Indianapolis has its fair share of interesting people. In the art community, it seems that every few years there's a new person or organization in the spotlight for a project or initiative that has had a positive, and sometimes controversial, impact on the city. In recent years, I've reconnected with a person from my early days on Mass Ave who is quietly and steadily making her presence felt with a different sort of art initiative.
Some may know Carla Knopp as the recent owner of Dewclaw Gallery in the Circle City Industrial Complex on Brookside Avenue. (Circle City is a story in itself for another time). Until just a couple of months ago, Carla was curating exhibitions in her quaint little gallery, showing quality work by veteran and newcomers from the local art scene. Others associate her with Greg Brown of Utrillo's, others, CK Art Company; maybe Herron School of Art from the 1980's; or ever so briefly, with 431 Gallery.
Most recently, Carla has taken on a new project called IndyBam. For the lack of a better description, BAM is a mobile art gallery on a bicycle. In Carla's words, "I wanted to see personal art icons in a public art context. What started out as a business venture, turned into purely an art thing." That "art thing" is a bike and custom trailer, covered with a glass dome, Carla pedals around the city on the Cultural Trail, randomly exposing unsuspecting citizens to her art.
Better known as a 2-D artist, for this, she creates three-dimensional compositions that are somewhat referential to her paintings, often combining landscape and figurative elements. The presentation takes on a diorama quality, providing the viewer with a 360 degree experience. When she was deciding how to showcase this art, she knew where to go. "The Cultural Trail lends itself to this," Carla explains. "The smooth pavement makes it easy to get around and it allows people to discover the art, on their own". (This has got to be music to the Cultural Trail folk's ears). She goes out every other day, alternating between the 6 - 7 mile downtown loop and the Fountain Square leg. "It's interesting to see what happens each time I go out," says Carla. "The response has been very positive, most people are delighted. They see it as an unusual thing, but they also get that it makes perfect sense. They share the same 'Eureka!' moment that I had envisioning this venture."
Near the end of my conversation with her, I asked a question that I thought I already knew the answer to, but asked it anyway. Why do you do it? (What I was really asking, and she knew exactly what I meant, was at this point in your life, what compels you to take on a project like this?) She explains again that BAM started out as a business idea to do custom window paintings for downtown merchants and the trailer was a clever branding opportunity that would help her gain some notoriety. She went on to explain, "no matter how hard I tried to put all the pieces together, I couldn't make it work conceptually. But the idea of the art trailer, once it became clear to me - became a compulsion. Not everyone has the nerve to ride an art bike around downtown, but Carla says, "when I was young, I was too self-conscious to do something like this,but life events change one's priorities."
I love everything about this story. How the idea started as a money making enterprise that morphed into a cross between Performance Art and Conceptual Art; available free to the public, the use of the Cultural Trail as a catalyst for delivering the goods and Carla's insight and desire to do it in the first place. I've experienced BAM first-hand, and watched others as they experience it- both have been great, and, equally important, energizing. An idea as simple as bringing art to the public in this way seems, well - too simple. Before my conversation ended with Carla, she finished with a statement that, in her words, she knew would sound "corny". "As I ride along the west leg of the trail," she explains, "the city rises up so beautifully, and I think 'Oh I love this place'. This gut reaction startles me."
Truth be told, I guess I'm guilty of being corny too.