Envisioning Indy as the place to be
Editor’s Note: This story was originally published on defunct, Central Indiana arts website Sky Blue Window on August 18, 2014. Some content, style and formatting may differ from the original version.
A conversation with architect and designer Matthew Skjonsberg can prove a bit disorienting. Skjonsberg strolls through life with a different set of eyeballs, connecting the dots between urban infrastructure and the cultural, environmental and artistic references that flow like a river of lifeblood beneath its foundation. The connections prove limitless, with Skjonsberg using a varied set of reference points to draw correlations across seemingly unrelated fields of architecture, literature, music, sociology and sustainability.
Skjonsberg arrived in Indy earlier this week as We Are City‘s “import,” the organization’s version of an artist-in-residence. While here, he will consult on a potential skateboard circuit that aims to connect the greenways of local parks with bike lanes and the Indianapolis Cultural Trail: A legacy of Gene and Marilyn Glick. And he’ll participate in a National Science Foundation grant that commissions six site-specific musical compositions. And then, of course, he’ll speak as part of We Are City’s SUMMIT at Indiana History Center this Thursday.
“What I know of Indy is the reputation that it has for being a progressive, Midwestern city,” Skjonsberg says. “Of course, as an identity, it’s very much associated with the 500 and so forth … This formal image of the circuit is what prompted this association for me with a skateboarding circuit to reinforce the cultural trail and the greenways.”
Skjonsberg is working toward a PhD with a theme he calls “Periodicity and Rural/Urban Dynamics.” Prior, he served s a project leader at West 8, working on projects including Governors Island (New York ), Commonwealth Institute (London), New World Symphony Park (Miami Beach) and Yongsan National Park (Seoul). He earned his undergraduate degree at Taliesin, the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture.
“I almost visualize architecture as a certain kind of knot,” Skjonsberg says. “Different knots are good in the sea and different knots are good other places. If you think about architecture as a way to bundle resources into an effective structure, facilitating not only forces but activities, it becomes much more dynamic.”
Rather than view a project as permanent, Skjonsberg regards his work as an ongoing negotiation. “Any solid work or infrastructure is going to be used for different purposes at different times,” he says. “One of the most interesting pieces for me, is how to create a condition where all these functions can be negotiated. You’re creating a platform for these negotiations, hopefully, with the outcome that you do, in fact, gain greater freedoms and options in your own life.”
Skjonsberg’s doctorate work aims to apply the counterpoint composition method of music theory codified by composer Johann Fux in his book Gradus Ad Parnassum to urban development and design. “They call it strict counterpoint if you compose this way, because it’s literally rule-based in the sense that there should be a maximum of 15 percent perfect consonance in the composition,” he says. “85 percent should be imperfect consonance or even dissonance, because it’s boring if everything is harmonizing all the time. This creates some very interesting implications if you think about architecture in that way. You get a clear idea that you need to resolve a few key points, but everything else should be given a degree of freedom to work itself out and to become more interesting and more diverse.”
Skjonsberg rejects the increasingly popular notion that cities can function as self-sufficient entities. “The myopic enthusiasm for urbanism in our generation will have to be compensated for, at some point, by a similar emphasis on rural,” he says. “Not only rural in the sense of the resource exchanges between a city and its region, which are also very interesting and should be mapped and acknowledged and understood better, but also the cultural exchanges that take place.”
This highbrow connection with culture and development may seem harebrained at first glance, but it begins to make more sense the longer you talk with Skjonsberg. Despite the brevity of his stay in Indianapolis, he’s excited about the city’s potential. He was surprised, upon arrival, to run into skate park builder Bart Smith, with whom Skjonsberg had worked previously. “Indianapolis is capable of not only bringing these kinds of people here, but actually growing them here,” Skjonsberg says of Smith — an Indy native. “So, I’m very excited for what’s coming next, because between the openness of the city, the enthusiasm of the parks and the quality of the participants, I think it has an excellent chance to be a world-class project.”
“As an identity for Indianapolis to have the greenways, to have the cultural trail, and to have what we’re discussing now as the skate parkways,” Skjonsberg says. “It links back to the identity of the city and the Indy 500. It’s a beautifully coherent and yet really diverse image. It plays into the vision of Indianapolis as not only a great place to visit, but also a great place to be, which is really the point.”
Written by Rob Peoni
Big Technology in Little Lab
Editor’s Note: This story was originally published on defunct, Central Indiana arts website Sky Blue Window on August 25, 2014. Some content, style and formatting may differ from the original version.
Nestled in a corner of the Indianapolis Museum of Art (IMA) behind the library, a small, dedicated team sits at desks toiling steadily to transform the visitor experience in the galleries that surround their office and beyond. The employees at IMA Lab are not art historians. They’re not curators or archivists, trained in the delicate task of artistic preservation. They are programmers, designers and developers.
“We have an interesting perspective, because nobody on our team came from a museum background per se,” IMA Lab director, Kyle Jaebker says. “We’re not typical museum employees in that we came up through humanities programs or things like that. We have a technology angle on things that’s a bit different than some other parts of the museum would be looking at it.”
For the last five years, IMA Lab has served as the museum’s in-house technology team. Beyond the ongoing maintenance of IMA’s website and a steady stream of internal projects, the team builds open-sourced software and applications to serve the museum community all over the world. “We’re lucky that we have the staff that we do here at IMA,” Jaebker says. “Most museums have maybe one person or two in the technology realm. Some don’t have any. So, we can come in and help them see how technology can help them with their collections.”
One recent, external project is the Closer App that the IMA Lab built and designed for the Art Institute of Chicago. The IMA Lab designed a custom interface, which showcases the works of art within the museum’s modern wing and the stories curators and staff created around them. Most of the projects that the IMA Lab works on are designed to be used internally or within specific exhibitions, Closer is one of the team’s first designs available to the public through the app store.
