The Carmel Artomobilia Collector Car Show attracted scores of visitors to Carmel’s Arts & Design District on a sunny Saturday afternoon, June 14. The show drove sales in local businesses and galleries despite a sputtering economy due, at least in part, to high gas prices.
Billed as “A Celebration of the Art & Design of the Automobile,” this free event lived up to its name by having renowned car painter Bill Patterson to demonstrate his technique at the main stage of this show, exhibiting over 80 collector cars, many of them hand-crafted works of art themselves.
To accommodate these cars, the expected revelers and the assorted vendors, the district was closed off to through-traffic. Among the automobiles lining Main Street was the very rare Bugatti Veyron (the fastest production car in the world), the Noble M400 and the limited edition Aston Martin AR1.
Side by side with these heavyweights one could find the vintage 1957 BMW Isetta, a diminutive bubble car that owner, Indianapolis resident Gregory Bierck, said he’s afraid to drive down Washington Street, let alone I-65.
“I brought it here for giggles,” he said. “But you know a lot of people are looking at it.”
Later in the afternoon, Bierck drove his Isetta — without once stalling — to the main stage to accept a “Best in Class” award for his car (Indianapolis resident Tim Durham won “Best of Show” for his Duesenberg).
Midpoint in the show, Roger Brummett, the organizer of Artomobilia, interviewed Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard on a stage set on the intersection of Main Street and Range Line Road. The discussion focused not only on Artomobilia but also on upcoming events in the Arts & Design District, the number of which multiplies each year thanks to aggressive courting by the City of Carmel.
Brummett and event contractor Andrew Lee, who together organized the Indianapolis Concours car show for four years from 2003-2006 in Monument Circle, hope to make Carmel Artomobilia an annual event.
“We could put on the best car shows in the Midwest here,” said Lee, who estimated the attendance to be between 8,000 and 10,000 (the exact count couldn’t be verified).
There’s some irony in Carmel’s hosting of Artomobilia. The ongoing transformation of Old Town Carmel into the Arts & Design District, overseen by Mayor Jim Brainard, prioritizes pedestrian needs over automobiles and the parking spaces needed to accommodate them. Parking isn't a problem in the district, at least not yet, although you can't always park directly in front of the store you want to shop in, like you can in a strip mall.
The mayor said, “After WWII was over and the average person could afford a car we developed everything in this country to accommodate the automobile to the extent that it made it impossible to walk to places you needed to go or wanted to go. So we’re trying to get back a little bit.”
Creating walkable space densely packed with art galleries, high-end shops and restaurants also increases foot traffic, which increases commerce, lures more retail and expands the tax base (as well as creating an attractive venue for events such as Artomobilia). But that is only part of the formula that the City of Carmel is banking on.
Gallery owner Evan Lurie, who is also a paid consultant for the City of Carmel, explained the “Design” component of the Arts & Design District. “The design industry, when they have a community ... they can find the accessories that they need … home furnishings, high-end merchandise ... At the same time they [the designers] have all the galleries in the same area; they’re taking their clients around and working with their clients on a home and the galleries are there too. That’s what makes a district like this work,” he said.
But this expected synergy will have to wait until spring 2009 when the Indiana Design Center, currently under construction, opens. This facility will both cater to the design needs of the trade and the public.
In the meantime the district’s galleries and businesses look forward to the next event as a way to draw business during an economic downturn. Rachel Davidson, owner of the ladies’ boutique PillowTalk at 23 E. Main, said, “The festivals are usually really good for bringing in a lot of faces that we ordinarily wouldn’t see in the district. I find I don’t usually sell a lot more than I usually would but I meet a lot more people who come back to shop later on.”