Worth Another Look

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On July 12th, I wrote about Alternative Spaces, giving a bird's eye view of the local art scene and the proliferation of the alternative space. Two weeks later (and unrelated), I was pleased to read Ashley Kimmel's article in NUVO talking about Earth House, one of the former downtown alternative spaces, and its rebirth of sorts in the form of Evoke Arts and Media in Broad Ripple.

I won't rehash Ms. Kimmel's fine article, and I'm not really interested in getting into the minutia of Earth House's demise. Rather, I'm more interested in how Evoke Arts and Media came to be and why Mike Oles, one of the original founders of Earth House, decided to take another swing at the plate. With Kimmel's article in hand, I called Mr. Oles and asked him point blank, why do it again?

Mike Oles was more than happy to talk. "There was a lot left on the table as a model," he replied, referring to Earth House. He spoke of how initially, starting in 2006, Earth House was a venue for movie screenings, but by 2008 it had broadened its scope to include community programs and the arts. From my perspective, Earth House was doing a good job: showing local art, serving decent coffee and providing another quality venue for music and the like. However, as I stated in my July 12th post, "alternative spaces do have a tendency to come and go." Earth House would be no exception. Oles left Earth House in 2011 and, nine months later, it closed.

As he spoke about Earth House and transitioned to my questions on Evoke Arts, I could hear the passion in his voice. When I pressed him to be specific on how Evoke Arts would be different from what he had done in the past, he focused on "social justice" issues and the need for it to be a "grass roots venue". Specifically to art, he talked of the approximate 8,000 sq. ft. available and the opportunity to do multiple exhibitions, local art selected through a somewhat informal process and a desire to be involved with the Broad Ripple cultural scene. As the conversation went on, Oles hit all the right notes when it came to working with artists and showing their work. He acknowledged the success of other arts organizations such as Bleu Collar Co-op and NopalArt.org, and the possibility of partnering with them on future exhibitions. However, there was one omission that typifies the alternative space conversation, but always shows up in the commercial gallery conversation - MONEY.

This isn't a knock; it's just the way it is. Individuals who create places like Earth House and Evoke Arts are driven not so much by the need to make money, but a passion for serving people. For commercial galleries, selling art and making money for all involved is paramount. Artists looking for venues to show their work need to know the difference. Alternative spaces can, and generally do, serve multiple purposes. The Mike Oles of the world are not art dealers, but can provide great opportunities for artists who are willing to help move the mission forward, and at the same time, do the lion's share of the work.

Even after an hour of talking, Oles rarely broke stride in his enthusiasm for Evoke's future. It's not a full-time gig for him, but even as a volunteer, I'm sure it occupies the majority of his time and brainpower. I had a sense that he wanted to get it right. Not vindication, just unfinished business. The closing of Earth House was a big loss for downtown, but after listening to Mike Oles, I'm betting Evoke Arts and Media will be a big gain for Broad Ripple and the arts community.

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