By Stephanie Dolan
First Fridays in Indianapolis are synonymous with gallery shows, concert venues and food truck festivals. Artists of every genre come together on these nights to show their work, discuss their art and encourage new and budding artists to take the leap and put their work out for public consumption.
Since March, the Beech Grove Artist Collective has been holding First Friday shows along Main Street, gaining momentum and popularity while at the same time inspiring new artists to join in and be a part of the magic.
“It started as a simple conversation on Facebook,” Claire Dillehay said. “I knew a couple of places that would be willing to host artists, and now it’s grown into 20 artists and over 10 businesses. The community has been really receptive.”
Dillehay is an art teacher at Jeremiah Gray Elementary School in Perry Township, teaching first through fifth grade.
Local talent flourishes
“Whoever is a fan of First Fridays in Irvington or Fountain Square should definitely come check us out,” she said. “We have kind of the same vibe and some really great artists selling and displaying their art. We have a lot of talent in Beech Grove that we want to showcase.”
“It’s totally something new in the community that’s been missing for a very long time,” Cherie Joy said.
Joy does custom painting work but specializes in murals. She is a graduate of the Herron School of Art and works full time at her craft.
“I’ve seen more people than ever walking on Main Street,” James Martin said. “The locals are really enjoying it. First Fridays are awesome.”
Martin, who is also a mural artist, said that art is the language of culture.
“When you infuse that into a community, then everyone in the community sees that culture; it’s like a magnet that draws everybody out,” he said.
Beech Grove’s first art festival
Another chance for the collective to draw everyone out will come on Aug. 10 with the first Beech Grove Art Festival at Sarah T. Bolton Park. The festival will include a Masterpiece in a Day contest in which participants will have five hours to complete a work of art. Cash prizes will be awarded to first, second and third place in the amounts of $200, $100 and $50 respectively.
“We’ll each have a booth, and there should also be at least 10 other artists there as well,” Dillehay said. “There’s going to be face painting and balloon animals, so some things for kids. And the Lions Club is going to provide food.”
Dillehay said she wants to bring the arts to as many people as possible.
“We want to make it all very accessible,” she said. “We want to make things free and easy for the public to attend.”
“There is no booth rent and no admission,” Kelsey Behl said. “We want everyone to come out.”
Behl is no stranger to First Fridays, as – before Beech Grove began their events in March – she was showing her abstract paintings at Fountain Square First Fridays.
“I live and work here in Beech Grove, and when I saw an ad about First Fridays I was like ‘finally!”, she said.
Martin, for one, hopes that the Masterpiece in a Day contest will draw out some artists who haven’t yet had the confidence to show their work in public.
“There may be people who believe they’re an artist, but they’re just not good enough,” he said. “Something like this can really pull them out. As artists, we’re our own worst critics, and so we may not value our work like we should. Often, we find out by meeting the public the value of these things. My job as an artist is to create and let the art be what it is. I learn all kinds of life lessons. I’ve got my value from it. Then you have to get it out and let it go.”
“Art offers so many beneficial things, and when I can share that I feel like I’m making a difference,”Dillehay said.
And those differences can occur for the artists just as much as the art lovers.
“I’ve just been drawing my whole life,” Matt Beeson said. “I have anxiety. It’s like journaling. I never really know what I’m doing when I start anything. I like to use poster board and sharpies, so it’s smooth and therapeutic for me at the same time. It really helps.”
Beeson is a stagehand for the local union.
“The collective is growing a lot faster that we’d anticipated,” he said. “Everything is really taking off.”
Helping to heal a mental health crisis
“We are experiencing a mental health crisis with children, and I feel like that’s my mission now as an art teacher where I can provide experiences where they can regulate their emotions and work through things,” Dillehay said. “Art education is kind of shifting into that way of teaching.”
Martin agrees that art can change lives, one masterpiece at a time.
“A lot of schools are interested in having artists come in and talk about what art actually is,” he said. “I’m thinking it’s becoming a trend for more schools to try to infuse art.”
Martin too has battled anxiety and depression, and he’s seen firsthand how art can affect his emotions.
“I feel like art really is the cure for anxiety and depression,” he said. “I’ve had severe anxiety and depression for a long time, and what I’ve found is that when I create, it silences the depression voice. When you create something, it takes away the validity of the words that depression creates. Before long, you can’t hear the negative voices. I think it helps a lot of people to create something.”
And creating something is just what the collective has in mind.
The public can enjoy First Friday along Main Street in Beech Grove Aug. 2. For more information on the Beech Grove Artist Collective, find them on Facebook or Instagram. For information on booth space and contest info for the Beech Grove Art Festival, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
“When you integrate arts into a community it helps the community thrive and grow,” Dillehay said. “Not only does it help artists, it helps businesses and it helps the people that live in the community.”