VIEWPOINT: Let’s bring art and commerce together

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Back in 1992, when I was a board member of Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana, then-president Reid Williamson invited me to walk through a building slated for demolition. Given my passion for cars and history, Reid knew I would be intrigued by the place where the Stutz Motor Car Co. once manufactured the Bearcat and Torpedo Roadster.

And I was. But it wasn’t just the longvacant Stutz Building’s legacy that got my attention; it was also its potential. Yes, the historic-car buff in me was excited by the stories echoing within those walls, but the entrepreneur in me also was stirred. Wandering the cavernous structure, I saw a place where art and commerce could meet.

At first, that might seem like a strange combination. But the entrepreneur and the artist are not that different. Both rely on creativity, big ideas and visions others don’t see. Both turn limited resources into unlimited opportunity. And both believe deeply in what they do.

With all this potential, I couldn’t bear to see the Stutz destroyed. So I bought it and went to work renovating it. Today, the Stutz is home to more than 120 painters, sculptors, photographers, designers and artisans, plus corporate offices, advertising pros, architects, light industry and other commercial enterprises.

Memories of that original vision were stirred this fall when I attended the annual Start with Art Luncheon along with more than 1,200 community leaders and arts supporters. There we heard about a new Arts Council of Indianapolis and Cultural Development Commission effort to encourage individuals and businesses to buy art from local artists.

As someone who spends a lot of time at the intersection of art and commerce, I support and encourage this campaign. On a personal level, I know the thrill and reward that comes from buying art from someone you know. But I also know the impact that original, local work has on a workplace. It stirs creativity. It inspires employees to see the level of art made in their own city. It makes employees proud to work for an organization that’s hip enough to know about art and buy local art.

And it also helps to position Indianapolis as a place where art and the entrepreneurial spirit thrive together. If Indianapolis becomes well-known as a place that fosters both art and the spirit of entrepreneurship, the reputation could help set us apart in the increasingly competitive economic development race. Companies interested in relocating look for spirited communities, so let’s boldly promote Indianapolis as a center for art and entrepreneurial thinking.

The good news is that it’s not hard to foster this spirit. You can start by buying a few small pieces and incorporating them into your home or business. Or, if you’re already an art collector and buyer, look locally first. Some who think it’s necessary to go to New York or Chicago to buy good art will be surprised by the high quality of art that’s available right here in Indianapolis. Take some time and look.

Visit local galleries or shows. Use the Arts Council of Indianapolis as a resource-the work of more than 400 local visual artists can be found at The council is developing a printed guide that will reference different types of art and provide a directory of art consultants and galleries that specialize in working with corporate clients. In the meantime, if you need guidance on purchasing local art, call the Arts Council at 631-3301.

Not everyone can recruit a high-tech company to the city or buy a building to house artists and entrepreneurs. But everyone can encourage those types of endeavors. The more we support local artists, the stronger the cultural community and the more attractive Indy is to new businesses and individuals.

Woodard is a local entrepreneur.

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