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2011 CVAs: Primary Colours

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Members of Primary Colours (left to right) Hugh Vandivier, Jim Clinger, Jennifer Hughes, Natalie Ingle, Shannan Spence, Carrie Hagans, Chelsea Ernsberger, Jenny Skehan and Brian Myers work with local artists. Photo by Mark Lee
  • Members of Primary Colours (left to right) Hugh Vandivier, Jim Clinger, Jennifer Hughes, Natalie Ingle, Shannan Spence, Carrie Hagans, Chelsea Ernsberger, Jenny Skehan and Brian Myers work with local artists. Photo by Mark Lee

If you've ever attended an event where paintings are judged as if they're in a kind of aesthetic gladiatorial combat, or found yourself venturing into truck trailers whose interiors have been turned into three-dimensional installations, you've been touched by the artists collective Primary Colours.

Founded in the late '90s by Jeff Martin and Fred Shields, Primary Colours (PC) has been on a mission to provide opportunities for a diverse group of artists, connecting them with the larger Indianapolis community. It all started with an art party called Allotropy.

"Fred and Jeff both identified a void for artists to show work outside of galleries, in nontraditional spaces," says PC board member Brian Myers. "Allotropy brought younger artists together in a group environment."

"Artists needed a way to showcase their work -- and the community needed a chance to come together," agrees current president Shannan Spence. "We try to meet artists' needs. We're trying to provide platforms for artists to come together, meet their peers and interact with the community."

Allotropy's success spawned more programs, including the gladiatorial Art Vs. Art, Toys (an annual holiday group show), Installation Nation (those truck trailers) and a series of professional development workshops cosponsored by the Arts Council of Indianapolis.

"We try to hang our hat on creating nontraditional programming," says PC vice president Jim Clinger. "We love galleries, [but] we think there are opportunities outside of galleries. As an arts consumer, I want to experience the work in different ways."

Brian Myers agrees, noting, "We're challenged with trying to come up with ideas that are creative and relevant, that make people say, 'Wow, I've never seen that before.'"

That isn't always so easy. "One of the challenges is engaging the community," says Shannan Spence. "There are so many activities and events that aren't arts-related that people can spend money on. Our job is getting people to recognize that there is value in supporting artists in this city." Spence continues, "Primary Colours has always tried to demystify the idea that artwork is something that's on a pedestal all the time, that it's people in black turtlenecks drinking fine wine. We want the average person to not be intimidated by the art gallery experience. So we try to provide other opportunities for people to come see artwork."

PC also works to assist artists' bottom lines. "Artists are focused on technique in art school, as they should be," says Jim Clinger. "They're honing their skills. Once they get out of that environment, the real world sets in. They need to know what to do to be a professional artist in this community."

PC is currently planning on hosting artist focus groups to get a better grip on what they can do to address issues that are foremost in artists' minds. It's another way PC builds the city's creative community. "We're not alone," says Brian Myers. "I think people see that artists can get together and promote themselves and make things happen in ways that would not happen otherwise."

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