Now you see it, now you don’t. That’s the nature of the arts pop-up—a transient encounter in an unexpected place.
It’s the one-night-only gallery in an abandoned factory, or the Shakespeare monologue recited on a street corner. Just as retailers are launching temporary shops and food trucks are mobilizing dining, pop-up artists are spreading their message beyond museums and theaters.
“It’s a complete shift in the way art is presented and taken in by the local community,” says IDADA president Nancy Lee. “Pop-up events are one of the key ways that people experience art now.”
Earlier this year, for example, the Indy Collective took over a vacant storefront for a four-day exhibition, Wet Paint, Heavy Metals and Broken Records. Five seniors at the Herron School of Art and Design parked five semi-truck trailers at Wildwood Market and transformed them into a one-night exhibition called Grand Illusions. The Indiana Museum of Music and Entertainment popped up briefly in April at Wheeler Arts Community Center. And don’t forget TURF, the groundbreaking exhibition that inhabited Old City Hall in the days leading up to Super Bowl XLVI.
In part, the recent recession fueled the pop-up trend. As retail vacancies rose, landlords offered affordable, short-term leases for pop-up galleries. And, as arts organizations struggled to raise funds, they began to perceive pop-ups as a buzzworthy marketing tool.
The weak economy crippled Indy’s gallery scene, says Shannon Linker, vice president of the Arts Council of Indianapolis. She can list more than two dozen galleries that closed during that time, from experimental collectives to big names.
“We have so few traditional galleries now that artists need other places to show, and they have to sometimes take it upon themselves to create those spaces,” Linker says. “So pop-ups are a trend, but they’re also a necessity.”
In that way, the recession forced arts organizations to do something they perhaps should have been doing all along: meeting the people where they are.
Pop-ups are trendy because they play into our desire for exclusivity and novelty, says Charles Stanton, president and CEO of Classical Music Indy, which pays professional musicians to perform in unusual places, such as farmers markets and grocery stores.
“People want the equivalent of a Choose Your Own Adventure book,” he says. “They want unique experiences that no one else is going to get.”
Pop-ups are “electric,” says Brandon Schaaf, co-founder of theater troupe Know No Stranger. “It’s engaging in a totally different way, with someone who doesn’t have time to prepare their mind, and their opinions and feelings about what’s happening are as honest as possible.”
Keep Your Eyes Peeled for These Pop-Ups
1. RAW exhibitions at Old National Centre are one-night only artistic extravaganzas, bringing together DJs, musicians, visual and performing artists, and fashion designers.
2. IDADA’s biggest annual fundraiser, First in Line, is a pop-up event at an art gallery. Buyers stand in line for the chance to snag $100 artwork that anyone can donate. When an object is sold, it is replaced with a Polaroid of the buyer, creating a whole new artistic statement.
A photo posted by William Denton Ray (@whimsicalfunk) on
3. Classical Music Indy’s Random Acts of Music program pays professional musicians to perform in unexpected places—and at select gallery locations on First Fridays.
— Classical Music Indy (@clssclmusicindy) August 14, 2015–
4. This fall, the Indianapolis Museum of Art’s new ARTx truck will pop up across the city with hands-on activities, music and drama performances, and film screenings.
This article appeared in The Ticket, a 2015 special publication.