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Interview: Anya Aslanova | Indianapolis Art Center
Interview: Anya Aslanova | Indianapolis Art Center

Started in 1934 as a WPA project, the Indianapolis Art Center is a nonprofit arts organization that strives to make art accessible to the Indianapolis community. The Indianapolis Art Center consists of the Marilyn K. Glick School of Art, a 40,000-square-foot facility designed by world-renowned architect Michael Graves and ArtsPark, accessible by the Monon Trail.

This week, we spent a sunny afternoon in the IAC’s work space and caught up with Ukrainian-born Anya Aslanova in her role as director of educational development at the Indianapolis Art Center.

Pivot: What’s your story?
Anya Aslanova: I am originally from Kiev, Ukraine. I came here as an exchange student when I was 16. I had graduated from high school in the Ukraine, but they placed me in twelfth grade in Ohio. Then I went to Anderson University. My first major was finance and international business, and then I switched to art.

When I called my mother to tell her I wanted to pursue graphic design, she asked me, “What is graphic design?” We didn’t have that in the Ukraine. I said, “Don’t worry, I’ll have a job. I’ll keep marketing as my minor.” I hated marketing when I was in school. I was much more into art. Years later, I’m glad that I took it. Now I’m remembering things.

P: How’d you make the transition into the art world?
AA: I came here just after breakup of the Soviet Union, so a lot of people were learning for the first time what entrepreneurship meant. Professions were very limited, so after the breakup came freedom to improve, progress, and make money. Everybody went into business. My goal when I came to the US was to learn what business and finance meant.

Because I was a foreign student, all my jobs were on campus. For one of those jobs, I was a model for fine art classes. Somehow during that time, the right side of my brain woke up and said, “This is what you want to do!” That’s when I was like, “I need something else.” Numbers are good, but I need some content to these numbers. I had never done art in my life, and my first classes were art history and 3D design. I just loved it.

P: What’s your impression of Indy’s art scene?
AA: Before I came to Indy, I spent some time in New York, and saw what it had to offer. In art, there’s the polished aspect and there’s the raw aspect. What appealed to me was the raw aspect. Art was all around me. Standing in the subway station, there was a saxophone player right next to me, and an artist drawing over there, and someone else reciting poetry. That’s what I loved. The polished aspect of galleries and museums was also a plus, but no matter where I turned, there was art and that was really cool.

When I moved to Indianapolis in 2000, I found that. I found that raw art existed here. It was still kind of a brand new community, it was still growing. It was exciting. I think that’s the fun part: no matter where you go, there are still new initiatives and new artists starting. Nothing is overdone.

It’s still up-and-coming, and that’s the great part about it. I like the community here is small. You do have those ‘elder’ artists that have been in the scene and are established. But it’s still open and accessible to new artists. There’s still room to grow.

P: What does the Indianapolis Art Center do for the community?
AA: The Indianapolis Art Center is an amazing community. We’re not really well known, for whatever reason. When people come here, they’re amazed we exist and we offer what we offer.

In a nutshell, we have 1,000 art classes a year, in 13 mediums. We have 100 instructors that range in their skill and level and proficiency. We’ve got those that have been here for more than 20 years, and some have just graduated from college and they’re so excited and so passionate.

We offer that platform to newly graduated artists, who are asking, “What do I do now?” and we offer support to the community, serving 4,000 to 5,000 students a year. Our audience is this huge, diverse community. We offer accessibility—no matter what level you’re at, whether you have an art background or not.

P: What is the role of public art in our community? 
AA: It’s a huge opportunity. As artists, as visual communicators, we have a huge responsibility to the community, to our generation, to educate people with aesthetics, with beauty. And that’s one thing that sometimes you can’t quantify. But it’s absolutely important.

That’s what public art does. It makes art accessible to the community. It’s taking this elitism, that’s somehow unapproachable, and putting it in the every day. It’s going to benefit the community in generations to come.

P: What exciting things are happening at the IAC?
AA: About a year ago, we started Pop-Ups, with the goal to become more accessible to the general community that may not have the money and time to invest in art classes. These are 2 hour, social, fun art adventures. We offer painting, drawing, mixed media, ceramics– you name it. It’s especially great for those who might be intimidated by art. This is the very accepting way to experience it. There’s no wrong way to do it, and it’s fun.