Cultural Architects Series: Julia Muney Moore

When you see public art around Indianapolis — from contemporary works in the Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Hospital that replaced Wishard Hospital and the new Midfield Terminal at Indianapolis International Airport, to the sculpture park at the Indianapolis Art Center, Julia Muney Moore likely had a hand in bringing it to our city.

“These were massive public art initiatives in major new civic construction projects, something the city had never seen before,” says Moore, “And would not have been even on its radar had it not been for the Cultural Development Commission and the 2003 public art master plan generated, to really catch the city up in terms of a contemporary vision for public art.

Joining the Arts Council of Indianapolis as Director of Public Art in 2014, one of the first things Moore did was expand the public art directory documenting over 500 pieces of public art. Currently in the midst of orchestrating a few commissions and other projects, she’s leading the charge on a new Public Art Master Plan for the city — all while advocating for the importance of art in the public realm.

“The role of an arts council and the role of an arts organization are different.

We have a much broader mission. An arts organization has their own thing that they want to do, that they get to choose and they bring people to their mission in that way,” says Moore. “Our job as an arts council is supporting the missions of all the arts organizations, non-arts organizations and all the communities that like art. We do a lot of coordination of arts policy. We are creating an environment in Indianapolis where the arts in general no matter who is producing them or who the artist is, where the arts are seen as a civic necessity.”

A transplant from the east coast, Moore experienced what many would consider “a calling” to work in the arts. As a child she was on a field trip to the National Gallery in Washington, DC. Walking down the hallway, she looked to the side and saw Raphael’s piece, The Small Cowper Madonna. The piece struck Moore so much, she left her school group.

“It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. I said, ‘I love this. I need this. I’m going to do this.’ Since then, it’s been about working in the arts in some way,” says Moore. “And I knew it wasn’t going to be me creating art because I was incredibly incompetent with my hands. So I knew I had to do something where I see art every day, all day, for a job.”

After majoring in Classics at Bryn Mawr College, Moore went to graduate school at The Institute of Fine Arts. She then traveled to upstate New York to work at the Chautauqua Institution.

“I was open to landing anywhere. I was leaving myself open to the universe and seeing what happened,” says Moore. “I had no preconceived notions or agendas.”

The universe led Moore to Indiana the summer of 1986, where she took a job at the David Owsley Museum of Art. She stayed there till taking a position at the Indianapolis Art Center in 1990. She spent the next 14 years at the Indianapolis Art Center working for Joyce Sommers (Sommers is one of the major forces that helped lay the foundation of our current arts scene). There, Moore took on countless curatorial projects both in and out of the art center galleries. The Broad Ripple Art Fair and sculpture park on the grounds were all part of her programming.

One of her favorites was the The Sukkot Project: “New Designs for an Ancient Tradition” she curated in 1997. She worked with the Jewish Federation of Greater Indianapolis to commission local architects and designers to create the structures, which were exhibited and then auctioned off. To this day, the Jewish Community Center reassembles theirs and displays it every Sukkot.

“I love doing things like that,” says Moore, “where it was completely unexpected. When people walked into the art center they knew they were in a place where really, anything could happen.”

In 2001, Moore received a Creative Renewal grant from the Arts Council. She was able to take six weeks, travel all over the country researching public art. She looked at well-known public art pieces and programs, interviewed administrators and read ordinances. This led to her being selected for as an advisor for a committee to help the Arts Council develop the first Public Art Master plan.

“I try never to think about how artwork can be used as a commodity. I just don’t think about it,” says Moore.

Moore has experienced much pressure over the years about high-profile projects, including being asked to pull an exhibition because of potentially damaging content. She understands that public art has a hidden role to play.

I recognize all public art no matter where it comes from, either social justice or from a more aesthetic end or from the more civic art end is basically propaganda for somebody. I understand that. I just try to make it positive propaganda.”

In 2004, Moore left the Art Center and went to work for Blackburn Architects where she worked until 2012 on several highly visible public art projects in places like the Eskenazi Hospital and the Indianapolis International Airport. All these experiences further developed Moore’s ideas on the purpose of public art.

“I think the idea of addressing the public and having a message that is for the public is absolutely inherent in public art,” she said. “I’ve seen really bad public art. I mean really horrible, where it’s just a space filler. It’s not doing anybody any bit of good. I don’t believe public art should be the least common denominator of acceptability to everyone.”

Instead, Moore believes the work should lead to thought and conversation. Some of those pieces she sees being more ephemeral.

“There is a role for all kinds of art to make statements that make people uncomfortable. I think those kind of pieces are best reserved for more temporary display.” says Moore.

Moore believes permanent public art pieces should have universal appeal.

“I’m not talking universal design-wise but universal statement-wise. Something people can approach in their own way but there is sort of general agreement on the social utility of what that statement is.”

Moore recently completed a public art project with Keep Indianapolis Beautiful, the residents of Speedway and artist Arlon Bayliss, the Seeds of Change. Bayliss set up a studio in the town hall of the city so the town of Speedway could help construct the sculpture.

“The piece itself, when you look at it, it’s pretty. You can look at it on that level and he (Bayliss) also designed it so that anybody could help him build it. The end result is that even if you weren’t involved in that project you can look at it and you can get the main points. The sentiment is universal because it represents a hope,” says Moore.

Moore is excited about all the projects she has in the works but especially a new stream of funding, the Public Art For Neighborhoods Fund. That fund will bring art of all varieties to the neighborhood level.

“Whether it’s just a concert series in a neighborhood park or free dance classes for kids in some public location, we [The Indianapolis Arts Council] are in it to raise the profile of the arts universally no matter what style, and what medium,” says Moore.

And with her vision and understanding of public art, Moore will undoubtedly continue introducing our community to new ways of viewing and thinking about it.

Photography by Esther Boston.
Story by Shauta Marsh.
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