New airport terminal throws spotlight on art: Foundation to raise more money to finish major work

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A group of professionals wearing hard hats walks into the climate-controlled pedestrian bridge that links a parking garage to the new terminal at Indianapolis International Airport.

Circular ceiling fixtures light up in a pattern of red and blue, and a chorus of electronic-sounding sighs greets them: “Ahhh.” The playful, interactive installation by Los Angeles-based Electroland is called “Connections,” and it’s expected to become a favorite of the traveling public.

The Indianapolis Airport Authority dedicated $3.89 million of the $1.1 billion terminal budget to public art. The terminal, which opens to passengers Nov. 12, has 36 pieces so far-enough murals, sculptures and suspended installations to fill a small museum.

At one security checkpoint, travelers will see Dixie Friend Gay’s “Autumn Prairie Morning,” an upclose view of grassland wildlife. Passengers awaiting flights in Concourse A might find themselves bathed in blue light as the sun shines through giant, south-facing glass panels.

Blackburn Architects of Indianapolis administered the public art project.

“I consider this a tremendous milestone to have so many pieces installed for the opening,” said Alpha Blackburn, CEO of the firm. “It is by no means finished.”

Even with the unprecedented budget for art, airport officials will have to raise more money to finish all that’s been proposed. A towering sculpture slated for a seven-acre site near the terminal’s new entrance at exit 68 on Interstate 70 remains without a commission. “IND” by Joe C. Nicholson was estimated to cost $850,000.

The recently formed IND Foundation will have to raise most of that $850,000. The board of directors includes Blackburn, airport authority Chairman Randall Tobias, and authority Executive Director John Kish.

The foundation made its first plea for donations at a reception for 1,000 civic leaders and arts patrons Oct. 10. Blackburn said several donations have trickled in since the reception.

“It’s very encouraging,” she said.

Along with finishing the entrance piece, Blackburn hopes the foundation can raise enough money for a few more installations, temporary exhibits and performances in Civic Plaza, the public hub of the new terminal.

The seven-year project was her firm’s first foray into public art, an area where it would like to attract more clients.

“We have carved a niche from this experience,” she said.

The original plan called for commissioning 17 artists to create 40 pieces. Nearly all those are finished, or commissioned. (One mural is delayed until next year because Hurricane Katrina displaced the artist, Marcus Akinlana, from his home in New Orleans.)

Last December, the airport authority chose Nicholson, an Evansville native who teaches and owns a design company near San Diego, to do the main entry piece. Nicholson plans to illuminate 35-foot glass panels with LED lights and spell out the airport’s code name, IND. The sculpture would sit atop a three-tier mound, surrounded by earthworks.

Ted Givens, executive vice president at Blackburn, said building the mound alone may cost more than $100,000. It was difficult to find art for the site that would fit in the nearly $4 million budget, he said.

“To have any impact, you have to have a really big piece,” Givens said.

Nicholson said via e-mail that he wanted to represent Indiana’s history and varied geography with images of Indian burial mounds, agriculture and high technology.

“It will announce the airport from the air, from I-70 and from the airport entry road. It’s a ‘gateway’ to the airport,” he wrote.

Nicholson said it’s unusual for an organization to run out of money after announcing a project.

“I think the only thing I can do is explain my concepts to prospective contributors,” he said. “The real burden is on the arts groups in Indy and their patrons.”

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