June 3, 2004

Ideas Out of Nowhere

Strange how ideas find their way to us. While strolling through the wonderful Edward Hopper retrospective at London's Tate Modern during Memorial Day weekend, I had one of those "hit by a bolt of lightning" moments. These are the ones that send you scrambling for a pen to capture your thoughts before they escape you.

Having such thoughts is not all that interesting or unusual. What made this experience so unique is I discovered an idea that is a possible solution for a problem I have not even been contemplating. In reflecting on the past few weeks, however, I have discovered isolated instances of awareness that cumulatively might have led me to this possibly quite interesting idea.

The idea is to reclaim abandoned "big box" stores (i.e., closed discount or large appliance stores, etc.) and turn them into museums and/or community arts centers. I'm not sure about where you live, but in Indianapolis we have many of these long-closed facilities scattered about town, and they are very unattractive. But they are located in neighborhoods that could use a major drawing card, they have an abundance of parking, and they have space unfettered with walls so they would be perfect for museum installations.

What led to this idea apparently percolating on its own was a string of random and unrelated things I had noticed recently: (1) articles in the Chicago Tribune about the city fighting Wal-Mart moving into town, (2) commentary in an educational journal about the decline of arts education in the elementary and junior high schools, (3) an article in Architectural Record about sustainable development,(4) attending the opening of the Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art last week in unused office space donated by a law firm, and (5) driving by a former Indianapolis sporting goods store that is being converted into an interactive Exchange City for our local Junior Achievement group.

All of these isolated events in some way are connected to the idea that came forth of its own volition. What made it appear at the Tate Modern must be the fact that the museum is located in a former power turbine facility in a newly developed (and rapidly growing) area of London along the banks of the Thames.

So the lesson here is the importance of being a generalist, of exposing ourselves to a variety of stimuli rather than becoming overly narrow and specialized. In doing so, seemingly unrelated snippets combine in new and interesting ways to yield innovative solutions.

I do plan to chat with the Indy Cultural folks upon my return about the possibilities of this new idea. More on how that turns out, as well as additional insights from London, in the weeks ahead.

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