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We've spent quite a bit of time exploring art in other people's cities, so we figured it was time to come back home and try being tourists in our own town.

The itinerary:
Kaffeine Coffee:
Indiana Pacers Bikeshare:
Indianapolis Cultural Trail:
The Alexander:
Sidney & Lois Eskenazi Hospital and Health Campus:
Wildwood Market:
Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art:
The Museum of Psychphonics:
People for Urban Progress:
General Public Collective:
Tube Factory:
Listen Hear:
Open Society:
Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park: 100 Acres:

Thanks to Stuart!

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 (00:00) to (02:00)

Sarah: This episode of The Art Assignment is supported by Prudential.

We've spent quite a bit of time exploring art in people's cities. We thought it was high time we gave the same treatment to our own, but how does one attempt tourism in one's own town?  First, I recruited Stuart Hyatt, fellow resident and also superb sound artist who has done quite a bit of city exploring as part of his work.  Second, we met up at a coffee shop to ditch our primary modes of transport and see how much we could accomplish in a day without a car, and third, well, coffee.

We ordered Americanos at Kaffeine Coffee and sat down to plan our route.  We wanted to go full analog and use a paper map and did a fair bit of plotting that way until, well, it would have been silly not to use our magical devices at all.  We then walked down the road to pick up rental bikes at the closest Indiana Pacers Bikeshare pickup location.  You need to bring your own helmet but the rest is fairly simple.  You'll see in the background the first of our many encounters with the work of past Art Assignment contributors.  Nat Russell of Fake Flyer fame was commissioned by a real estate development company to create a temporary public artwork to disguise/beautify the construction site behind it.

You'll notice a fair bit of construction in this video because downtown Indy is in a bit of a boon cycle when it comes to development, and a good portion of this development borders one of the city's newer amenities, the Cultural Trail, an 8 mile biking and walking path that connects neighborhoods and cultural districts and the bikeshare is part of it, too.  

Along it, you'll pass a number of public artworks, including this mural of Indianapolis-based poet Mari Evans by artist Michael Alkemi Jordan.  One of her best known works is her 1970 poem, "I am a Black Woman" and it feels appropriate to recite its concluding stanza here.  "I am a black woman, tall as a cyprus, strong beyond all definition still defying place and time and circumstance, assailed, impervious, indestructible.  Look on me and be renewed."  

 (02:00) to (04:00)

We kept going along Massachusetts Avenue and passed Julian Opie's "Ann Dancing" and Ann really is always dancing.  There is something supremely comforting about Ann dancing morning, noon, and night, through snow, rain, and presidential transitions.  That Ann.  She never quits.

Just beyond, we encountered another literal literary giant, this one a 38-foot-tall Kurt Vonnegut, native son of Indianapolis.  Vonnegut said in 1986, "What people like about me is Indianapolis" so it's nice that he's here, although it hasn't gone unnoticed that he spent very little time here after leaving for college in 1940.  Then we rode over to Prairie Modules 1 & 2, created by the art collective M12, which Stuart is part of.  They make works heavily informed by the context or place where they're working, and here, the truss formed structures reference both the covered bridges that parts of rural Indiana are known for as well as the interstate infrastructure that gives Indianapolis its tag line, "Crossroads of America".  Its green-roof grasses are reminders of the surrounding prairie and its solar panels return power to the grid.

On we went to City Market, outside of which we found an artist-designed book share station that's part of an art and literacy project called the Public Collection.  This really awesome excellently functioning one, made by Brose Partington, was inspired by agricultural equipment and the linotype machine.  Stuart and I each picked up a book.  I snagged My Daddy Was a Pistol and I'm A Son of a Gun by Louis Grizzard for obvious reasons and Stuart picked up the classic The House of The Spirits by Isabel Allende.  Here's us comparing the last lines of each book and I'll spare you the suspense and tell you mine won the contest: "I just hope heaven doesn't run out of camels and fried chicken."

Having extracted all we needed from our finds, we biked a few blocks to Monument Circle and returned the books to another lending station, this one designed by Brian McCutcheon of Customize It fame.  Columns support an 1894 quote by Mark Twain extolling public libraries as the memorials that really last, preserving names and events, and also outlasting them.  A fitting sentiment for a city full of traditional memorials.  Then we headed south to the Alexander Hotel, home to a remarkable gathering of artworks commissioned specifically for the spaces.

