More Than Just a Pretty Face
Water rumbles through the peeling pipes above, complementing the vaguely sour sewer smell that permeates the basement level. Artworks of all mediums, priced at hundreds to thousands of dollars, juxtapose the backdrop of stone walls and waxed gymnasium brick. As I continue walking along the narrow corridors, passing antiquated tiled bathrooms and endless whitewashed walls, it's hard to believe that I am actually walking through one of the most established art galleries in Indianapolis.
On my first day interning, Joanna Taft suggested to our tour group of Indianapolis Star journalists and new interns that, "There's no such thing as a good studio here at the Harrison, and yet artists still want to work here, so why is that?" The building itself is not naturally suited for an art gallery, prone to studio walls "glistening" with water droplets after heavy rain, so why are artists and visitors so interested in the Harrison Center for the Arts?
It all comes down to transparency, and, in a strange way, the building is a physical embodiment of this quality. The art market is notorious for exclusivity and intentional opacity, but with its crowded hallways and literal holes in the walls, the Harrison Center directly defies this precedent. It puts the art and their artists first, and celebrates rather than hides the messy origins of the beautiful creations now being sold for thousands of dollars . This past summer I took a class at Northwestern University where we explored the interactions between art and culture, specifically in Chicago, and our field trips ranged from major museums to independent galleries to Christie's auction house. During this intensive class, we stripped away the glamorous facade of the art market to reveal the politics of the art world. Here at the Harrison, they actively work towards transparency; artists have meals with administrators, interns are entrusted with significant festivals, shows and events cater to the surrounding neighborhoods, and the vague wear-and-tear of the facilities adds character, providing visual proof of the hard work being done and a striking contrast to a traditional, sterile gallery space.
As I learned in my summer program, it's hard to find a gallery with a greater mission than personal financial success, but this organization defies that trend. With its unusual level of transparency and strong social conscious, the Harrison Center is more than just "for the arts", it's for the community, for the city, for the people of Indianapolis. I firmly believe in the power of art to transform consciousness and foster cultural awareness, and I look forward to seeing how my personal interests in creating art and in the intersections between art and society can be applied in my internship here.