In Rural Clinton County, A Nascent Art Scene Emerges
A buzz phrase in small Indiana communities the last several years has been “quality-of-life.” One group in Frankfort – a diverse town of 16,000 -- hopes to sustain an arts guild, just two years after the county’s first art gallery opened. Guild members say they’ll have to contend with inertia from the community if they want to survive.
Wendi Hall owns the Studio 6 art gallery in downtown Frankfort -- it’s a small room filled with soup cans turned into gnarled, toothy monster mouths and a colorful, collage-like portrait of Jimi Hendrix hanging above a bin of black-and-white photography. There’s not yet a sign above the door, but the place is growing.
Studio 6 is currently the only independent gallery in Clinton County, but Hall hopes to change that. She’s leading a movement to unify artists in the rural area by creating the Clinton County Arts Guild.
“People come to me and they say, ‘Well, I’m not really familiar with art,’ and it kind of makes me sad to hear that because people don’t understand that it comes down to the clothing that you choose, the type of car that you drive – everything is an art,” Hall says. “You make creative choices every day.”
Hall says especially in a rural community, a lot of people don’t go out and seek inspiration, so she’s trying to bring it to them.
An early ally of the Guild is the Frankfort Public Library, which holds its own art events across town. But Arts and Education Manager Anna Lake says it’s not a competition -- she and Hall will share contacts and tell people about each other’s programs.
“Any way that we can be involved in the community organization is good for us as well as the Arts Guild,” Lake says.
So far, Guild members have elected officers, planned multiple events, discussed how to pull more artists into the organization and begun the process of applying for official non-profit status.
Hall says right now, the Guild is a subsidiary of the Frankfort Main Street Project – a program that puts on events to promote different parts of the community -- but artists tell her they’d rather be an independent unit. With non-profit status, the Guild would be able to apply for grant money.
Tippecanoe Arts Federation Regional Services Director Katie Morrison – who knows Hall as TAF’s Clinton County representative – advised them to be persistent.
Morrison says the desire to make communities attractive is making art initiatives like the Guild “bounce back.”
“I think that this is actually the perfect time because there’s an increasing level of public awareness about the importance of quality of life in Indiana and especially in rural communities,” Morrison says.
Morrison says the Guild faces a number of challenges, from trying to make the community more inclusive, to counseling artists how to sell art locally when “big box” stores show up and getting young people interested.
Arts Guild secretary Crystal Reichert and treasurer Sheila Caplinger say one of their primary concerns is building support for the organization, and not just for the art.
“It seems like people don’t want to put in the work,” Reichert says. “They like doing the art but they don’t want to put in the work to sell themselves or convince other people and some people just don’t want to share themselves.”
“Or they don’t know how,” Caplinger says. “They don’t know how to get their names out there and get people to come see their stuff.”
Indiana Arts Commission executive director Lewis Ricci says art guilds survive when their members focus on quality of life and tourism in small towns.
Ricci says despite the arts being taken out of many school systems, he believes attitudes statewide are promising.
“On a state-wide level towards the arts, which I think is quite supportive and quite energized, I just think that’s part of the reality,” Ricci says.
Back at her studio in Frankfort, Wendi Hall says positive feelings have been growing about the Arts Guild there. She thinks once skeptics see Studio 6 and hear more about what the Guild will do, they’ll pledge their support.
“People have been really excited, as far as the Guild goes,” she says. “They’re excited that we’re going to have shows downtown and a lot of the vacant spaces you see coming into downtown are going to be full of their artwork and that excites them.”
The Clinton County Arts Guild plans to have an “art walk” in May as its first large-scale show.