The Indianapolis Star (2024)

Dave Bangert|

In a studio above McCord Candies near Sixth and Main streets on Tuesday morning, Zach Medler was telling about another trip to the mayor's office to put out a fire sparked by "small spaces: Lafayette," the public art project he's curating in downtown.

The last time, early on in a project that started in July, it was about an unfinished sketch of a riot cop wearily peeking out at the Lafayette Police Department's parking lot. This week, it was about what to do about an ominous zombie landscape on the Haywood Printing building at Fifth and Ferry streets.

"It's dark, it's grotesque and that is the point, I think," Medler said of the mural-size piece by Sagan Newham, an artist who teaches at Purdue University.

That was the point, at least, that made the mayor's phone ring.

"We came up with a solution," Medler said. "And part of that solution is that maybe that's not the best place for that piece."

Everyone's a critic. That's the whole truth and nothing but, especially with a proliferation of more than 50 pieces filling downtown alleys and covering business walls in a $20,000, city-commissioned project slated to stretch into October.

As "small spaces: Lafayette" approaches critical mass, here's the question about a project that gave unprecedented freedom — a Lafayette-size portion, of course — to artists to basically do what they want: Would the artists and city hall be willing to do this again?

Let Medler go first.

"This was eye-opening for me in a lot of ways," Medler said. "I thought we'd get funded, come in and have fun, and that would be it. I didn't think the complaints would be as loud and vicious as they were at times. … Then again, I can't believe we got to do it and so many building owners said, 'Yes.' Would I do it again? Absolutely. I think this just gets the ball rolling."

Margy Deverall, a planner and project manager in the city's economic development department, is the point person at city hall for "small spaces: Lafayette." She said 90 percent of what she's heard has been positive.

"Then again, the other 10 percent who hate it go directly to the mayor's office," Deverall said.

Mayor Tony Roswarski didn't blink at that "small spaces" ratio.

"It's not like there have been a lot of complaints," Roswarski said. "I've heard people say they love parts of it, but maybe didn't like a certain piece. I say, that's the way it goes with art. …

"I think we'd do it again. But we might change the parameters. Maybe just let local artists do it through a (request for proposal) process. We're learning with this one."

Tom Shafer is a former West Lafayette High School art teacher who does gallery reviews for the J&C. He said he's been following the public, nonpermanent art concept from the start of "small spaces: Lafayette."

"If the work was in a gallery, the public could decide whether or not to look it. Medler's concept is that if the people see public works of art every day, then the art becomes a part of their life," Shafer said.

"When the city bought into this without subject matter and expertise guidelines, they ran the risk of underdeveloped concepts and subject matter that the general public cannot appreciate. Is some of the work poorly done? Yes. Is some of the work exceptional? Yes."

In other words, the experts say you're not obligated to like it, even in the name of some sort of forced cultural hip quotient the city was going for.

But Medler's point seems to be less about good and bad than about volume and opportunity. And with that, he makes a decent case for making "small spaces: Lafayette" more than a one-off exhibit.

"We've inundated this town with a lot of art for just a $20,000 investment. For a conservative community to say, 'Hey, you nonconservative folks, come decorate our town,' that's such a progressive idea for here," Medler said. "We've given about 30 young artists a say and a voice and a place to work. We're establishing a new set of artists who can carry us."

First, though, what to do about the zombie piece at Fifth and Ferry?

Medler said the idea was to keep it up through Halloween — "I can't believe we got that much time, honestly," he said — then do something else there.

"The fact that this is an ephemeral project lends itself to this," Medler said. "None of this is supposed to be permanent, anyway. … The idea always was to give it a two-year run and then come back. This is art that's in the present tense. To make it a museum piece — there forever — would be a waste.

"That's why we have to do it again. We have to."

Bangert is a columnist with the Journal & Courier. Contact him at Follow on Twitter: @davebangert.

The Indianapolis Star (2024)


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