It all worked out in the end. That's Phil Campbell talking, a man known for taking risks.
It is hard to think of a single individual who has had a greater impact on Indianapolis visual arts scene. Beginning with his promotions for the citys first large-scale building devoted to artists studios and galleries the Faris Building followed by the invention of Masterpiece in a Day and, ultimately, the rescue and renovation of the G.C. Murphy Building as an artists haven and public destination, with its collateral impact for the better on its Fountain Square neighborhood, Campbell's gonzo approach to creative enterprise has paid incalculable dividends for the city.
Before there was the Stutz, the Harrison or, for that matter, the Murphy Art Center, there was the Faris. Located immediately south of downtown (and now part of the Lilly corporate complex), the Faris was already home to a gallery and such artists as Lois Templeton and Gloria Fischer when Campbell arrived and saw an opportunity. At that time, Circle Centre Mall was still a hole in the ground; the gallery scene on Massachusetts Avenue was fading.
Campbell took the idea of a street of galleries and studios and made it vertical, encouraging people to think of the Faris seven stories as if they were seven blocks to wander. There were hardly any lights down there, Campbell recalls. People entered this decrepit building and went up this scary elevator and walked down these dark hallways. Then they entered into these giant, open spaces.
The annual Faris open house was drawing 5,000 people when Campbell was told the building was being sold at the end of 1998. The artists were given four months to vacate. Campbell began looking for a new home for 45 artists and five commercial galleries.
He found SEND, the Southeast Neighborhood Development organization in Fountain Square. SEND introduced him to the Murphy Building. It was freezing cold, there were four inches of ice frozen to the floor, Campbell says. I think we had 20 40-yard dumpsters full of crap we got out of there. It was insane how much garbage there was.
But Campbell and his compatriots were awed. There were no walls. The first floor was 30,000 feet of empty space.
I told SEND every city in the world that has become successful banked on culture, Campbell says. They asked me to write a proposal for their board. So I went home that night and made a decision.
The opening of the Murphy Art Center has led to a general revitalization in the neighborhood. Sixteen businesses opened in Fountain Square after we did, Campbell observes.
The risk-taker in Campbell is dismayed by what he sees as the risk-aversion of the city's arts leadership. They want their friends opinions; they want nice things to match the carpets. One of the greatest days at the Faris Building was 9 o'clock one morning. This woman called me and said, Im looking for a big, dark, ugly painting for my husband for Christmas. It was like: Somebody's finally getting it!