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Permanent Opie piece coming to downtown

Jennifer Whitson
January 18, 2008
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Good news for fans of Julian Opie's pop-art-inspired exhibit that ended a year-long run on city streets in September-Indianapolis is getting a permanent piece by the London artist to add to its growing public art collection.

The work created for Indianapolis is called "Ann Dancing." It's reminiscent of the four-sided LCD display dubbed "Sara Dancing" that made its home at the northwest corner of Illinois and Maryland streets. But this female stick figure has a bit more juice in her jive than Sara did with her sedate sway.

The Indianapolis Cultural Development Commission and the Indianapolis Cultural Trail are splitting the $150,000 tab to buy and install the piece. Sara's display case will be reused, but the new piece will make its home in front of the Old Point Tavern on Massachusetts Avenue.

"This is a vibrant part of downtown with a lot of nightlife," said commission Director Jenny Guimont. "Ann" is scheduled to begin dancing Jan. 22.

Now local businesses are finding ways to get involved in the city's burgeoning public arts scene-something that could continue to pay off as new exhibits arrive.
Sign Craft Industries Inc. helped rehab and install Sara's display case, while construction-management firm RW Armstrong uploaded the animation program that keeps her moving. The two companies were paid $1,750 for their work.

Public art costs vary greatly depending on the medium, said Mindy Taylor Ross, director of public art at the Arts Council of Indianapolis, which manages the city's public art exhibits and will handle acquisitions for the Cultural Trail. The trail's $50 million budget includes $2 million for art.

Opie was paid $125,000 for the temporary exhibit of 11 pieces that dotted Indianapolis through September; another $125,000 paid for setting up, publicizing and maintaining the work.

That money used to go mainly to out-of-town firms because local companies didn't do the work, Ross said. But that's changing as local firms go after the contracts.

"While this may be a small overall part of what they do as a business, it's a new niche [more companies] are getting into," she said.

That's true for Sign Craft, whose work on the Opie exhibit was its first foray into the public art arena.

"A lot of his work was pretty close to signage," said owner Greg Beyerl. The Opie fee was a "drop in the bucket" in the company's overall revenue-which he declined to disclose-but he said it helped "get our guys doing something a little different."

Employees saw themselves on TV news programs or other media installing the pieces and took some extra satisfaction away from the job.

"Our guys are very proud to be a part of it," he said.

RW Armstrong, also the program manager for the Cultural Trail, already has parlayed its Opie gig into a $15,000 contract to work on the upcoming Chakaia Booker public art exhibit. Booker will be creating sculptures by cutting and shaping used tires, and the firm will evaluate their structural integrity.

In its day-to-day business, RW Armstrong's engineers do safety reviews on buildings, airports and road projects. They double-check how much weight a building's foundation can bear and what wind load construction materials can withstand.

The firm does the same kind of review for public art-making sure a Booker tire creation won't tumble down on a viewer, for example. But since the computer models often aren't set up to deal with art, programmers must figure out ways to tackle the evaluation.

"[Employees] are competing to be on the team to work on public art pieces," said Senior Project Manager Melody Park. "It unleashes a creative side that they don't get to work on a lot.

"We hope to be doing more of this in the future," Park added. "When you're hiring a lot of creative talent and want to attract more talent, you need to show that your company is not stagnant. The younger generation really wants to work on these unique pieces."

Comment on this story at Lou Harry's A&E blog.

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