Feature Stories

July 25, 2009

As Paula Ionescu explains the themes behind her paintings on display at City Hall, she can’t help but smile. Her art utilizes the colors of spring, the time of the year she enjoys most. One of her pieces, “Daffodil,” depicts her favorite flower. But as vibrant as her paintings are, Ionescu hasn’t always been in such good spirits.

Her paintings are the result of art therapy sessions held by Centerstone, an organization that provides mental health and addiction services to more than 18,000 Indiana residents annually. Ionescu says the paintings, which are being displayed as part of this year’s Centerstone “Art of Mental Health” exhibition, have aided in coping with depression. She is not the only person who has found relief in the unconventional sessions.

Shallus Quillen, another Centerstone artist, says the sessions have helped reduce her anxiety. Quillen, who engaged self-destructive activities, says the Centerstone art sessions are the only effective form of therapy she has found. Becoming involved with the sessions has been “the best thing ever,” because it has given her an alternative to self-harm. “It’s easier to paint than hurt myself,” she says.

July 25, 2009

My first trip to Colombia was actually pretty ridiculous. Travel was never a priority in my family, and by 1974 I had only been out of the country twice -- camping in Canada and breaking for spring in Negril, Jamaica. The only Spanish my partner Ayres and I knew were leftover snippets from introductory Español in high school and college.

What little I had learned about Colombia didn't recommend it as a travel destination, either. I knew it was desperately poor and hopelessly corrupt. Tony the Dope Dealer had told me that one of his associates had gone there on vacation -- "He wasn't doing any deals." -- and had been thrown in prison and shaken down for thousands of dollars. And I assumed that an importing business from Colombia would raise some authorities' brows, given the country's status as an emerging world drug capital in 1974.

The primary plus I had gleaned about the place was that artisans there hand-wove cotton wall hangings and other arts and crafts that were cheap and marketable to home decorator-type Americans. Another was that Colombia truly was a foreign culture, something I had wanted to experience since I read my first National Geographic. It was Third World, and it did, after all, have the Andes Mountains, not to mention a port on the Amazon River. So, when Ayres told me just days before we were to depart that he had no money, my response was a forceful, "No way. We're going."

July 11, 2009

In 2008, Shu-Mei Chan earned her Masters in Fine Arts at IU and, like most graduates, had to decide the next step in her career. When contemplating this next step, she noticed an inconsistency in the Bloomington art community. According to Chan, though IU has one of the top ceramics programs in the country, Bloomington has few facilities to support these artists after graduation.

“We wanted to stay in Bloomington and saw that missing in the community,” Chan says.

Alongside her husband and fellow accomplished ceramic artist Daniel Evans, Chan made plans to change this inconsistency. The two founded the Bloomington Clay Studio (BCS) with the intent of building a community-based facility that allows artists to continue their education through clay and other mediums.

July 11, 2009

The First Annual Chubby's Reunion Fest was a two-day gala event held May 9-10 at the Indianapolis East Side music club Zanies Too, a most worthy event to honor a most worthy person, Chubby Wadsworth. The Chubster, as he's affectionately called, is the grand dean of Indianapolis original music, which he spotlighted, encouraged and actively supported at Chubby's Club LaSalle.

While no one seems to be sure when Wadsworth took over the reins of Club LaSalle, it was an active music venue in the 1990s right up to the last live performance there, the Bluesapalooza jam on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, 2003 (Club LaSalle closed its doors permanently in February 2004, and the building was demolished earlier this year).

Club LaSalle is remembered fondly by musicians and fans alike as a place where both were always welcome, and where creativity and original voices were cultivated and encouraged. Unfortunately, while an artistic triumph in culturally starved Indianapolis, Club LaSalle was always touch-and-go financially, in part due to its location on the rough Near East Side in the "heart of Indianapolis's murder district." But inside the club it was always safe, and far too many now mourn the passing of Club LaSalle when they themselves didn't patronize it during the time its doors were open.

July 11, 2009

Anyone who has ever experienced my photographic journey to the good ol' days knows how the narrative begins with the first four black-and-white, 8X10 images in the black binder: "Sex. Drugs. Sex and drugs. And rock 'n' roll."

The first photo is of a long-haired brunette in her kitchen immediately following an afternoon tryst in her South Grant Street apartment. The second is a pot plant growing under a roommate's window sill. The third is a petite blonde in jeans and a sweater curled up on her bed with a joint. The fourth is a close-up of guitarist Al DiMeola, who's actually a jazzman and not a rock star.

