From Imagination to Manifestation: 

How Ignition Arts Brings Spectacular Public Art to Life

By: Jason Lahman for CODAworx

Diverse projects from start to finish

An enormous wave-form made of violet, blue and pale green interlocking fins hovers above an airport concourse. A flock of cumulous clouds arranged in a sky-blue room invites children to explore and play. A giant morning glory made of finely wrought, patinaed metal under a summer sky seems about to rise up on its stalk. An illuminated, kinetic sculpture named for a prehistoric bird constructed to delight visitors at Burning Man. These are just a few of the impressive large-scale works brought to vivid life by the creative team at Indianapolis-based Ignition Arts, a company whose specialties are the development, planning, fabrication, transport and installation of public art projects.

Volkan Alkanoglu’s Cloudscape is a 2,000-square-foot cloud-inspired playscape installation at the Fort Lauderdale Hollywood International Airport. Image credit: Tabitha Mudra

“We are a diverse group of creatives - including craftspeople and artists - so we understand all of the complicated details of the public art process,” says owner and creative director Brian McCutcheon. “We work with artists who are at all points in their careers. From those embarking on their first large-scale projects to world-renowned artists and also major museums.” Making public art involves a lot of people. Artists often need help figuring out how to navigate the manifestation of their particular vision, from project presentations to major decision-makers to the nuts-and-bolts creation of the final work.

Emily White’s aluminum and steel sculpture Wavelength, Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, Fort Lauderdale, FL. Image credit: Patrick Heagney

Ignition Arts understands that there are many stages in the creation of a work of art. The concept starts in an artist’s mind but then has to travel a long path to the public sphere. This is something that happens in stages. We understand all of those stages, including the very practical aspects of budgeting, construction and transport.” says McCutcheon. “This is the mission of our company- and it’s also our passion. We love doing this work because it takes so many different forms. Each project may be unique in theory, but at the end of the day the specific steps that have to be taken are mappable. That’s what we do. Help guide the artist through the geography of the public art-making journey.”

A crucible at the crossroads

“The location of our facilities in Indianapolis is also really important.” says co-founder and CFO Tasker Day. “We’re not only geographically well-positioned, this city has a long history of manufacturing and a rich legacy of the craft skills.” In addition to their in-house team of highly skilled artist fabricators, Ignition Arts works with an extensive network of specialty manufacturers, industry experts, and engineers, the hands-on experts that are required to realize public art. Because we have so many connections to all aspects of the field, if a client requires a resource not directly in our wheelhouse, we can always find it. Chances are we have that connection.” The company is headquartered in an impressive 18,000 square foot, 120-year-old historic building that was once part of the state’s hospital system. The sheer scale allows the company to manufacture and fully assemble each project in-house.

brian mccutcheon

Sculptor and co-founder of Ignition Arts Brian McCutcheon in the expansive studio where a diverse group of craftspeople, artists and builders bring public art life. Image Credit: Cliff Ritchey

“This building is part of an interesting campus of companies and public organizations.  It’s a creative hub,” says Priya Wittman who handles marketing, project organization and client relationship development at Ignition. Like many employees at Ignition, Wittman is also an artist with an active practice, and so understands the ins-and-outs of melding creative practice with the tactical infrastructures needed to bring projects to fruition. “Ignition is really about supporting creatives at every stage. Our clients usually begin by presenting their ideas, often in competition to committees, and we make sure that what they present is succinct, streamlined and easy to understand. This is a key part of our service offerings.

Craftspeople at Ignition Arts fabricating Morning Glory, a sculpture by artist Sopheap Pitch. A view of the finished piece. Image credit: Michael Hoefle

Wittman stresses that helping artists develop relationships with architects, designers and other key players in the field of public art is a natural extension of the Ignition Arts role. “I think everyone at the company feels like this is a nexus. We have areas of specialty and focus, but those areas often overlap.” “We are very good collaborators,” adds Day. “This is really the basis of our business. It’s something that gives our clients confidence. We build on one another’s strengths and rely on each other’s expertise."

Manifesting many visions

The eclectic range of Ignition Arts projects is a testament to that spirit of collaboration as well as to a strong and dynamic flexibility. “We are always growing our connections and our talent base,” says McCutcheon. “One of our current projects is developing the digital code for a sculpture that responds to weather patterns in real-time. We’re very excited about this.”  

McCutcheon shares his enthusiasm via Instagram giving followers insights into the many aspects of works in progress as well as finished projects on site. “We really are a one-stop shop,” says Day. McCutcheon adds: “Because we are artists, we understand what artists go through as they prepare to bring their vision from the studio into the world. We can help them on that path because we have an intimate working knowledge of what it takes to make those visions real.”

Four diverse projects realized by Ignition Arts- clockwise from upper left: Three Trees: Jackson, Obama, Washington by Walter J. Hood.  MVP by Brian McCutcheon. Archaeopteryx by Nicholas DeBruyne and Wevolve Labs.  Native by Brian McCutcheon. Image credits (clockwise from left): Cory Dewald, Jamie Alvarez, Orrin Anderson, Emily Eve Shannon.