There seems to be a small but growing trend in Greater Lafayette of businesses and artists collaborating to bring original artwork into spaces other than a traditional gallery. Art galleries can feel intimidating to some because of the “hands off, keep quiet” atmosphere, says Diane Gee, artist and owner of Grateful Heart Gallery on Lafayette’s Main Street.

“My view is significantly different,” she says. “We need to find creative ways to make art more accessible and to help people who may never walk into a gallery understand that art can be many things.”

Since last May, Gee has served as curator for the Frontier Mainstreet Window Gallery in the Frontier Communications building at 661 Main St. The collaboration began when the artist, after many months of staring at blank windows in the building across the street while creating her own art, approached Frontier management and offered to curate displays there, if they provided the space.

Photography displayed in the Thieme and Adair Gallery in the Ross Building.(Photo: Ed Lausch)

Since then she’s worked with Frontier’s local general manager, Mike Boebinger, to put up three different shows. The fourth opened in mid-April and features what she calls “robotic gardens” designed by students and faculty in Purdue University’s electronic and time-based art department. The shows typically run six to eight weeks.

Boebinger is interested in encouraging and showcasing innovative techniques and technology in art and also wants to encourage community participation, so many of the featured art shows are interactive.

Gee also curates artwork for the Thieme and Adair Gallery, upstairs in the Ross Building at 658 Main St. This “gallery” is a long, marble hallway with great windows and lots of light. The current show features the work of local photographers Jonathan Maj and Steve Oliver, who play with perspective in their photography.

During the past three years, more than a dozen emerging artists have had their work displayed at Greyhouse Coffee & Supply Co., a Purdue campus coffee shop at 100 Northwestern Ave.

“We are big fans of the arts, including performance arts, here,” says Greyhouse manager Kevin Kirkhoff. “Displaying (art at Greyhouse) gives us a chance to showcase regional artists.”

Mike Altman, who now lives in Cincinnati, is one of those artists whose work hangs at the coffee shop. Altman also is responsible for changing the artwork every six to eight weeks, and because he takes his own work to lots of shows and festivals in the Midwest, he’s always on the lookout for a new artist to bring to West Lafayette.

Artwork on display at Greyhouse Coffee & Supply Co.(Photo: Ed Lausch)

“I try to keep up with what’s happening with artists now and am always looking for something fresh,” says Altman, whose current work features bright paintings on cardboard of cartoonish robots and quirky humans and animals. “When people come to Greyhouse they expect to find something fun and edgy, not in a dark way but in a fresh, new way.”

Artwork hung in Greyhouse is for sale, but the business doesn’t charge the artists a commission, and Altman often finds artists who are just getting their feet wet and have not previously had a showing of their work. One of the most popular artists to show at Greyhouse was West Lafayette artist Donna Provo Leuck, who creates whimsical robots out of recycled aluminum kitchen gadgets.

“Art is enriching and it’s a gift from God,” Altman says. “I look through the book of Genesis and I read that God made all these trees. He didn’t make just one kind. Why? Just because they’re beautiful. Why not be like the Creator and create art?”

Lafayette’s Paul Baldwin takes the idea of encouraging emerging artists a few steps further. Baldwin is the owner of The Black Sparrow, a pub and restaurant at 223 Main St., and Foam City, a former auto body repair shop at 409 North 3rd St., that has studio and event space.

The Black Sparrow features artwork from the owner’s personal collection.(Photo: Ed Lausch)

“Foam City is a communist art space,” says Baldwin. “It’s a low-budget, non-bureaucratic, no staff, no board, ground-up kind of place for people to come and be creative.” Bands, performance artists, and nonprofits make use of the space along with visual artists.

And displayed at The Black Sparrow are art pieces Baldwin has collected over the years. His collection, which might be described as slightly left of eclectic, has been “mined” from friends, junk stores, and even the trash, he says. There are two portraits of regular Black Sparrow customers hanging that were painted by other customers, along with works by established artists.

One of those artists is Esteban Garcia, visiting assistant professor of computer graphics technology at Purdue. Garcia creates computer-aided, electronic art and one of his pieces hangs at the Black Sparrow.

“Paul knows artists in the community and he gives them projects to work on,” says Garcia. “He enjoys being part of the creative process, and he gives artists a platform for their work.”

These venues, which could be described as cutting edge for Lafayette, are not the only non-traditional places where interesting art is displayed. Henriott Group, a risk management company, has been making space available to artists since the company moved to the Renaissance Center at 250 Main St., about three years ago, says controller Elizabeth Lockrey.

The Henriott Group has been making space available in its office to local artists for more than three years(Photo: Ed Lausch)

Lockrey, who is curator for the Henriott art shows, says a large variety of art styles has been featured, including prints and oil and watercolor paintings by professional artists, college students, and new artists. A folk art painter herself, Lockrey is on the board of the Art Museum of Greater Lafayette and often finds artists for the Henriott shows through that association.

Henriott Group chairman Gary Henriott “really promotes the arts in the community,” she says. “It was part of the plan from Day One” to provide a venue for artists to display their work. A show opened April 21 and features the work of print maker Sarah Kristine Caffery.

Henriott also displays pieces from his private collection in the business. He buys something new every year at the Round the Fountain Art Fair, which is held each Memorial Day weekend on the grounds of the Tippecanoe County Courthouse in downtown Lafayette. Some of those pieces are a permanent part of the Henriott Group’s decor.

Round the Fountain also is the source of what is perhaps the largest art collection on display in a public, non-traditional space in Tippecanoe County. About 43 pieces procured from the art fair during its almost 41-year history hang in the pink marble hallways of the Tippecanoe County Courthouse.

The Tippecanoe County Courthouse is home to the largest art collection on display in a public, non-traditional space in Tippecanoe County.(Photo: Ed Lausch)

At least one piece is purchased each year from an artist exhibiting at the fair, says Jim Bodenmiller, who curates the courthouse collection and has served on the fair committee since the event’s inception. The piece is purchased with proceeds from the fair and installed in one of the building’s four corridors.

“It’s quite an eclectic collection,” Bodenmiller says. “There are oils, acrylics, water colors, mixed media, graphics. The pieces have to hang on the wall, so we don’t have any three-dimensional works.”

A quick walk through those corridors reveals traditional landscape pieces, some by local artists that depict area landmarks, abstract paintings, photography and more. Bodenmiller describes the collection as “very high quality” and says the fair committee is committed to adding to the collection.

The body of work was moved to the art museum last year to celebrate the fair’s 40th year, but otherwise all the pieces remain at the courthouse. Bodenmiller concedes that many people don’t think of going to the courthouse just to see the artwork, particularly because everyone has to go through a metal detector and security check to enter the building.

“But it’s always there and we encourage more people to take the time to see it,” he says. “It’s such a wonderful collection.”

We need to find creative ways to make art more accessible and to help people who may never walk into a gallery understand that art can be many things.”

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