“It became apparent that the visual arts community needed to come together and position themselves with a coherent message.” — Mark Ruschman
“Create a scene. Support local art,” proclaims a flyer taped in the window of a coffeehouse on Alabama Street around the corner from Mark Ruschman’s art gallery. The flyer promotes “First Fridays,” one of the many programs that are sponsored by the Indianapolis Downtown Artists and Dealers Association (IDADA), the coalition of creative people and enterprises that Ruschman helped form. He also serves as its president.
IDADA was started in 2002 in response to Mayor Bart Peterson’s cultural initiative. “It sounded like it had legs,” Ruschman recalls, “and it became apparent that the visual arts community needed to come together and position themselves with a coherent message.”
Three years later, IDADA includes 25 galleries and a host of individual artists and other arts businesses. Where it used to focus on action taking place within a 20 block radius of the Circle, it has now expanded to include the rest of the city, as well as associate members elsewhere in Indiana and out of state.
In addition to its First Fridays openings, IDADA advertises on NPR and collaborates with organizations like the city’s Arts Council and the Central Indiana Community Foundation. It has also established a deep presence on a nationally distributed gallery guide. “Three years ago, if you opened that guide, which is utilized by museums and art galleries across the country,” Ruschman says, “you would have only found a listing for the Indianapolis Museum of Art. You open that publication now and you see maps, photographs for up to 20 gallery listings.”
In addition to providing the local visual arts scene with greater credibility, IDADA has also served as a gathering place where ideas and information are exchanged. It has also created a collective voice for speaking with the city and city officials. “It’s given them an opportunity to call us and ask for our input,” Ruschman notes.
“In the last few years the idea of creating a scene seems to be taking hold, it seems like we’re on the radar screen now,” he says. “People, unsolicited, are talking about First Fridays and you have a sense that you’re part of their consciousness. At the Harrison Center, Fountain Square, Massachusetts Avenue and Broad Ripple — they’re all becoming part of peoples’ awareness as places where things are going on and the visual arts have a strong presence.”
This awareness is also translating into better sales and an improving arts economy. “We’re becoming part of something,” Ruschman says. “The buzz is on the street.”
— David Hoppe