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Campaign promoting local art moves into second phase: Plan to target business owners is still on the drawing board

September 3, 2007

"Be Indypendent" bumper stickers are popping up all over town.

They've been stuck to the side of Dumpsters and the back of everything from VW bugs to cable repair trucks since debuting in July. The curious who follow the message back to its Web site discover an effort to get everyday consumers interested in buying locally produced artwork.

The site (www.beindypendent.org) already has had nearly 2,000 hits from seven countries and 35 states, and now campaign organizers are looking to get businesses on board, too.

"We want to spread the message that we have tools to help businesses with the process of bringing artwork into office spaces," said Jenny Guimont, director of the Indianapolis Cultural Development Commission, which partnered with Arts Council of Indianapolis on the project. "There are much more meaningful options than pretty posters ordered from a catalog."

While still in the planning stages, one thing is clear: The next phase of the "Be Indypendent" movement is going to take more than bumper stickers.

Campaign proponents have to meet the needs of a full spectrum of business buyers-from those looking to decorate office space as quickly as possible to those more interested in the work's artistic expression.

Speed shoppers could look to the effort for easy connections to the right gallery, broker or go-between. Those who have a blank canvas to work with-architects, interior designers and developers finishing off commercial space, for example-may want convenience on par with the art catalogs national vendors provide.

Arts Council maintains a public database listing about 400 local visual artists, but interior designers aren't likely to have the time to evaluate all those options. And unless the choices are narrowed down, the process could be overwhelming.

"There's so much out there with local art, you need to know where to start," said Brian Mader, a project manager with Indianapolis architecture firm Synthesis Inc. who recently joined the business outreach planning effort. "Setting off [to visit artist studios] without any direction, you could be going from place to place forever."

To address that piece of the pie, "Indypendent" art advocates most likely will produce a catalog of local artists broken down by theme or feel.

"We want them to know that, whatever you're looking for, there's an artist in town who can serve your needs," said Shannon Linker, director of artist services at the Arts Council.

The third class of business buyers are companies that make acquiring art a teambuilding exercise, forming an "art committee" that travels to galleries and studios to decide on works in person. For these more active types, Arts Council will offer a quick how-to seminar.

Local businesses already are interested in local art, said Jon Bricker, director of the Basile Center for Art, Design and Public Life at IUPUI's Herron School of Art & Design. The center plays matchmaker between corporate buyers and students or faculty artists.

"Most of [the businesses] come to us," Bricker said, adding that during certain times of the year, the center has to put companies on a waiting list.

Brinker said the main point he has to educate business owners on is the lag time between signing a contract and getting an artwork, especially for sculptures.

"Some of these pieces take a year or more," he said.

The broader "Be Indypendent" campaign is still evolving. The business element likely won't be finalized until the end of the year and, just like with the consumer campaign, measuring its success will be tough.

For the consumer campaign, the council and commission split the roughly $20,000 bill, which covered printing 55,000 blackand-white bumper stickers and 30,000 square stickers that featured six different designs highlighting local art.

They also partnered with alternative newsweekly Nuvo, which inserted the bumper stickers in an issue and gave the campaign a discounted ad rate. Anecdotal evidence from artists pointed toward more newbies looking into art immediately after the release and a corresponding article in Nuvo.

But a longer-term measure of success will be how many groups adopt the "Be indypendent" theme in their own promotional materials. Linker said the concept was modeled after Austin, Texas' longstanding "Keep Austin Weird" campaign, which keeps getting reused and reinvented.

Similarly, the local effort's Web site encourages other businesses to use "Be Indypendent" whether they're promoting locally produced vegetables or a locally owned coffee shop.

"We don't really want to own [the phrase]," Linker said. "We want the city to own it."

And use it to highlight the quirky, local spots that give Indianapolis its feel.

"We have a lot of chains here, a lot of things about our city that don't necessarily speak to its individuality and uniqueness," Linker said. "But it's still there below the surface and we want to get individuals and business to realize that."
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