 (04:00) to (06:00)

You'll find an installation by Paul Villinski, of birds cut from vinyl records emerging from a turntable.  Here we also admire the work of Sonya Clark of our Measuring Histories assignment, who created out of over 3,000 combs a portrait of Indianapolis' own Madam C.J. Walker, a hair care tycoon known as one of the first self-made millionaires in America.  

There are a number of other excellent works here, but the piece de resistance is the bar and lounge by Jorge Pardo, who designed the colorful array of light fixtures that trail from the lobby into the lounge and recall a school of fantastical sea creatures.  Pardo was also responsible for the patterned cement tiles and most of the furnishings, but he was not responsible for the amazing cocktails this place serves, which I was very sad we were too early for.

We then locked up our bikes and hopped in the car with Mark, because Stuart got a tip from a friend that there was a lunchtime concert in ten minutes over at Eskanazi Hospital.  The new main campus of this public hospital opened in 2013 and along with featuring a number of artworks, it hosts a music program that on this day brought us the outstanding musical stylings of Indiana soul legend Lonnie Lester.  This concert offered free of charge to whomever happened to be at the hospital that day, was thoroughly appreciated by those of us who stayed awhile as well as those who let a smile slip as they hurried on to an appointment.  The unexpected pleasure of Lonnie Lester, coupled with our walk through the gardens and plaza outside, made the hospital's stated goal of lifting spirits and promoting healthful living seem less like marketing and more like truth.

As we drove away, we enjoyed Rob Ley's parking structure facade, inspired by camouflage techniques and composed of thousands of metal panels that shift in appearance as you pass.  It was then back to our bikes on the cultural trail, which we followed along Virginia Avenue to experience an artwork by Acconci Studios, le by Vito Acconci, who will never live down his renown for masturbating underneath the floor of an art gallery with visitors above in 1972.  Lucky for us, his work has taken a turn for the much less controversial and he now leads a studio that realizes architecture and public space projects like this one.  

 (06:00) to (08:00)

In what used to be one of the darkest and most terrifying passageways in Indy, there is now Swarm Street, which activates as you pass through and illuminates thousands of LED lights embedded in the pavement and in a framework above.  You not only trace your own path, but you can see the paths of others, generating either a sense of camaraderie with your fellow passers-by or a helpful signal to pick up your pace.  

It was beyond time for lunch when we made it to Fountain Square and stopped at Wildwood Market to ogle at all of the goods we couldn't carry with us and enjoy their delicious sandwich of the day.  With our blood sugar back at a functioning level, we were ready to see more art and headed to Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art, or IMoCA as its called around here.  They were hosting an exhibition titled "Unloaded" here at the Murphy building as well as at their other location back near the Alexander, presenting works by a variety of artists all in some way exploring the form, image, and impact of guns in contemporary culture. 

Mel Chin's "Cross for the Unforgiven" drew us in immediately.  A Maltese cross made from cut and welded AK-47 assault rifles.  I also appreciated the dissonance of medium and subject matter in Stephanie Syjuco's crocheted "Rifle", as well as my very visceral reaction to Andrew Ellis Johnson's finely detailed sculptural rendering of the maxim "See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil."  There's a lot of good work in this show, demonstrating the bottomless diversity of responses to a most American of issues.

We then headed upstairs in the Murphy building, where you can find an eclectic and changing collection of artist studios, shops, an arcade, and music venues.  We were there to pay a visit to the tiny and mysterious "Museum of Psychphonics", which occupies a small nook and contains, among other curiosities, a spaceship prop that was once part of Parliament Funkadelic's mothership connection stageshow.  The museum is the brainchild of a group of local artists and musicians aiming to make a place that explores the interconnectedness of music, mystery, spiritual realms, pop culture, sci-fi, and the extraordinary. 

