New sculpture draws on the community, and vice versa

A 17-by-19-foot, more than 3,000-pound whale-like sculpture with 7,000 answers to the question “What have you discovered?” now stands in the ArtsPark at the Indianapolis Art Center.

The piece, called “Crescendo,” was commissioned by the center as a community initiative.

The IAC brought in artist Beth Nybeck from Kansas City earlier this month through a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. The grant required an artist residency and community engagement series.

Nybeck’s idea included members of the community writing one-sentence answers on pre-cut pieces of ultraviolet-light-resistant plexiglass with a paint marker. These tiles were then assembled onto a large frame, creating a blue raindrop effect.

Nybeck was one of 10 finalists for the commission.

“We picked her because she really had an idea that touched the most people,” said Ben Shine, communications director for the IAC.

“I wanted to ask a question that required introspection,” Nybeck said. “I’m convinced that nobody has lived a boring life.

“The answers are profound to profane and everywhere in between.”

Nybeck gathered individual answers from people all the way from Kansas City to Indianapolis, with her main work being done in Indy.

About 4,000 of the 7,000 answers are from local community members.

The center put up booths where people could write their answers at places like the Penrod Arts Festival, the Monon Trail and other locations around Indy.

Nybeck said she never did work involving the community before this and was not sure if strangers would want to open up. She said she ended up being impressed with the honesty and depth of people’s stories.

“What’s happened to me is that I’ve fallen in love with community over and over again,” she said.

She was here from Oct. 13 to Oct. 19.

Shine said Nybeck showed up in a truck with a “whale-shaped piece of metal covered in chicken wire” on an attached trailer. This was the skeleton of the sculpture.

“She hops out of the truck, and immediately you are like, ‘Oh my God, this is an amazing person,’” Shine said.

Shine helped with the project and said he noticed many similarities and differences between the answers.

“It is amazing to think that we asked 7,000 people the same question and, surprisingly, the vast majority of the answers were about love, art and food,” Shine said.

People both young and old are represented in “Crescendo.”

Shine said the younger people would usually answer right away, whereas the older people either took more time to answer or didn’t answer at all.

He said it was interesting seeing people who knew right away what they discovered in life versus those who did not know if they had discovered anything.

Gautam Rao, a Butler University associate art professor, said he liked Nybeck’s new perspective and involvement of outside voices in the piece.

Rao and his wife witnessed some of the sculpture being built.One of the 7,000 blue tiles was made by his wife.

“It lets the students get a chance to see what all the various people around the community have discovered,” Rao said, “and they can think about what discoveries they have in their own lives.”

Nybeck explained that this project helps the community to own something.

“They have a greater respect for art and are more willing to tell people about it and reflect on it if they were a part of it,” she said.

The piece should be up for about three to five years, Shine said.

The ArtsPark is located near Broad Ripple on East 67th Street, where the Monon Trail and White River intersect.

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