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Inspiring Indiana: Pop-up art and fashion shop fills vacant downtown storefronts

317 Startup on Virginia Avenue is rent-free space for the month, allowing artists to showcase their eclectic skill.

INDIANAPOLIS — Local artists are inspiring Indiana through a new pop-up art and fashion shop in downtown Indianapolis, at a time when downtown could certainly use a pop of color and creativity.

They're collaborating with 317 Startup for the month-long shop at 231 Virginia Avenue, near East Louisiana Street along the Cultural Trail.

This formerly vacant storefront is now a very vibrant space: a collection of costumes and clothing, paintings and jewelry from a dozen Indy-area artists.

It's a rent-free space for the month, allowing artists to showcase their eclectic skill.

"What we do is make great visually stimulating things, so we are doing that in these windows, in hopes to actually you know brighten the sidewalks and get people in here," said costume and clothing designer Jess West. "That's what we do!"

"We're ready to work and we're ready to show what we've got," added Codi Banks, clothing designer with Witty by Codi. "We're ready to show what we did during the pandemic!"

Credit: WTHR
Artists and fashion designers are selling their works at a pop-up shop on Virginia Avenue downtown.

Creativity never stopped during the COVID crisis. In fact, these entrepreneurs all became mask makers for months.

But it has been a difficult year.

"It's been...it's been rough," West said. "I was a little leery that (Jess West Designs) was going to have to shut its doors because I make stuff for events, people going places."

"Actually I was supposed to be in season three of Startup 317, but the downtown windows were being boarded up, so that didn't happen," said Emily Gartner of Emily Gartner Designs.

Protests on top of the pandemic left a lot of downtown businesses empty recently. That's why the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce partnered with Pattern Magazine to help fill them up with something beautiful.

Credit: WTHR
Artists and fashion designers are selling their works at a pop-up shop on Virginia Avenue downtown.

The shop on Virginia Avenue was coordinated by Be-Z-Art, getting 12 artists to collaborate and share space during the month of May.

Pop-ups aren't new. This program has been underway for four seasons in Indianapolis. But this year in particular, artists say they're needed more than ever.

"You definitely see the scars that were left from all that has been happening," Banks said.

"Yeah, when you walk down the sidewalk it's bare. There's a lot of empty windows, things for lease, so it's really cool to be part of this project to fill those empty spaces," West added.

Inside the space, it's quite a feast for the eyes. Each artist gets a display area where people can browse and buy. West makes monsters, costumes and custom clothing.

Lisa Swieczkowska is an indigenous artist of Pokagon and Potawatomi descent, who uses taxidermy to create some of her bone jewelry, leather goods and butterfly domes for her company, Tribe 79.

"These are antique buffalo teeth. These are coyote bones," Swieczkowska pointed out. "I like to incorporate my heritage into my designs and add my own little fashion flare to it and mix it all together."

Banks creates high-end custom clothing and is also hosting sewing classes at the pop-up shop.

"They're all one-of-a-kind pieces and I'm ready to sell them, so come out and buy," she said.

Credit: WTHR
Artists and fashion designers are selling their works at a pop-up shop on Virginia Avenue downtown.

Gartner makes handmade clothing, gifts and jewelry and upcycles textiles into totes, with Emily Gartner Designs and Art Threads Studio.

"I've been so excited and just looking so forward to face-to-face sales and just being around the creatives again," she said.

It's artistic inspiration we all need right now, reviving downtown Indy for the month of May.

The pop-up on Virginia Ave. is open from 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 11 a.m.-6 p.m. on Sundays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.

Learn more about the artists here.