- Andrew Lyon, head of Indianapolis' newest arts organization, the Circle City Chamber Group. Photo by Mark Lee.
Andrew Lyon is a saxophonist at home in jazz and pop circles, president of The Circle City Chamber Group and music director and conductor of the CCCG Orchestra. NUVO caught up with Lyon in the midst of his planning CCCG's 2011 opening event.
NUVO: What is Circle City Chamber Group? What makes it different?
Lyon: The Circle City Chamber Group is Indianapolis' newest arts organization with a focus on highlighting the city's top visual, culinary and musical artists in a bold new approach, bringing the arts to audiences and bringing a new audience to the entire arts community.
Most arts organizations focus on one facet of the arts; CCCG presents three facets in a perfectly balanced manner at every event.
Without a permanent home or set group of artists and musicians we can be as creative as possible. We're working on "audience development" for the entire city's arts community.
For "Our World of Art" on Feb. 17, we're premiering newly designed dishes from Westin Hotel executive chef Kimberly Stanek, new photography from John Scott, and the Midwest premiere of music by David Sartor in addition to music by Leonard Bernstein.
NUVO: What are your goals for CCCG?
Lyon: I want the seasoned arts patron to experience the arts in an entirely new way and someone new to the arts to discover the arts are not intimidating but accessible, available and inviting.
During my WFYI "Art of the Matter" radio interview host Sharon Gamble said: "So basically you're like the gateway drug to the arts." I said you're exactly right. I want people to come, try a bit of this a bit of that with us until they find something that really peaks their interest and go on to invest themselves in that arena.
CCCG audiences are making emotional connections by talking to the artists about their works' inspiration, their background and upcoming events. We can build an audience if we allow them to invest themselves in the art. The audience is just listening to music, or they are just looking at art until they invest themselves emotionally. Once they do that, they're hooked.
NUVO: Who is your target audience?
Lyon: While CCCG welcomes the seasoned arts-goer, it's the 25-40 year old young professionals who don't normally spend their free time in the concert halls or art museums that I want to see more of at our events and at others around the city. My staff works hard to create an intimate, unassuming, welcoming and relaxed "after-hours" setting to explore the arts at their own pace. Circle City is cultivating a new educated and inquisitive audience.
NUVO: What previous events have you had for CCCG?
Lyon: Since we started in August 2008, we've hosted photography, paintings, custom jewelry; quail eggs, ox tail, martinis; chamber orchestra, ragtime piano and saxophone quartet. Nothing is off limits. Future events will have themes like "Waffles," "Baseball," "Teachers & Their Students," "Flight;" you name it, we'll find a way show how it can be inspired by, or has been inspiration for the arts.
NUVO: How do you choose performers and partnerships with other organizations?
Lyon: They all have connections to Indianapolis — grew up, went to school, or have moved here because they see opportunities in Indianapolis. I seek out artists who have a passion for their work, are not afraid to express themselves and their chosen art in new ways, and share my desire to cultivate an educated audience for the future of the arts community.
I look for the locally owned/based organizations wanting to see Indy grow. They're from every field and they understand investing in the arts means investing in one of the most vital components of our city.
NUVO: What prompted you to establish CCCG?
Lyon: While I was working on my Masters degree in orchestral conducting at Butler University, I worked as a bouncer in bars, including Blu, Red Room and Blue Martini. I love nightclub dance music, the energy it brings out in a crowd, and I love being around people having fun with their friends. But I also realized this was probably the only music they had on their iPods (mixed in with some classic rock for good measure). I needed to find a way to get them involved with the nightlife beyond the nightclubs, but not to take them away from something they obviously enjoy doing. I started with a simple concept: get them off the bar stools and into the concert halls, and then right back into the bars as a fun learning experience.
I'm a musician – a conductor, but I wanted to bring other arts to the table. Throughout my mother's tenure as President of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago alumni association I basically grew up in the museum, so I wanted art involved. My brother and his wife are gourmet chefs, and I've always admired the creativity and hard work that goes into cooking. It's definitely one of the most under-rated, taken-for-granted art forms in our society. Food was in.
Talking with Katelin Reeves, a coworker at Blu who is CCCG's Vice President and my rock through our first events, it was obvious the final component to set us apart is top shelf booze. I know what a great bartender can come up with, given the right ingredients, to expand beverage horizons and challenge sense of adventure.
NUVO: What makes Andrew Lyon 'tick'?
Lyon: Hearing someone say, "I'm not the arts type," "I'm not smart enough for that," or "I'm not the artsy type." Even if they don't paint like Picasso or cook like Wolfgang Puck, they can be involved with the arts.
NUVO: What's your 'back story'?
Lyon: I grew up surrounded by art in Chicago, and with a cousin down the street who played trumpet for Woody Herman, Buddy Rich, James Brown and Dizzy Gillispie. I've attributed my passion for visual art to my mother, but my passion for music comes from her paternal grandfather, Teofilo Martinez.Born and raised in Mexico, he was a Mariachi who taught his friends to play, and together they would perform for all the local special events: birthdays, quinceañeras, holidays – if there was a crowd that needed music, he was there.
My mother taught me guitar. I sang in choir until I started playing saxophone in 4th grade. I never looked back. I earned my BS in Saxophone Performance at Illinois State University, then turned to my true passion: conducting. There's just something about the raw energy that comes from great musicians playing together, and you being up in front with all that sound crashing into and over your body. Everyone should have the opportunity to stand in front of an orchestra and experience that moment. It's the most amazing, humbling, awe-inspiring feeling anyone can have.
NUVO: Why and when did you come to Indianapolis?
Lyon: On my 23rd birthday, Dec. 31, 1999, I came to Indianapolis to spend New Year's with my Uncle Dave at the Slippery Noodle Inn (he was a door man). I then drove to Indy about once a month from Illinois State to work as a Slippery Noodle doorman and experienced great musicians. After studying and working in Las Vegas, I came to Butler for graduate school in '06; finished the Masters degree in '07 and got to work on Circle City Chamber Group in early '08.
NUVO: What besides CCCG do you devote time and energy to?
Lyon: I spend my mornings teaching motor skill development to kids ages 18 months – 8 years through a program in Carmel called Lil' Kickers. Basically, I use soccer as a medium to help them develop motor and social skills –I get to goof around and be silly with them all morning, and get paid to do it. Kids are amazing people with so much energy and imagination.
NUVO: What else should NUVO readers know about Andrew Lyon?
Lyon: I love Guinness, prairie fires; I bleed Cubbie blue, I'm a die-hard Bears fan and [when not playing the Bears] will root for the Colts (Peyton Manning was amazing in Super Bowl XLI). I want Yats to open in my living room, and I am grateful to the amazingly wonderful (and patient) volunteers who keep me sane and share the CCCG passion. In fact, buy me a pint and I'll tell you all about it.
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