.”
Though Woodard is also a painter, with his own studio in Stutz II across the street, he makes his living in real estate. Will Stutz studios give way to commercial use, like the Faris arts building did years ago — or to high-priced condos? No, the Stutz artists say, who believe their landlord is committed to art. Woodard also says no. His new dream is to build a modern office-condo tower that abuts the historic Stutz, but does not take away from it.
Many Stutz artists will serve bottled water instead of fire water at this weekend’s open house. Guests will consist of artists and young professionals, families and collectors with deep pockets. Only a very small percentage of them will aim to get blitzed. Still, the party rep persists. Once earned, a reputation is hard to shake.
WHAT: Stutz Artists Association 15th Annual Stutz Artists Open House
WHERE: Stutz Center, 1060 N. Capitol Ave.
WHEN: April 25, 5:30-10 p.m. and
April 26, noon-5 p.m.
TICKETS: $10 at Old National Bank branches and $12 at the door