In 1934, a group of WPA artists formed the Indianapolis Art League.
This legacy of the Works Progress Administration, part of the New Deal intended to improve the economy during the Great Depression, lives on.
Now known as the Indianapolis Art Center, the organization’s on-site classes and community-wide outreach programs involve hundreds of Hoosiers with making art each year.
The 76th annual student exhibition is on display at the center. Any member who has taken a class through the center within the last two years was eligible to submit works for the competitive show.
“It’s really cool. It’s probably our most mission-driven exhibition of the year,” said Kyle Herrington, exhibitions associate. “People like to see what other people are making and doing.”
“Everybody is represented,” he said. “There’s just a buzz in the air when we have this show.”
“It is just such a great local showcase,” said Lily Pai, architect by trade and jewelry maker by avocation. “My artwork does get seen by people who are like-minded.”
The annual show is a chance for artists to network and see what is being done in studios outside of their own, Herrington said. Usually 400 pieces are submitted and between 150 and 200 are chosen by jurors to exhibit.
“There’s lots of prizes, thousands of dollars,” he said. “It’s like the Oscars.”
The artist chosen as best in show will be given a solo show at the center.
There is no typical student at the center. Works by adults, children, teens, young adults and retired people from many media are all included in the show, providing a cross-section of art.
Pai, 40, learns plenty at her regular Tuesday night class. She won the fine metalsmithing award last year. Improving her skills and meeting people with similar interests are both important to the working mother.
“I can just get completely involved with my jewelry,” she said.
Her class, taught by Marilyn Smith, includes people of different ages and from different professions. “I have made many friends,” Pai said.
Connections with the center are long-lasting. Smith has taught for 24 years, and Pai has taken classes for almost eight years.
Studying through the center and entering the annual show can be a stepping stone for younger students pursuing a life in the arts. It can also be a way of pursuing a life dream.
One of the department heads started out as a student at the show. Another woman who took classes during high school returned to the center after she retired. After winning a best in show, she “has studio shows all over the place,” Herrington said.
Pai makes time apart from class time to go to the studio to use the torch. She works with fine metals, stones and enamel. The less dangerous tasks, such as assembling pieces, are done at home.
Her goal for the jewelry is simple. “I just want it to be timeless.”
The show is free and open to the public through April 6. The hours are Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Saturday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.; and Sunday, noon to 6 p.m.
To contact the center, call 317-255-2464 or visit indplsartcenter.org. The Indianapolis Art Center is located on 820 E. 67th St., Indianapolis.