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FUNNY BUSINESS: Forget Elvis on velvet; Art Bullies have other plans

Mike Redmond
January 15, 2007
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I've seen the picture of the proposed ginormous art installation for downtown, and I think I speak for many of us when I say ... Well, come to think of it, I better not say that, seeing as how many of us do not use that kind of language.

In case you missed it, here's the deal: There's a movement afoot to erect a large, circular, steel, Dairy Queen curlicue over at 11th and West streets-a $10 million large, circular, steel, Dairy Queen curlicue, I should say. They're calling it the Circle Gateway Truss and the purpose is to give us a sense of place.

(How does a truss translate into a sense of place? "Welcome to Indianapolis, City of Hernias"?)

Perhaps you can tell I am not exactly sold on this project. Then again, I don't have to be. It's not a government project. It's a privately funded effort to inflict a little culture-or considering the size of the thing, a lot of culture-on the rest of us.

Therein lies an argument the rest of us cannot win, because we are up against the Art Bullies.

Art Bullies are people who determine the aesthetics for the rest of us because, as they love to tell you (in exasperated terms if you're lucky, condescending if you're not), SOMEBODY has to take the lead, because MOST people around here seem to think of art as a picture of Elvis on black velvet or a gazing ball in the front yard, and if it weren't for them this place would NEVER have a chance of being a World Class City.

This, you will notice, is the same sort of reasoning used by the Sports Bullies when they want a new stadium, the Business Bullies when they want less oversight, and the Politics Bullies when they want greater power: We'll never get to be a World Class City unless they get what they want, and the sooner the better.

I notice, though, they never really define what they mean by World Class. Then again, it's not in their interest to do so. If they define it, we might achieve it, and if we achieve it, they won't have anything to bully us about. Better to keep it vague and, therefore, just out of reach. It's worth more that way.

When someone comes up with an idea like the Big Steel Doohickey at West and 11th, Art Bullies have three guaranteed argument-stoppers, and they don't hesitate to use them. They are:

1. If we have to explain it to you, you'll never understand. It's art.

2. It either speaks to you or it doesn't. Of course, it speaks VOLUMES to us. It's art.

3. We expect this sort of opposition from unsophisticated yokels like you. It's art.

Of course, these are all variations on a theme of "Great Ideas Have Always Met Opposition From Mediocre Minds." And it always works because so many people are insecure in the presence of Art Bullies, which tends to snuff out the question of whether the Great Idea on the table is really all that Great. Nobody wants to be the troll at the tea party.

This is how we wind up with big electric sign-meandering people on street corners downtown (although I have to admit, it is kind of funny watching the people who think they're oversized walk/don't-walk lights.)

This is how we wind up with what look like big TV screens (showing nothing but static) near Fountain Square.

This is how, in my Old Northside neighborhood, we wind up with big half-arches on the corners. How those symbolize an area of late 19th century houses with appropriate infill is beyond me, but that's to be expected. (See argument-stoppers 1, 2 and 3, above.)

All right, so back to the curlicue. It's supposed to create a sense of place by representing Monument Circle. Here's an idea: Let Monument Circle represent itself, as it always has.

Or, it could represent the Indianapolis 500. Never mind that we already have the world's greatest racetrack for that.

Or it could symbolize unity and willingness to work together, as someone said. I love Indianapolis and those are great qualities, but sorry-I doubt people driving past the city on Interstate 70 are going to look for an off-ramp so they can come bask in our warm human nature, based on the vibe they get from a big metal doodle.

I would not be surprised, however, if they got off the interstate, pulled up to a stoplight, rolled down the window, and asked:

"Where's the rest of that roller coaster?"



Redmond is an author, columnist and speaker, and a consultant on business writing and workplace issues. His column appears monthly. You can reach him at mredmond@ibj.comPatty Jones works on Christmas card designs with a patient at Riley Hospital for Children. Jones spends much of her free time volunteering.
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