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This year marks the 50th anniversary of the OneAmerica Broad Ripple Art Fair at the Indianapolis Art Center (May 14-15). Shannon Bennett was around five years old when she attended her first Broad Ripple Art Fair more than three decades ago as a preschooler, and she was immediately enthralled with the Art Center and all that it entailed.
As soon as Shannon was old enough—age 15—she started working at the Art Center as a volunteer in the Basile Gallery Gift Shop, then she moved on to paying gigs helping with summer camps. She’s essentially been working at the Art Center ever since—with a little time away to get two bachelor’s degrees.
Now 39, Shannon has worked full-time at the Art Center since 2010 and is now the vice president of events, overseeing all the organization’s events, including the OneAmerica Broad Ripple Art Fair. This year’s art fair will feature 150 artists from across the country and an estimated 15,000 attendees.
We talked to Shannon to find out more about her passion for the Indianapolis Art Center and what to expect at this year’s art fair.
What was it about the Art Center that you loved so much when you were a child, and how did you know you wanted to build a career there?
I grew up in Broad Ripple with my parents owning a business in the neighborhood just a block from the Art Center. I remember my parents bringing my brother and me to the Art Fair every year growing up. As I got older, the Art Center became a bit of a second home to me—a place I felt welcomed and accepted not only as a young artist but as a unique individual.
Everyone was so kind and eager to share their artistic knowledge, even to a teenager who seemed to never leave. I didn’t think about it too much while growing up and becoming an adult, but now that the Art Center has been a part of my life going back to volunteering in the gift shop 24 years ago, I am proud to realize that this place has always been home to me. A community. A family. And as my children grow up and continue to take art classes here, I can be sure that this will be a community and family for them, too.
What is your favorite memory of working at the Art Center so far, and why?
There have been so many over the years, for so many different reasons. I feel like every stage of my history with the Art Center has brought with it memories that I will cherish forever. I fondly remember assisting with summer camps and getting to meet so many wonderful children who shared the same passion for art as I did at their age—I’ll never forget that time they made a life-size version of me out of clay!
For my high school graduation, I begged my mother to buy me an amber necklace made by one of the Art Center faculty, because I obsessed over it every time I worked a shift in the gift shop. I also remember how excited I was when an Art Center staff member bought my artwork that I won an award for in the youth division of the Annual Student Show when I was 17.
Fast forward to the joy it brings me to see my oldest daughter, who has the same love for art as I do, in summer camps, kickstarting her own journey here at the Art Center. And year after year, I love coming together with my coworkers after the completion of Broad Ripple Art Fair weekend, all of us tired and worn out, but still laughing and sharing stories of the crazy long days that it takes to put on the Art Fair. I know there are many more memories yet to be made, and I can’t wait to experience each and every one.
Do you have anything special planned to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Broad Ripple Art Fair for attendees? Are there any new and exciting aspects of the Art Fair that visitors can expect?
This year we are bringing back some key components of past art fairs and introducing some new traditions. Visitors can expect juried, high-quality art plus a music-forward festival atmosphere, curated by Indy Jazz Fest, that will start with the Friday Night Preview Party and continue through the weekend.
The grounds will be alive with artists from all over the country, art activities for people of all ages, and art demonstrations both in and out of the studios. We are bringing back one of my favorite areas, the Emerging Artist Area, that showcases Art Center and local college students.
And to celebrate our 50th anniversary, visitors can stop by our “Memory Wall” at the Art Center tent and make their own memories by adding their mark and selfie to our display, featuring photos from some of the very first Broad Ripple Art Fairs. At the Art Center, we work to build community through art and this is the premiere community event in central Indiana.
What is one of your biggest challenges when planning such a large-scale event, and how did you overcome it?
One of the biggest challenges I have come across is time. There never seems to be enough of it. Being a wife and mother of two who works full-time, days fill up pretty quick all on their own. When you add in all the extra planning it takes to tackle an event the size of the Art Fair, that full schedule starts to overflow at times.
Thankfully, I have a loving husband and two amazing kids who see and appreciate my passion for what I do and for the Art Center. I am also very lucky to work alongside individuals that share that same passion. It’s pretty simple: I like my job, and I love the people I work with even more.
What can we look forward to from the Indianapolis Art Center in the future? Any upcoming events or openings we should know about?
I’ll start by saying, this year is going to be a good one! After we celebrate the 50th OneAmerica Broad Ripple Art Fair, we jump right into an event-filled year with back-to-back events. Summer concert series with Indy Jazz Fest; art fairs with Indy Urban Market; weekly yoga classes with Santosha School; and film screenings with Indianapolis Black Documentary Film Festival, Kan-Kan, and Heartland Film.
Not to mention the Art Center’s “Art From the Heartland” exhibition coming in June, Summer and Fall camps, the annual ArtSparkle fundraiser in August, Locally Made: Fall Festival in October, Veterans Art Day in November, and the many events we have lined up for our yearly Winter Art Sale. With all of this going on, in addition to our expansion across Indianapolis and the surrounding region in an effort to meet people where they are with art, you’ll want to make sure you mark your calendars; you won’t want to miss a single one.
Stephanie Groves is the Executive Editor of Indy Maven.
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