Hoosier spaces draw in artists of all kinds
By Leanne Stahulak
For countless decades Indiana’s natural beauty has attracted artists to the Hoosier state. And just like birds of a feather, these like-minded creatives have all gathered in the same places to critique, create and collaborate. Indiana, in return, has provided spaces to foster and support talent, as well as to showcase the art. Here, we highlight a few of those locations.
The Art Colony of the Midwest: Arts Village Brown County
One of 10 cultural districts in the state, Arts Village Brown County embraces a rich history of artistry and craftsmanship dating to the turn of the 20th century. Artists poured into Nashville and other surrounding towns to capture Brown County’s gorgeous rolling hills and vibrant colors, a natural landscape untouched by man in a time of rampant industrialization.
Renowned artists like T.C. Steele, Marie Goth and Carl Graf at one point made their home in Brown County, says Melanie Voland, Nashville Arts and Entertainment Commission president.
“Important American post-impressionists and American landscape artists. They were all living and working here between 1907 and some of them until the end of their lives,” Voland says. “This art colony was begun in the early 1900s, and it continues to this day. We genuinely do own that moniker, ‘The Art Colony of the Midwest.’”
An art colony is an area where artists congregate to live and work with little distraction. Today, while Brown County is far more populated and bustling, artists still gather to cultivate creativity and beauty that’s shared with the community.
Visitors to the Arts Village can tour downtown Nashville’s lively art scene, witnessing real-time artist demonstrations, speaking with them about their works in progress and enjoying public art peppered around town.
While Nashville is at the heart of Brown County’s cultural district, Voland calls the galleries and studios across the rest of the county “spokes on our wheel,” which she hopes will continue to expand across all mediums.
“By art, we include not only the visual and live production arts, but musical entertainment as well,” Voland says. “And many different practitioners and artists are here, from photography to glass to pottery to the creation of instruments from scratch from local resources. We really are a living, breathing arts community.”
That community has been vital, she says, to not only the artists who live and work in Brown County, but the everyday citizens as well.
“Without the appreciation of beauty, what is there to life?” Voland says. “The humanities are deeply underrated and cannot be underestimated in their power to bring people together, to help us overcome differences, to bring us joy, to recall our history, to imagine our futures. There’s no end to the importance of art in a community anywhere.”
Visitors can plan a trip to Brown County by checking out the Brown County Visitors Center website at www.browncounty.com.
A First Friday Tradition: Murphy Arts Center
Pre-pandemic, art lovers and curious city dwellers would pile into Fountain Square every month for a glimpse at the Murphy Arts Center’s First Friday celebration. In the 57,000-square-foot commercial space, Hoosier artists would display their most recent work, professionals and amateurs sharing gallery space as observers marveled at their creativity.
On-site artist and First Friday coordinator Mike Graves says that the city’s love and legacy for the arts are nothing new. “We didn’t create the wheel, but we want to keep it rolling,” he says.
Graves has been painting at the Murphy since 2006, about eight years after Ed Funk and Phil Campbell took over the old G.C. Murphy Department Store to turn it into a center for the arts. First Friday has been a tradition since Graves started there, but he says that the event evolved after architect and developer Craig Von Deylen took the reins in 2009.
“It’s more open to the community. Before, it was really open to whoever the artists were that happened to be renting space at the time,” Graves says. “We’ve matured into something that works for the whole community, so instead of the same artist in his studio trying to come up with something every month for First Friday, we have nine to 13 different artists from the larger Indiana artist community who come in or are involved in our First Friday tradition.”
The Murphy offers creatives the chance to put their names out in the Indy art scene, but it also provides a home and sense of belonging.
“If you’re an artist just getting started, it opens you up to a larger sense of community, which is one of the things I didn’t have when I was an artist coming out of art school,” Graves says. “There was no clear community, there was no clear place to go, or even when there were art galleries and stuff like that, you had to pay to get in.”
Unlike other art centers or collectives, the Murphy’s art shows and creative events are all free of charge. Visitors wanting to attend and artists wanting to showcase don’t have to pay a dime.
“We’re not here to make money off of the community; we want artists to sell artwork,” Graves says. “There’s plenty of times that we could’ve monetized this whole process, and that is not our aim. Our aim is to grow the arts community in Indianapolis and Indiana as a whole.”
The Murphy Arts Center, at 1043 Virginia Ave. in Indianapolis, is currently closed to the public due to the pandemic. But come spring, it hopes to open its doors for outdoor First Friday events in accordance with federal and state regulations.
The Incubator: Artisan Alley
Despite several name changes and zigzagging moves across Bloomington, nonprofit Artisan Alley never lost sight of its original purpose: to provide equipment and resources for beginning artists. Executive Director Adam Nahas describes the organization as a kind of “incubation collective,” where creatives can hone their skills under the wise eyes of fellow artisans.
“We try to help the individual start off maybe by themselves and figuring things out on their own, and then get to collaborating with other people who have been down that path before,” he says. “And get them the guidance to take the next step into being a professional.”
Nahas, as a fresh-faced IU art grad back in the late 2000s, was looking for that very guidance. He and a group of fellow creatives missed the artistic amenities available to them at IU, so they all pitched in to start building those amenities for themselves. What started out as simple studio space eventually grew into a shared gallery, a communal industrial workspace, a classroom, a lounge, a tool library and more resources that Artisan Alley houses today.
But all those shared spaces only emphasized the true resource that the nonprofit provided: fellow artists who could critique and inspire other works.
“People sometimes are just looking for collaboration or a sounding board to say, ‘Look what I made, what would you do different?’” Nahas says. “[They use that] to have their own personal growth and develop their own personal style.”
Residencies are available for artists who want a place to stay, but other artists can join the collective for as little as a few hours of their time in volunteering and service work. Nahas says that some people prefer to put their skills to use to help the collective in exchange for access to Artisan Alley’s shared spaces. He likes to bring back the idea of bartering services and collaborating instead of everything coming down to a monetary payment.
“I think in general our society really corners people into figuring things out for themselves, and I think human society works better as a tribe,” Nahas says. “We’ve gotten away from working closely with our neighbors, our families and our friends to work on goals together.”
Artisan Alley has four Bloomington locations: 222 W. Second St., 1305½ W. 11th St., 804 W. Kirkwood Ave. and 800 W. Kirkwood Ave. You can find it online at artisanalley.com.