Most days at about 11 a.m., one of the smallest fine arts galleries in the universe opens its tiny cardboard doors to the public. Alan Schoff, curator and host, begins his -- by now perfected -- routine of hanging the diminutive charcoal drawings of tornadoes and storms by Sheila Sellinger and the two-inch square paintings of sinking barns and anthropomorphic rolls of carpet by Steve Paddack inside galleries measuring about two feet and named after the colors they are painted in.
He neatly arranges numerous rocks and pebbles turned into specimens by the hands of sculptor Carla Knopp -- they fit in several galleries: the Teal one and the Orange one, and inside precious glass domes and jewelry boxes. Vintage bottles containing photo images by Anita Giddings, Herron School of Art and Design Lecturer, collect light by the window. There is a shelf with boxes brimming with medical illustrations ranging from the 1960s to the early 2000s by Phil Wilson next to them. Everywhere you look in the Sideshow Art and Odditorium, there is something to muse over.
I first heard about the Sideshow after receiving a mysterious friend request on Facebook, it was right about the time The 11 Collective had its first pop-up show at Amelia's Bakery. I noticed many of the works featured on the Sideshow website were made by members of the collective, and so I went over to check it out. What I saw was incredible. Several artists -- some of Indy's finest -- had created small work specifically for Sideshow's tiny galleries.
In another life, I am a Gertrude Stein and I can collect the work of all my favorite artists, but in this life, opportunities like these only come once in a while for me. Exchanging my own work with other artists, lending the walls of my house for storing large work, or finding artwork within my financial reach are essentially the only ways I can surround myself with the work of the artists I love. Sideshow Art Odditorium makes the latter scenario an option for art lovers with small pockets.
"We wanted to do something different and we had the idea to open a gallery shop," says Schoff, whose pointy blond beard and mustache somehow give Sideshow a seal of legitimacy with a "just right" amount of eccentricity. He has always seen himself as an advocate for the arts; he's a music and theater lover. But he has also been married to local artist Becky Wilson for 29 years, to which he partly attributes his immense enthusiasm for visual art. Both Schoff and Wilson have been part of the local arts scene the various times they've returned to Indianapolis from living in California; Wilson was a founding member of 431 Gallery and both Schoff and Wilson participated in various roles with Stutz Artists Association during the '90s.
"She's been below the radar to some degree," says Schoff about Wilson. "But she was even one of the 85 People to Watch in 1985 by Indianapolis Monthly Magazine" he says.
Finding themselves on their third stint in Indianapolis -- this time with their 12-year-old daughter Naomi -- they found a new vibrant arts scene they had not experienced before. There are currently more galleries to visit on First Friday than there have ever been. Still they asked themselves how they could bring art to new people and reach those who don't go to First Friday. Hence their location in one of the busiest and most diverse spots downtown: Indianapolis City Market, on the second floor.
"I am an ambassador for the arts here," says Schoff, "I'd say 95 percent of people have never been to an art gallery." And so he sees it as a 95 percent opportunity for education and for people to discover their ability to respond to art. He also doesn't take his job of ambassador for the arts lightly, one of the walls of Sideshow is dedicated to gallery flyers and city maps for people to locate galleries during First Friday. "We are introducing some of our city's top talent to a local audience that has not yet been introduced," he says.
But serious adults are not the only people who enjoy the sights and mysteries of the Odditorium, "One kid came back after seeing Anita Giddings' vintage bottles with photos in them to purchase it for his nana," says Schoff, "at a young age he is already exposed and able to partake in supporting the local arts scene."
A while after Sideshow's closing time, before saying goodbye to Schoff, I linger by the Orange Gallery, particularly admiring Steve Paddack's miniature works. I have been infatuated with his color palette and subject matter since I first saw them, and decide I cannot leave without one of his paintings.
I tell myself that I can sacrifice fancy dinners this month or scare up some additional freelance gigs here and there. And with that, Schoff completes my transaction, handing me a bag with a tiny brown box inside. As I carry my one-of-a-kind Midwest treasure home, I already feel a big love for my new little art.