Wheeler gives UIndy foothold in the square

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The historic Wheeler Arts Community Center has become a point of interest in Fountain Square because of the collaboration between the University of Indianapolis and Southeast Neighborhood Development Inc. (SEND).

Located at 1035 Sanders Street in Fountain Square, the building was constructed in 1912 and was originally the Wheeler Carburetor Company. According to Interim Chair and Professor of Social Sciences Timothy Maher, the building housed the first carburetor factory ever built anywhere in the world, but it was abandoned by the 1990s.

Wheeler Arts

Wheeler Arts Community Center located at 1035 Sanders Street in Fountain Square Photo by: Kyle Weidner

 

Renovations to the building created 36 apartments averaging 1,000 square feet each of almost entirely open space. All the apartments are U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development subsidized apartments,  so tenants have to meet income requirements to be eligible to live at the Wheeler.

“The idea being that it’s hard to get started as an artist. So if you have a place that’s affordable—that you can live, that you can work and sell your work in—then that helps the career possibilities of beginning artists,” Maher said. “Not just beginning artists—the truth is a lot of people have benefitted from the building.”

SEND, with collaboration from former UIndy President Jerry Israel, bought the Wheeler Arts building and was able to create a meeting place for the city.

“We had the opening Oct. 13 of 2000, Friday the 13th, which is a very auspicious opening day, but we were having a conference as part of the opening,” Maher said. “We had arranged [for] the mayor to be the speaker, and that was the only day he had open.”

Much of the original structure of Wheeler was kept, to try to preserve the industrial feel of the building. According to Maher, UIndy has been in the Wheeler for a little more than 13 years.

“It’s a pretty interesting building,” Maher said. “I’ve taught all my classes in those 13 years in this building. Sometimes, we will go up on the balcony or down to the theatre. It’s kind of a flexible space.”

Maher said that one of the things he likes about being at the Wheeler is interacting with the people who live and work in the building.

“As a sociologist, it’s refreshing to have contact with real life, real people and real issues,” he said.

Junior visual communication design major Blake Childers has been an intern at the Wheeler for two years.

“This is my last year [that] I actually can work at Wheeler, because it’s a paid internship, and I was able to get the extension for this year,” he said. “It’s only supposed to be offered [for] one year per student, but I actually did a good enough job to where they actually let me go on for an extra year.”

Childers said that he wanted to work at the Wheeler because of the atmosphere and the chance to learn from artists.

“It’s all about the art, and you’re in a building that is full of artists themselves that are trying to make it through in the real world,” he said. “Whenever I’m there, I can always find someone to talk to, and they’re always easy to talk to. They’re helping to explain what the real world is like compared to school.”

Maher said that it is hard for him to pick out a favorite place within the building, because he spends most of his time in his classroom, but each area has a special quality.

“The theatre, when it is all decked out, is probably the coolest looking space,” he said. “For music, having a band in the atrium is hard to beat.”

Childers said that First Friday, a monthly event when almost all of the art studios are open to the public, is one of the best things that Wheeler does to display its artists’ works.

“People will intentionally schedule an event on First Friday just because the artists that are living there will actually open their doors and allow anybody to look at their art,” he said. “The first few times I was there, … the main thing that I wanted to do was just go around and get to know everybody in the actual place. And instantly everybody was awesome.”

 

Wheeler Arts Center Web Page

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