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Art History

Indianapolis Art Center Celebrates 25 Years at Current Broad Ripple Location

Writer / Molly Dykstra
Photographer / Michael Durr

Indianapolis Art CenterWhen Mark Williams took his first class at the Indianapolis Art League, he did not realize he was starting a path that would lead him to become its president and executive director in 2020. Since that first class, however, Williams did realize that the Art League (renamed the Indianapolis Art Center in 1996) offers unique opportunities for both amateur and professional artists.

“We meet people where they are with art,” he says. “We are here for everyone without pretense – without preconceptions or anything else.”

His personal mission for the Art Center, to revitalize and reactivate its founding ideology, couldn’t have come at a better time.

Starting his position during the pandemic meant there were many challenges to overcome.

“We were born during the Great Depression,” Williams says. “Resilience is in our DNA. COVID’s got nothing. It has given us an opportunity to look at things anew.”

Indianapolis Art CenterHe is, of course, referring to the original founding of the Indianapolis Art League in 1934 by Herron graduate William Kaeser. Using funding from the Works Progress Administration started by Franklin D. Roosevelt, he modeled the small nonprofit after a similar student organization in New York. The League faced many early challenges, from the gasoline shortages during World War II to the loss of its original facility at Holliday Park due to a fire in 1958. Yet each difficulty only made the Indianapolis Art League emerge stronger, and more determined to survive and eventually thrive. The League incorporated as a foundation in 1960 and built a facility at 3103 North Pennsylvania Street, where they remained until 1976.

Its history joined Broad Ripple’s that year when it relocated to the village. The original building the leaders constructed was just over 10,000 square feet. Throughout the next two decades it continued to attract more students and staff, rapidly becoming a pillar of the community. After outgrowing its space, the Art League began construction on a new building in 1994. It also changed its name to the Indianapolis Art Center. Completed in 1996, the new structure remains its home today. Designed by Indiana architect Michael Graves, it is 40,000 square feet, housing 13 dedicated art studios, three galleries, a library and a 225-seat auditorium. In 2005, ARTSPARK officially opened. This 9.5-acre sculptural garden houses events, performances, classes and exhibitions in addition to providing the community with a beautiful outdoor area to explore and enjoy.

While it has continued to grow, admission to all of its facilities remains free.

“We will remain open, free and accessible to all, all the time” Williams says. “We are not going to put up barriers.”

Indianapolis Art CenterActivating the community and removing barriers is an important facet of the mission the Indianapolis Art Center has taken on. During the pandemic, for example, it offered take-home art kits. Created for both adults and children, these kits include high-quality materials to help families pursue art at home or allow children to explore art independently if parents are stuck on Zoom calls. This program has expanded to become The Big Give Show!, a telethon-style event that will occur on September 17, with party kits available so people can participate in activities during the show. Registration for this event is free.

The new “Make it, Take it” classes are also extremely popular. These two-hour experiences allow a student to create a piece of art (in more 2D and 3D mediums than you can imagine) and try out techniques without a commitment or high price tag. Many other class leaders have shortened schedules, removing the pressure of a long-term commitment of time and financial resources. As a result of innovations like these, the demand for classes has exploded, with record numbers of new enrollments. Outreach programs also continue to expand. In addition, the new renovations of ARTSPARK mean that more outdoor performances and events are on the way this summer. As always, it remains open and free for the community to enjoy.

A major milestone in the history of the Indianapolis Art Center is also happening this summer. Leaders and staff will celebrate the current location’s 25th birthday. The Artsparkle Silver Jubilee is a benefit bash that will commemorate this achievement on August 25, 2021. Tickets for this event will go on sale on July 5. Early reservations are encouraged, because it promises to sell out fast.

Indianapolis Art CenterThis summer will also mark the one-year anniversary of the exhibition titled “Eighteen: Black Lives Matter.” The facility will host a second exhibition this August to explore the impact last summer’s events had on the 18 artists who painted the street mural, and other works in downtown Indianapolis. Williams says he wants the Art Center to “host that community conversation of where we are one year later. Are we different? Did we do anything or did we just talk about it?”

New programs like Locally Made and the Art Center Marketplace also help with the evolution of the Broad Ripple community. They allow the Indianapolis Art Center to facilitate connections between buyers and local artists, encouraging makers with limited marketing experience to be seen and make money.

“With an innovative mindset and a mantra to build community through art in all its many forms, everything is possible,” Williams says.

The Indianapolis Art Center is located at 820 East 67th Street in Indianapolis. For more info, call 317-255-2464 or go to indplsartcenter.org.

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