As an Indy Maven ambassador and 2021 Indianapolis Woman to Watch, we’ve loved cheering Koda Witsken on from the sidelines as she impacts the Indy community for the better. We caught up with her in advance of the March Member Meetup to hear more about how she became a muralist, her plans for 2021, and life as an Indy artist.
What has been your career journey thus far?
After studying history and business in college, I stepped into sales roles in the travel industry for about 6 years. Corporate sales took me to Rhode Island, Boston, and LA. Then about three years ago, I decided that corporate cubicle life wasn’t for me. I returned to art, my lifelong passion. I started my own mural business here in Indy and haven’t looked back since!
What are some of your favorite projects you’ve done so far?
I love working with clients that hand you a vision and trust you to execute it in your own style. There is nothing better than a client relationship that has trust. Working with Sandpaper Studio and Hendricks on the Bottleworks project has been an absolute treat in that way. We have four more murals scheduled for later this year. I couldn’t be more honored that they have trusted me with the artistic vision for their historic property. I’m also currently installing a 35-foot mural downtown for the NCAA as a gift to Indy for being the host city for March Madness. It’s inside of a Boys & Girls Club, meant to inspire youngsters in the gym every day. I also love working on projects like this one that will have lasting legacies.
Who and where do you draw inspiration from?
My inspiration is largely color-based. I lean heavily into purples and teals, so when I go to a park or watch a movie, I try to notice how nature and filmmakers respectively use those colors and and try to incorporate those techniques into my painting. For example, what colors does the sun make when it shines through a leaf? What colors do movies use to imply emotion? I also draw inspiration from the people around me. I’m a big believer that your own two eyes aren’t always the best judges of color, so I ask my boyfriend James and my best friends their opinions on each and every project.
Your website mentions you have a passion for increasing community engagement and creating a sense of place. Can you describe a time you have seen your art inspire and uplift a community in this way?
Yes, I think it’s so important for public art to nurture the community in which it lives. Israel Solomon and I collaborated on a moving mural panel of Wes Montgomery, split down the middle. He painted one half, and I the other, each in our respective artistic styles. It was meant to show how Israel, a Black artist, and I could come together to celebrate Black Hoosiers’ cultural contributions to the world. We both passionately believe in positivity and unity and wanted to spread that message through public art during a divisive time in the US. This mural panel has traveled to Fishers, Noblesville, Elwood, and is on the way to Anderson soon to keep spreading this message of celebration and unity. It sat outside of Fishers City Hall during the election as voters walked past. It is sitting in front of Elwood City Hall now, which just two generations ago was a sundown town. I’m really proud to be a facilitator of these types of conversations through positivity in public art.
What will you be speaking on in this month’s Monthly Member Meetup?
I’ll be talking about art’s role in the community and specifically how businesses and individuals can engage in that!
You made our “Women to Watch in 2021” list. What are some big projects you have coming up this year?
I’m running Indy Arts Fest, a first-year event designed to highlight Indy’s public artists and arts of all kinds. It’s crazy, but Indy proportionally has a very high percentage of artist entrepreneurs compared to other states … but we are paid much less on average. I wanted to create an event that shows the world 1) why Indy is so amazing (our artists!) and 2) why Indy artists should get fairly paid for their passions. I’m going to paint over 4,000 square feet of wall space, and we will have six muralists live painting their own designs. There will be art vendors, a body painter, a chalk painter, live music, artists painting junk cars and car parts, and more. Indy Auto Man Car Dealership is sponsoring it—Labor Day, Mon. Sept 6, from 11 a.m to 7 p.m. We’re launching the website in the next two weeks or so now that we have alcohol and music sponsors lined up. We’re hoping that this becomes an annual event, similar to CRUSH WALLS in Denver!
What advice do you have for aspiring artists?
My advice? Just do it. It’s scary as hell to try to make it as an artist, but the market has never been more open to public art. So don’t dream about it—do it. Pick up a brush; apply to that callout. Start anywhere! And don’t just do it, get paid for doing it. You have skills that you’ve honed over decades and materials you’ve likely accumulated over years. You deserve to get paid for your talents and investments. It does not matter if their niece or brother or grandma paints too, and they’d do it for free…don’t take the free project. Wait for the paid one. It’s up to us to educate and retrain public art buyers that artists should get paid. Make the ask! You’ve got this!
To learn more about Koda Witsken, visit https://huemuralsbykoda.com/.
The Maven Member Meetup series gives Indy Maven members the opportunity to connect, laugh, learn, and vent virtually (for now) on the last Monday evening of every month. Members: RSVP to the event here! Not yet a member? Become one so you can attend the monthly member meetups AND receive all the other awesome Indy Maven member perks!