Painting a new picture

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Walt Thacker paints a scenic piece of downtown Noblesville from the Court- house Square earlier this summer. (File photo by Robert Herrington)

Walt Thacker paints a scenic piece of downtown Noblesville from the Court- house Square earlier this summer. (File photo by Robert Herrington)

One year after Nickel Plate Arts opened, downtown Noblesville’s identity is becoming more artistic

On Sept. 20 Nickel Plate Arts will celebrate its first anniversary. The anniversary gives officials a chance to gauge the program’s impact on the city, art community and tourism.

Kindergartener Brooke Dinius takes a photo of her painting at the Young Artists Exhibit at Nickel Plate Arts in April.

Kindergartener Brooke Dinius takes a photo of her painting at the Young Artists Exhibit at Nickel Plate Arts in April.

Hamilton County Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Brenda Myers said the idea for Nickel Plate Arts started in 2008 as a way to connect six communities.

“It was one of seven trails designated in the state,” she said. “It was a marketing initiative and that’s all it was going to be.”

The trail, which runs from Fishers to Tipton, was focused on highlighting the arts community on the west side of Hamilton County.

“When the building (Judge Stone House) opportunity came it evolved into putting a headquarters at the campus. Brick and mortar gave it some credibility and focus,” Myers said, adding it is really important it not become all about these two buildings.

Myers said the HCCVB will create a new visitors profile this fall from those that travel to Hamilton County multiple times a year. The last one done was in 2011 and Myers said 23 percent of out of town tourists went to downtown Noblesville and 34 percent of day trip visitors came for shopping.

“Arts are actually a pretty high motivator. That’s kind of significant,” she said.

Kindergartener Brooke Dinius takes a photo of her painting at the Young Artists Exhibit at Nickel Plate Arts in April.

Kindergartener Brooke Dinius takes a photo of her painting at the Young Artists Exhibit at Nickel Plate Arts in April.

In addition to bringing in tourists, Myers said the goal is to get Hamilton County residents to visit other communities.

“We’re trying to get people to go inter-county,” she said. “We want to understand there is so much to see and do right here. There are great things to see in downtown Noblesville.”

Myers did not have numerical evidence available, but said she has seen incremental growth through the year at NPA events.

“It’s a slow steady build,” she said. “It’s important because we know it will be more impactful. We’re in it for the long haul.”

Moving forward

Nickel Plate Arts Executive Director Aili McGill said the first year gave the organization lots of reasons to take risks and try things for fun. Some provided struggles with artists and patrons like umbrella sales, or pop-up art shows. Instead, McGill said NPA will host open houses or small block parties where patrons can meet the artists.

“We want to build and include more people and get people more comfortable with art and art history here,” she said. “We’re cheerleaders for the arts. We’re proud of what’s here.”

The public exhibits have also been a resounding success and are gaining popularity with amateurs.

“More people are submitting to shows that have never shown before,” she said.

The umbrella sales done during the first year while be replaced by open houses or small block parties.

The umbrella sales done during the first year while be replaced by open houses or small block parties.

In its second year, McGill said NPA has several new events planned including Stone Soup Suppers where intimate dinners are held with a group of community leaders – from artists and filmmakers to local politicians. Local restaurants will provide the meal and guests will bring the stories.

“If everyone brings something to the discussion, it’ll be really good,” McGill said.

Plans call for NPA weekend to expand to the whole month of June. Instead of hosting numerous activities in one weekend all over the NPA trail, McGill said each weekend in June will feature events and activities at one of the towns. Other plans include studio artists providing more experiences and First Friday events every month with an exhibit, artistic activity and performance.

“There are signs this community of artists is getting stronger. We’re definitely an anchor for that,” McGill said. “Artists have said they never would have looked at apartments if we weren’t here. We’ll continue to be a reason to stay in Noblesville.”

McGill said the focus for year two is creating a brand for the Nickel Plate experience and asking “What role will arts have in the community?”

“The biggest challenge is we can’t sum up who we are. Our mission spreads us out and puts us in front of a lot of people,” she said. “The real focus is community development. Finding ways where Nickel Plate can use art to strengthen the community’s identity. Every town and city is unique. Art in Cicero is different than art in Noblesville or anywhere else.”

As NPA moves forward, Myers said it applied for 1023 nonprofit status last month. It also is expected to spinoff from the HCCVB and become its own entity. More current goals include classes for artisans on business management, marketing and social media and placing more local art in banks and restaurants – finding creative spaces to give artists exposure.

Cellist Weiqun He performs at the Nickel Plate’s “Love, Lust and Poetry” exhibit in February.

Cellist Weiqun He performs at the Nickel Plate’s “Love, Lust and Poetry” exhibit in February.

Economic driver

Noblesville Economic Development Specialist Alaina Shonkwiler said Nickel Plate Arts has created its own little community in the downtown area.

“It’s been significant. Their presence in the city, by restoring the Judge Stone House, has been a big part of the beautification of the Eighth Street corridor,” she said.

Shonkwiler said Nickel Plate Arts has assisted the city’s “place making” initiative with the artist corridor.

“It’s a cool, unique place – authentic and trendy,” she said.

City officials knew Noblesville had a lot of local artists, but NPA found their energy and has taken numerous steps promoting and advocating for them. A recent map created by the city that highlights the many artists and arts experiences in the downtown area shows there are 16 different art galleries and exhibit spaces including City Hall and the Noblesville Visitors Center.

“They’re really connecting the community to the artist,” Shonkwiler said. “They’ve created a space where you are comfortable.”

In addition to providing a creative outlet, NPA’s impact is an economic driver for the city.

“Quality of life is one of the last things businesses look at when they come here,” Shonkwiler said. “It’s the icing on the cake.”


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