To say the decade between say 1965 and 1975 was a blue-moon time for a young man to come of sexual age would be understatement in the extreme. It was the magical period between the invention of the birth-control pill and the onset of the incurable disease epidemic, a convergence of events that has never been experienced before or after, and never will again. The Daily Show's Jon Stewart once interviewed independent filmmaker John Carpenter about the subject. Carpenter said he lost his virginity the day they discovered the pill. Stewart said he lost his the day they discovered AIDS.

June 27, 2009

Having grown up in middle-class Indianapolis, I've never been disdainful of the mainstream. My roots are firmly implanted there, and I've benefited enormously from them. But I never aspired to join it. From the time I was a kid, I was always drawn to the "madmen and artists," as Allen Ginsberg called them, even though I had never heard the phrase or his name. Poetry wasn't big in my peer group.

By the time Tony the Dope Dealer cracked my reality, I'd known more than my share of madmen. I have more stories about dying young than anyone I've ever met. But artists? Can't say I'd known a single one growing up. A couple guys from my neighborhood played guitars and sang folk and rock at the Hummingbird Cafe in downtown Indy's Talbot Village. One of them plays Christian rock today, at least I'm pretty sure it's him. But that was it.

Tony was a madman. I knew that the moment I first heard his voice. And while I didn't share his dream of earning a hundred thousand dollars dealing pot, his preoccupation with it intrigued me. "Money, that's what I'm into," he told me in one of our first conversations, "money." He was also an artist, and the money, he said, was a means to an end. He would earn enough dealing to quit and then focus on his art.

June 13, 2009

Life in Bloomington in the early 1970s was tantamount to that of a Wild West town, without the shootouts (although, eventually, there were some). The place was wide open and oozed wealth generated by a burgeoning hippie economy. And few cared that the boom was fueled by contraband. Too many people made too much money off marijuana. Society accepted it. And the community embraced it.

I can say with unimpeachable confidence that a walk down Kirkwood Avenue and around the Courthouse Square anytime between 1971 and '75 would have passed at least a half dozen businesses whose owners were or had been pot dealers, and probably more. With equal certainty, I can say the first communication a high-powered local attorney shared with three green asses busted cold with five pounds of marijuana in 1974 were: "I've talked to the prosecutor, and he said to tell you not to worry, you're not going to jail."

The Monroe County prosecutor was a Republican named Greg Carter, who would represent the Indiana chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) after he left Bloomington. The attorney was John G. Baker, who would eventually be, in turn, Monroe County Judge, Monroe Superior Court Judge, Monroe Circuit Judge and Indiana Court of Appeals Judge. His office in 1974 was located in what is now the Old National Bank building at Kirkwood and Washington.

May 30, 2009

I’ve always believed in destiny. And I’ve always found mine in Bloomington’s Bryan Park neighborhood a half mile or so south of the IU campus. I started three lives there -- young adult, father and divorcé -- in three Bryan houses within a six-block walk of each other. Each appeared when I needed new life.

For example, after a year-and-a-half in the fraternity house, where I made great friends and gained insights that serve me well to this day, I knew the Greek life wasn’t for me, and I had to get off campus. The Bryan Park fates aligned the first time when two friends found a duplex on the corner of Dunn and Allen, and we moved in in the fall of 1971.

Fittingly enough for that era in Bloomington history, my first adventure in adulthood was a slumlord experience.

May 30, 2009

The military is the most sexist institution in the United States.

Helen Benedict's The Lonely Soldier: The Private War of Women Serving in Iraq exposes the oppression of women in the armed services.

Women constitute 11 percent of GIs serving in the Middle East today. When The Lonely Soldier went to press, 160,500 women had served in Iraq. Women serve in combat, though not officially. Not since World War II have as many women soldiers died while serving in the armed forces.

May 16, 2009

I’ve never spent much time thinking about the future or the past. For better or for worse, I’ve always lived in the moment. Until now. For reasons that I may get into at some point, my focus these days is increasingly directed backward.

One of those reasons, however, is impossible to exclude from this saga, even for a guy who still lives a mile from campus and does laundry at the Third Street laundromat. Indeed, it’s the catalyst for the this dramatic departure from my writing routine: Forty years ago this summer I experienced Kirkwood Avenue for the first time. And it feels like it’s time to write my memoirs, even if it’s unknown whether anyone will care to read them.

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