Jaebker admits the line across which technology moves from an enhancement to a distraction, proves a delicate one. “We try to think about visitors and what they would want to see when they come to museum and how we can use technology to enhance their experience, not take it over,” he says. “If we’re providing more information that then causes them to spend a few more minutes looking at a painting, then that’s a big win for us.”
Through grants and external client work, the IMA Lab is able to offset some of the costs that come with their work. The team recently secured a Sparks! Ignition grant, through the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), to build location-based software using Apple’s new iBeacon technology. “It’s basically using Bluetooth technology to put little sensors in the galleries, and then you can use your phone to triangulate people and provide context through an app” Jaebker says. “So, we’ll be taking some of the tour platforms that we’ve built and making them contextually aware based on your location.”
Outside organizations grew aware of IMA’s technology arm a few years ago, after the organization launched its ArtBabble and Dashboard websites. Both of those projects were launched prior to the formation of the IMA Lab. Now, the team relies largely upon word-of-mouth and networking at several conferences within the museum community each year to spread its word.
“It’s been a really interesting position to be in,” Jaebker says. “It’s nice to offer the open-source opportunities that we are able to build and to share that with the community. That’s one of the most rewarding things of this job. It’s nice that we’re able to make some revenue to the museum and offset our costs in that way, but to actually be able to give back to the community has always been our strongest benefit that we provide here.”
Though his team may not qualify as artists in the traditional sense, Jaebker says the IMA Lab has grown into an integral part of the museum’s larger infrastructure. At the end of the day, he believes in the group’s ability to extend the museum’s reach beyond its campus on W. 38th Street. “There are millions of people who are never going to set foot in this building, so how can we engage those audiences with our online offerings and provide an experience that isn’t going to be the same as being here, but it’s still an experience they can share with our museum through technology,” he says.
Written by Rob Peoni
Joyful Noise invades WARMfest
Editor’s Note: This story was originally published on defunct, Central Indiana arts website Sky Blue Window on August 26, 2014. Some content, style and formatting may differ from the original version.
Next weekend, WARMfest invades Broad Ripple Park for four days of arts, music and a celebration of the White River that runs alongside it. For year two, WARMfest organizer Dan Ripley decided to place an emphasis on Indy. “I decided to regroup and make it more local this year,” Ripley says. “Let’s make it great locally, and then people are going to want to come from around the region.”
In this spirit, WARMfest tapped local label Joyful Noise Recordings to curate its main stage on Saturday. The label’s owner, Karl Hofstetter, lives directly across the street from the festival and JNR had previously curated stages at Broad Ripple Music Fest, which was incorporated by WARMfest last year. (Broad Ripple Music Fest continues this year by curating the local line-up at WARMfest and is currently planning more stand-alone programming in 2015.)
“I think it’s important for the city,” Hofstetter says. “There are so many great festivals around, and it seems to be a good model to actually get people excited about music and get bands paid. I like that. The bands are driving through this city anyway to get to the next festival, so it makes total sense for Indianapolis to have a festival on that caliber and hopefully WARMfest is it.”
The stage will feature the bulk of JNR’s roster, including heavy-hitters Half Japanese, of Montreal and Sebadoh. Half Japanese band members recently reunited to release Overjoyed, its their first album in more than a decade. Coincidentally, the release date is scheduled for the week following WARMfest, so the festival will serve as a sort of gigantic album release party. “All five of those guys are coming from different cities on three continents to fly into Indianapolis just to play that show,” Hofstetter says. “It costs $4,000 in flights just to get those guys in the same room, and we want to make the most of it.”
Hofstetter’s house will double as a green room/recording space for the acts on his roster. The idea was sparked when several of the bands expressed an interest in rehearsing prior to the show. Hofstetter immediately saw the potential and convinced them to record stripped-down sets, which JNR will release as singles, exclusive to WARMfest. Mike Dixon, who runs his own label People in a Position to Know, will handle the lathe-cutting process. He’s based out of Arizona, but travels to several festivals each summer to cut limited-run vinyl for fans to watch in person.
“We’re going to have a tent next to the main stage where the records are being cut,” Hofstetter says. “They’re all going to be signed, and hand-numbered. There will only be 75 copies of this recording that will ever exist.”
The seven bands releasing limited-edition singles at WARMfest are:
- of Montreal
- Lou Barlow (Sebadoh)
- Half Japanese
- Busman’s Holiday
- Sleeping Bag
- Yoni Wolf (Why?)
On Friday WARMfest will host a screening of a new film about JNR’s own of Montreal. The documentary, entitled The Past is a Grotesque Animal, focuses on the band’s enigmatic frontman Kevin Barnes. The screening is part of WARMfest’s community day, which also features a performance from local punk icons Zero Boys and Indy super group The Last IV. At a single-day price point of just $10, Friday should prove an attractive option for families. Although, kids under the age of 10 have free access all weekend long.
When asked what it meant to him personally to see the label that he built featured as the centerpiece of a burgeoning music festival in his own front yard, Hofstetter says, “Hopefully, it’s a sign that people like what we do here?” he questioned rhetorically. “Honestly, like 90 percent of our records are sold in cities other than Indianapolis. Probably, more like 99 percent. That’s not because we don’t want to sell records to people here … Hopefully that shifts a little bit. Even if it doesn’t, it’s OK. We’re happy, but this is our home. It would be nice if people liked what we did here.”
Joyful Noise’s stage will kick off at noon on Saturday with a set from Bloomington’s Sleeping Bag. The trio recently released its third full-length LP Deep Sleep. Listen to the album’s lead-off single “Riff Randle” below.
Written by Rob Peoni