Broad Ripple Murals

by Marion Simon Garmel

The idea is to bring art back to Broad Ripple and Broad Ripple back to the artists.

“We believe in public art. We believe in Broad Ripple as an enclave for artists. We are the advocate and enabler,” says Brooke Klejnot, executive director of the Broad Ripple Village Association (BRVA). She has been on the job five years, and her most noticeable project is the Broad Ripple Mural Initiative, a partnership between the BRVA and Broad Ripple Art Walk. Their goal is to add three works of art to the village every year to create a distinctive sense of place in the city’s only cultural district outside of downtown.

Murals already are popping up all over Broad Ripple. The BRVA serves as middleman, finding interested artists and locating walls where murals can be painted, introducing artists to property owners, and advising on contracts. “Show me a blank wall and I see a mural,” says Klejnot.

She is not the only one with such vision. Last summer, mural artists Matt Lawrence and James Quebbeman taught a summer camp art class at the Indianapolis Art Center that concentrated on graffiti art. Grafitti? You mean that harsh, ugly, vandalism that mars so many walls and properties?

No, the artists explain. Graffiti or street art refers to the method of application—aerosol spray can—and the kind of paints used. The works can have a theme or not. They can be the work of one person or many.

Calling themselves Indy Urban Artist Network, Matt and James trace their inspiration for becoming artists to the late Larry Hurt, art teacher at Ben Davis High School. “There are a lot of artists in this town who owe their careers to him,” Lawrence said. Quebbeman agreed. “There are a lot of good art programs in Indianapolis high schools.”

The mural their campers ages 14 to 18 painted last summer, with artist names included, featured musical motifs, cartoon characters, monsters, and labyrinths. It will be painted over this summer by the new class, thus eliminating the need for long-term maintenance.

One of the problems with outdoor murals, according to the artists, is that they are subject to the elements—sun, rain, and wind—and to fading, cracking and crumbling. There is a sealant, said the artists, but it seems to make the murals too hot and the colors run.

And that is why the traffic signal boxes in Broad Ripple with little murals painted on them are all black and white. They are easy to touch up. They also are all monsters. “Nobody ever asks,” Klejnot said, “Why monsters?”

They were inspired by a Better Blocks Pop-Up Event on Broad Ripple Avenue in October 2015, where participants built monsters. “They didn’t have to be perfect,” said Klejnot. “They were monsters.”

After the project was over she displayed the monsters in the BRVA storefront window. As families passed by, Klejnot overheard children say, “Oh, look, it’s the Better Block monsters,” as though they owned them. “So what better theme than those monsters on the traffic signal boxes,” she said.

The Arts Council of Indianapolis has a public art program for painting traffic signal boxes on electrical poles; the Village traffic signal box designs were inspired by that program but are not part of it. It would have taken too long to get them up, Klejnot said, and she is all about speed and affordability.

You might say public money could better be spent on something large and professional. And, says Michelle Winkleman, director of education and outreach at the Indianapolis Art Center, plans are afoot for a large professional mural on the rest of the floodwall along East 67th Street, but permissions are needed and plans must be finalized. Still, says Winkelman, people hear about the camp mural and take selfies with it, and it makes children smile. “What is wrong with that?”

A 2011 Broad Ripple mural, painted as part of the 46 for XLVI Super Bowl public art project, is Amy Rheinhardt’s Swept Away, the wonderful Chagall-esque floating fiddler and his community on the west side of George’s Tacos, 803 Broad Ripple Avenue.

Mural artists Erica Parker and Rafael Caro working on “Astro.”

On the south side of the building, in the alley separating it from the Alley Cat Lounge’s Front Room, is a new mural called Astro by artists Erica Parker and Rafael Caro. It features a Labrador Retriever, Indiana pine trees, and some abstract designs. The colorful vision, painted in aerosol and brushwork, was inspired by Indiana’s natural landscape and Broad Ripple’s love of dogs.

The artists, who met at the Herron School of Art and Design, call their company Blend Murals + Design. They expect to invite more local artists to take part in their projects. Building owner Rich Richey paid for the supplies and the artists donated their time.

Richey had another wall available, painted solid white, on a building he owns just north of the Broad Ripple post office. In May, when Burger Fuel brought in graffiti artists to decorate its new location on Guilford Avenue, the artists offered to donate three additional murals. Klejnot contacted Richey, and within days a new mural was in place. Richey said he is very supportive of the effort to put murals on Broad Ripple buildings. “It makes the Village look like a happening place,” he said.

Another recent artwork is the Harmony mural painted by the Department of Public Words on the Jiffy Lube at 64th Street and College Avenue. The artists also painted the Angel Wings murals along the Monon Trail, one opposite BRICS ice cream parlor and the other on the west wall of The Bungalow on Westfield Boulevard. Passersby frequently stop to take a selfie with wings.

One Thousand Bottles. Photo courtesy the daVinci Pursuit.

The BRVA facilitated these contracts and is working on art installations on the Central Canal Towpath’s Art2Art trail. BRVA is partnering with The daVinci Pursuit, a nonprofit that combines science and art, to install three temporary sculptures on the canal esplanade as part of a rotating gallery shared with two other sites in the city. A Thousand Bottles is an installation by artist Philip Campbell and science educator Mark Kesling. According to Kesling, the installation includes more than 1,000 used water bottles. “It’s designed to encourage individuals to think about the impact of their actions,” Kesling said. “It offers a visual statement of the power of each individual, picking up one discarded bottle from a waterway, and in this way, harnessing the potential of individuals acting within a community to effect change.”

Longtime Midtown resident Marion Simon Garmel is a retired arts journalist and serves as secretary of the Woman’s Press Club of Indiana.