 (08:00) to (10:00)

It's exactly the kind of specific oddity that a bland leaning, chain restaurant loving city like Indianapolis needs.  While there, we also ducked into People For Urban Progress, an excellent non-profit organization that rescues discarded materials and redesigns them for public benefit.  This has meant salvaging old stadium seats and repurposing them at bus stops throughout the city, and it has also meant finding new uses for the 13 acres of fabric that used to serve as the roof for the former RCA dome here in town.  I decided it was high time I ditched my sad old backpack, so I purchased a lovely new drawstring bag made from dome fabric, Superbowl banner mesh, and reclaimed seat belts, although I did create a new problem of how to repurpose my old one.  Is there an Art Assignment for that?

Then we made a quick stop across the street to General Public Collective, an artist-run project space and concept shop which was then hosting an exhibition called "Mr. Sad: Apple Skin Jacket" of amusing and impressive works by artist Lisa Berlin.  We enjoyed it but then a sign told us it was okay to exit, so we did.  

Back on our bikes, we trekked on to the Garfield Park neighborhood to visit the new headquarters for Big Car Collective, who offered us the What, How, Where assignment.  It's called the Tube Factory and it's housed in, you guessed it, and old tube factory.  It's a community center as well as an exhibition space and we caught the tail end of Detroit-based artist Scott Hocking's show, which was magnificent.  Continuing the repurposing theme of the day, Hocking's exhibition brought together materials found in a building that was once an RCA factory and was most recently a recycling plant.  It was filled with materials that had been left there, unrecycled until Hocking came along and spent weeks sorting through them and arranging selections of them in the Tube Factory space.  Massive hunks of burned Styrofoam form a mountain in the far end of the main gallery and on the surrounding walls are mounted enthralling multi-hued plastic blobs.  

Artists spend hours, days, months, and years pursuing the kind of formal and textural effects created here through the accident of industrial waste.  

 (10:00) to (12:00)

Hocking brings it together with brilliant economy.  Big Car is developing several buildings on this block, including the sound/art space Listen Hear, which was still hosting Pablo Helguera's (?~10:10) where we filmed the assignment Combinatory Play earlier in the year.  By this point, we were beat, so we biked to the nearest drop-off point and took comfort in Mark's gas-powered ride. 

We drove north and stopped by our favorite periodical shop, Printtext, run by Benjamin and Janneane Blevins.  They've hosted a series of exhibitions here, organized by curatorial collective AM, called "Syntax Season", featuring artists whose practices engage in various kinds of language games.  We were there for The Month Show with Jesse Malmed, whose show included daily called-in excerpts from Late Night talk shows, as well as a theme song that plays out of a standing microphone. 

The light and our spirits were fading, but we revived with iced coffees at Open Society and decided to end our day at Hundred Acres, the art and nature park adjacent to the main campus of the Indianapolis Musuem of Art.  Full disclosure, I am the opposite of objective about this particular space, since I dedicated six years of my life to working for this museum and had a hand in the creation of the park.  It opened in 2010 and the whole idea of this place is to reconsider what an art park is supposed to be and do.

Called 100 Acres because it occupies 100 acres, the park features site-specific installations, a visitor's center designed by architect (?~11:23), and a series of pathways designed to guide visitors through a landscape much less tamed than most museum parks.  The works here were created by artists from all over the world, each of whom had vastly different approaches to their contributions.  Very little in the way of text is provided on site, as you're meant to interact with what you find and seek answers online or in brochures if you're so inclined.  

I've had the privilege of getting to know this park over the course of many years, before there was art here, walking through it with artists on site visits, and as construction unfolded, and now after as it's become a valued refuge in the city.  So yes, I am biased toward it, but isn't that always the case in the place where you live?  The longer you're there, the more ties you have to the people and places and objects that inhabit it. 

 (12:00) to (13:18)

So I couldn't look at this city with clear eyes, but I did have a great day within it.  I spent time with a friend, explored life without a car in this car-dependent city, upped my backpack game considerably, and despite having visited all of these places before, still had surprises along the way.  After it was over, I realized nearly everything we visited had been created within the past 10 years, which made me equal parts grateful for this city's present and hopeful for its future.


Thanks to Prudential for sponsoring this episode.  It's human nature to prioritize present needs and what matters most to us today, but when planning for your retirement, it's best to prioritize tomorrow's needs over today's.  According to a Prudential study, 1 in 3 Americans is not saving enough for retirement, and over 52% are not on track to be able to maintain their current standard of living.  Go to and see how if you start saving more today, you can continue to enjoy the things you love tomorrow.