Patrick Flaherty and Kyle Herrington are busy men this time of year. Inside the gorgeous Marilyn K. Glick School of Art on the banks of White River, these two men plan what has grown into a major cultural event for the city: the Fifth Third Bank Broad Ripple Art Fair.
"It's the single largest fundraiser for the Indianapolis Art Center," says Flaherty, the Director of Exhibitions & Artist Services at the Center. "It is a critical fundraiser."
The Indianapolis Arts Center serves over 250,000 visitors a year with a range of programs from ArtReach, which provides art education to children in underserved areas of Indianapolis, to their wide variety of adult art classes. While the classes charge a fee to defray the costs, ArtReach and the public galleries need money from elsewhere and almost a sixth of it comes from BRAF.
Flaherty confirms "the focus is obviously on the artists," but not just the visual ones. "We have four stages with musical entertainment going on the whole weekend and around 30 different food vendors. There's fair food but also vegetarian options. It's a wide variety."
The artists are varied, too, according to Herrington, who is BRAF's Artist Committee Chair. "We usually get 900 applications for 230 spots. They submit four images and in February we have our jury. It's one of the only juries that's open to the public."
The job of the jurors is to sort through the hundreds of images from artists across the country and select the few that will make it into show. "We charge them with originality and craftsmanship, not salability," says Herrington. "And they get awesome art."
BRAF isn't just for artists out of town. A number of artists from Indianapolis have work that holds up on the national level. One such artist is Allison Ford, an Indiana University alum with a studio at the Harrison Center for the Arts.
This close to the fair, Ford's studio is crammed with pieces she's finishing to bring to the show - shards of mahogany and oak on their way to becoming necklaces and rings. This is her first time as a participant in the fair, and she wants to make an impression.
"I've applied before," says Ford, "but I feel like I really brought it to the next level this year."
Ford's work explores the beauty in some of Indiana's most under-appreciated denizens: insects. Her primary medium is wood, and she uses various metals to inlay the shapes of cicadas and beetles in patterns that meld with the natural grain of the wood.
While it's her first time running a booth at the fair, she's been a fan and attendee for years. "The grounds of the Art Center are just beautiful. It's a great place to just be outside," says Ford. And of course, she loves the opportunity to look at the other artists' work. "There's some fantastic eye candy."
Emma Overman is another artist from Indianapolis with a booth at the fair. Her acrylic painting style features surreal characters and settings and are currently on display at the City Gallery. It's Overman's second time at BRAF, and she too is finishing some pieces for the fair (when she isn't caring for her 19-month-old daughter).
"I applied ten years ago and didn't get in," says Overman, who likes to take her daughter to see some of the exhibits at the Art Center, "but my work has progressed dramatically in the meantime."
The Indianapolis native started painting in college at Hannover, but has done her best work since her daughter was born. "So many baby holding hours, I'd sit a painting across the room and just think 'what do you need?'"
"There are few good fairs this close to home right now," says Overman, and BRAF is one of them.
The Broad Ripple Art Fair has some of the best artists, music and food in one of the most beautiful locations of any fair in the region. But part of what makes the Indianapolis Arts Center special is that it's a hands-on learning environment, and that doesn't stop during the fair.
"At a lot of fairs, you might find a pottery wheel tucked in out there," says Flaherty, "here we go ahead and open up our 'laboratory' for the public."
Flaherty, who took over organizing the fair three years ago, has made it a personal mission to give attendees a chance to get into the classrooms at the art center.
"Our mission is to serve everyone two years old and up. To demystify art," says Flaherty. "You'd be hard pressed to find another fair where you can do a scratch mold and have it cast in aluminum right in front of you."
"We have three art activity areas for kids too," says Herrington, "and they all relate to our summer camp theme, which this year is 'Under Construction.' It's just another glimpse into what we do to get people excited about art."
"The kids are going to be using biodegradable packing peanuts to contribute to this sculpture," says Flaherty. The collaborative work of all those younger attendees will then be displayed within one of the galleries at the Art Center. "The kids can come back to the Art Center and see their creation."
"It's a good feeling," says Flaherty. "It's a good weekend, there are tons of attendees, and the artists get a chance to sell their wares, and the fans get to meet the artists."
Check out the website for more information on the Broad Ripple Art Fair and to purchase your tickets early at a reduced price.