By: Donald Perin


Public art and private arts organizations are on the rise throughout Hamilton County.  Organizations such as Nickel Plate Arts, and the Fishers Arts Council, along with governmental agencies like the Hamilton County Convention and Visitors Bureau and the town of Fishers, are working to increase the amount and availability of art in communities in the county.

Development in a town’s art culture is shown to have positive effects on economic growth, according to a study published by the National Endowment for the Arts.

Ann Markusen, with Markusen Economic Research Services, and Anne Gadwa, with Metris Arts Consulting, conducted the study saying, “creative places nurture entrepreneurs, expanding the ranks of self-employed artists and designers and related workers who market their creations far afield and often employ others in whole or part.”

Public Affairs Specialists for the NEA, Sally Gifford, said that many of the NEA’s grant programs for artists and arts organizations come with the understand that if residents bring cultural resources to a community, there will be an incentive to attract more people to that community.

“The arts attract people to live in communities, to spend their recreational time in communities, and they attract people to learn in communities,” Gifford said. “Bringing arts resources into these places can only help build up communities.”

Nickel Plate Arts, located in Noblesville, Ind., has been in operation for over a year and works to promote art along the Nickel Plate railroad in the towns of Fishers, Cicero, Atlanta, Arcadia and Tipton, and the city of Noblesville.

Nickel Plate Arts’ Director Aili McGill said that the organization is working on issues such as maintaining existing art galleries.  McGill also talked about helping start new projects such as John Gilmore’s Logan Street Sanctuary, which is now used as a venue for musicians and a gallery for artists.

“I think some of [the art development] has been because there’s such good research that good art culture drives economic development in communities, which catches the eyes of officials,” McGill said. “I think some of these communities are at the point where they’ve finished other things on their strategic plans so they have time and space to work with the arts.”

A master plan of art development nears completion in the town of Fishers.  Rachel Johnson, the director of planning for the Fishers Department of Community Development, said that the plan creates a discussion between the town government and the residents as to what identity they want for the town, and what art they should show to reflect that.

“We want to create this sense of place and help foster the identity of Fishers, a lot of a town’s identity is identified by art,” Johnson said. “If we can express that through local artists I think it creates and environment where people in the community can enjoy the art and their community.”

The town is already implementing pieces of their master plan, according to Johnson, through a 360-foot mural to be installed in the town’s pocket park along the side of a brick building at 8684 E. 116th Street.

Jocelyn Vare, president of the Fishers Arts Council, said that they received 17 proposals for the mural project, and selected 21-year-old Fishers native Nekoda Witsken to paint the mural.

“I think for me, I hope to have the town government and the town residents make a long term commitment to art and culture in our community,” Vare said, “being comfortable with long term investment into things that will last.

Funding for many of these projects comes from grants through the Indiana Arts Commission, which receives its funding through the National Endowment for the Arts.  Johnson said that the funding for their projects comes in part from grants, but that the town of Fishers is exploring any and all options for funding.

The Indiana Arts Commission could not be reached for comment.

“We’re a new community, a growing community; we don’t have as well established programs for the arts,” Johnson said, “So, we’re looking at what those resources we can reach out to are.  We’re looking if there’s anything in our budget we can allocate to programs.”

Nickel Plate Arts receives funding through the Hamilton County Convention and Visitors Bureau and through corporate funding, according to McGill.  McGill said she hopes that Nickel Plate Arts will become a 501 (c)(3) organization soon, which would make it exempt from taxation by the Internal Revenue Service and would allow the organization to fundraise and apply for grants.

In Fishers, the push for art development started two years ago when the Fishers Arts Council partnered with the town to start Art in Town Hall, a program that displays artists’ works in the town’s town hall for viewing and for sale, said Vare.  She added that last year’s construction of the Nickel Plate District Amphitheatre has been a huge help, creating a venue for performing arts events.

Doug Whisman, vice president for the Fishers Arts Council and Sister Cities, and treasurer for Fishers Music Works, as well as co-owning a music academy in the town, said that the push for art development began because of passionate people getting together to try and make changes.

“People see what’s going on and want to join in and it’s been growing; it’s really been a grassroots effort,” Whisman said. “And there’s been a lot of encouragement from the town. It’s happening because in the passion, people believe in the art and they want to see it happen.”

Whisman added that in such a young community, including families with young children, it is difficult to get the public involved.  However, once a few driven individuals get a project or an organization started others get excited and join in.

“There’s a good amount of people who think it’s great, but the challenge is getting the word out,” said McGill. “It’s hard for people to support what they don’t know about.  Arts experiences have been so under communicated that there’s a low threshold of awareness.”

Whisman said that the arts community needs those driven people to get organizations started and to keep the existing ones going.  Once the public sees the success of these organizations, they will be more likely to care and become involved.