In a shared studio at IUPUI's ceramics building on Indiana Avenue, graduate students in sculpture spent a recent afternoon
working on small projects.
Dominic Sansone polished a cast bronze figure, while Jodie Hardy placed swatches of Barbie doll hair in cellophane wrappers.
The students soon will compete with their classmates to work on a larger-scale project that thousands of Indianapolis residents will see every day. Pinned to the studio's back wall is a sketch of the site near Interstate 70 and Holt Road where Keep Indianapolis Beautiful has commissioned a work from IUPUI's Herron School of Art and Design.
The budget for each of two sculptures on the site will range from $10,000 to $15,000, and only grad students are invited to submit proposals.
Herron's dean, Valerie Eickmeier, hopes the public-art projects will draw attention to the school's new master's degree.
"Come to Herron for a graduate program, and you're guaranteed a professional opportunity that's a really compelling recruitment tool," Eickmeier said.
Herron launched its MFA this fall with a class of 17 students in sculpture, printmaking, furniture design and visual communication.
Public art is key to building the program, Eickmeier said, but there's one snag in the strategy. Herron is running out of space to house sculpture students the very artists who are most interested in designing the large-scale pieces that public spaces, such as the one at I-70, typically demand.
"We need the space desperately," Eickmeier said. To accommodate the five sculpture artists who entered the program this fall, Herron shuffled sophomores into a room formerly used for ceramics work.
Anyone who joins the program next year will have to squeeze a work table into the graduate students' open studio, which offers a lot of camaraderie but no privacy.
In the shop down the hall, students dodge works in progress to gain access to the furnace and other equipment.
"Public commissions they take up a lot of space," said Sansone, a 34-year-old.
Herron recently received $1 million from the Whitehill Clowes Charitable Foundation to expand the 22,000-squarefoot ceramics and sculpture building at 1350 Indiana Ave. Eickmeier hopes to raise an additional $2 million and add 15,000 square feet by the fall of 2010.
Herron planned for years to add the master's degree in studio arts. The school's headquarters, Eskanazi Hall, included studios for graduate students in printmaking and furniture design when it opened in 2005.
Eickmeier said Herron didn't expand its sculpture studios at the same time because of a lack of money, and because IUPUI didn't own enough property near Indiana Avenue. "We did what we could afford at the time," she said.
Once the expansion is complete, Eickmeier hopes to raise $1 million to create an endowment for the fledgling program. Herron's MFA debuted in the U.S. News and World Report rankings at 45.
"I think that's a great place to start," Eickmeier said. "Our goal would be to be ranked among the top 10."
Herron is competing with 129 other colleges offering master's degrees in at least one art and design field, according to the National Association of Schools of Art and Design.
"Many, many art schools have public art curriculum," said Leisel Fenner, public art manager at Americans for the Arts, an advocacy group in Washington, D.C. Fenner rattled off a list of schools, including the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design, Texas A&M, and University of Texas in Austin.
Even so, Fenner was impressed by Herron's ability to line up commissions as large as $10,000 enough to buy materials for complex, large-scale work. Many artists don't know how to manage the "pragmatic realities" of public art, she said. "I highly commend the school for offering that."
Herron arranges the commissions through its Basile Center for Art, Design, and Public Life.
Self-employed in commercial drafting and printing for the past five years, Sansone said, "I've lived through the feasts and the famines. It's important to have those practical aspects."