"This probably has been the most ambitious and most challenging project I have worked on in my professional life," says Arts Council of Indianapolis chief Dave Lawrence of 46 For XLVI, the Arts Council's mural project that, since July, has been enlivening urban walls with works of art in celebration of the city's hosting the 46th annual Super Bowl.
But while the Super Bowl may be the pretext for 46 For XLVI, this project is about a lot more than an operatically hyped football game. It has resuscitated Indianapolis' faltering public art program, provided artists with meaningful work and promises to make mural art a nationally recognized part of the city's cultural profile.
Dave Lawrence combines a cherubic demeanor with executive polish. Hours of board meetings, fund raising calls and public presentations have not dampened his capacity for enthusiasm when it comes to promoting the arts, particularly when he sees an opening to — forgive the irresistible gridiron allusion here — push the ball down the field ... for a big gain.
Lawrence remembers a summer day in 2010. He was driving into work, thinking about how the city was trying to come up with a plan to address the decaying murals that were becoming eyesores on walls along Downtown's Canal Walk. City planners had been trying to figure out what to do about these surfaces for over a year but had not taken action. It occurred to Lawrence that the 2012 Super Bowl could be the trigger to not only get the canal beautified, but launch an even larger initiative.
"The mayor had said he wanted us to act boldly," Lawrence recalls. He decided to take Mayor Greg Ballard up on his challenge. During a meeting with Deputy Mayor Mike Huber, Lawrence confided, "I've got a wacky idea." What if the canal beautification plan was connected to Super Bowl XLVI through the creation of 46 murals — not only on the canal, but in neighborhoods throughout the city — by local, state and even national mural artists?
Huber immediately texted this idea to Ballard. In a matter of moments, his boss texted back: "Love it."
And 46 For XLVI was born.
- Mark Lee
- Dave Lawrence is head of the Arts Council of Indianapolis.
Murals for the city
"When I started thinking about 46 For XLVI, the one thought I had was this really needs to be a mural initiative for the city," Lawrence says today, "not just the Super Bowl. It has to live above and beyond that."
Lawrence's idea started with a Super Bowl connection, but made an extra, important leap that also linked the mural project with the Ballard administration's desire to enhance and revitalize neighborhoods. This leap informed the Arts Council's approach to site selection.
"As things started to ramp up for the Super Bowl, you started seeing articles in all the media about city fix-it lists, things that needed to be done and areas of the city that needed to be addressed," Lawrence says. "We began collecting those. We also knew there were a lot of partnerships and organizations that were already doing city beautification efforts that we could work with."
Keep Indianapolis Beautiful was an early partner that, in turn, involved the Lilly Day of Service volunteers.
Lawrence also saw 46 For XLVI as a way to rejuvenate the city's public art program. During Bart Peterson's mayoral administration, a board of civic leaders called the Cultural Development Commission was formed to serve as a nimble cousin to the Arts Council. Funded largely by the Capital Improvement Board and Lilly Endowment, part of the CDC's charge included creation of a public art initiative resulting in, among other things, an annual installation of works by such internationally recognized artists as Tom Otterness and Julian Opie.
But a change in mayoral administrations and a tanking economy put the CDC in mothballs and, with it, the public art initiative.
"Another track of this," Lawrence says of 46 For XLVI, "was my desire to reactivate that campaign, get public art happening again in the city, and bring all of those players back together."
Lawrence reconvened the CDC's Public Art Selection Committee, a collection of some of the top curators, gallery owners and museum professionals in central Indiana, to help with site selection and to adjudicate artist applications. Then, last January, the Arts Council put out a national Request For Qualifications. "We were looking for muralists from all over the country: local, regional, national, to come and do this."
There were over 150 responses. Among the artists who were ultimately selected to participate, 58 percent are local and over 20 percent are artists of color.
"One of the things we were really key on," Lawrence says, "was not putting any thematic restrictions on the murals. They didn't have to involve footballs or corn or anything like that. ... We also wanted to bring the best practices of the mural world, so we could make sure the building owner was protected, the artist was protected, the artwork was protected at all points."