The Wheeler Arts Community is the result of a unique collaboration between the University of Indianapolis and the Southeast Neighborhoods of Indianapolis. Wheeler Arts occupies what was once an abandoned carburetor factory in the Fountain Square area just three miles north of the UIndy campus. The building now contains 36 artist studio/loft apartments housing professional painters, sculptors, writer, musicians, and dancers.
From Carburetors to Canvas: A Brief History of the Wheeler Arts Community
The Wheeler Factory project represents an unprecedented Indianapolis collaboration between city, state, and federal agencies; neighborhood organizations; and higher education, to use the arts for revival of the historic Fountain Square Neighborhood.
The Wheeler Building has been a site for innovation in one capacity or another since its construction in 1914. Mr. Wheeler, one of the founders of the Indianapolis 500 race, owned and operated the Wheeler Carburetor Company, the world’s first, during the golden age of Indianapolis auto manufacturing. Although the local automotive business companies soon died out, the Wheeler Company continued to make carburetors at the warehouse for companies such as Harley Davidson motorcycles for many years. The Wheeler Company later sold the structure to the Ransburg Company, which produced many different products. It was in this building that the Ransburgs invented the technique of electrostatic painting. “Ransburg” remains on the steps of the threshold.
The Ransburg Company vacated the building years later, leaving it in a state of deterioration for over a decade. In the 1990’s Southeast Neighborhood Development Inc. (SEND) began a study to determine the best use of the site. The study determined that artists were looking for a building where they could both live and work. SEND believed that such a facility would increase commerce in the community, and decided to pursue the project.
SEND spearheaded the project with $5 million in funding from private, government and non-profit sources. The University of Indianapolis also became a partner in the project, providing a children’s theatre for neighborhood children, classes for area residents and University of Indianapolis students, a Community Programs extension office, and a studio for UIndy’s fine arts instruction.
Jerry Israel, Former UIndy President, calls the project a “response to the community’s request for positive activities for their youth, convenient learning opportunities for the adults, and an educational presence in the neighborhood…a natural extension of (our) deep relationship with the Indianapolis neighborhoods in education, health, social programs, and the arts, and our belief in education for service.”
The Wheeler Arts Community promises to be a continuation of the bold and imaginative history of this “new” old building.