Indigo Girl

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Alisha Budkie returns to 1301 Main St. in Over-the-Rhine with a new venture. – Photo: Jesse Fox

Imagine an artist’s dream garage sale. There are traditional items like brushes, paint, charcoal and paper, but the fun doesn’t end there. Mix in feathers, buttons, wood scraps, natural materials, yarn — anything offbeat you might uncover in an attic — and you have Indigo Hippo.

The nonprofit, opening Friday in Over-the-Rhine, is an ever-changing version of this garage sale. Located in the space formerly occupied by art supply store Rock Paper Scissors, Indigo Hippo will serve as both a donation-based art supply store and a gallery. It will also offer visual-arts-based programming.

Indigo Hippo is referred to as a “creative reuse center,” which, according to its founder and executive director, Alisha Budkie, is kind of like a thrift store for art supplies. While the creative reuse model has existed all around the world and these centers are present in hundreds of U.S. cities, this is a relatively new concept for Cincinnati.

Budkie is a graduate of the University of Cincinnati’s College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning. She co-founded Crafty Supermarket in 2009 and helped run Second Sunday on Main from 2012-2013. In 2011, she opened studio and art supply shop Smartfish Studio & Sustainable Supply on Main Street in OTR (in fact, in the same location as Rock Paper Scissors and Indigo Hippo).

Through all of her experiences as a student and maker-artist, the need for different ways of obtaining materials didn’t go away. She saw a problem with constantly purchasing new products and buying poorly made items from overseas. Over the years, she also realized just how many of these supplies would just lie around or go to waste.

“(At Smartfish), that was all materials that were made in the U.S. and made better,” she says. “It answered that quality (aspect) but it wasn’t accessible. I hadn’t created a resource that was available to everyone.”

With Indigo Hippo, materials are donated to the store from students, artists, local makers and elsewhere. There have been a couple donation drives, and items from individuals are accepted on an ongoing basis during store hours. This allows for product affordability, which is key, and keeps these items out of the waste stream.

“We take all of that in and do whatever has to happen — clean it and get it ready to go back out to the community — and offer it as low-cost as possible just to basically keep the doors open,” says Budkie.

Emily Farison, an Indigo board member who has been largely dealing with the space and materials, says this will be a nontraditional art supply store, beyond just the affordability factor.

Shoppers won’t really find the same thing every time — an added appeal. “So being able to come in and be like, ‘Oh my goodness, look what I found this time,’ is a different process in even seeking materials,” she says. “In that way, we might even be able to supply artists with specialty or unique products they might not be able to find elsewhere.”

These products are in demand within the community. Teachers, community organizers and art therapists, for example, are requesting materials. Indigo is also contributing supplies to Camp Joy in Clarksville this summer. The camp serves low-income youth and those that have special medical needs, giving them a chance to participate in an enriching summer camp experience.

The Indigo team is also building a curriculum for visual arts. Danielle Ervin, chair of the Indigo Curriculum Writing Committee and vice president of the board, helps facilitate communication with Camp Joy.

“(Kids) will be learning hard skills like how to make a painting or work on shading,” she says. “We also want to teach other things that naturally grow inside of you as you work on creative projects, like self-acceptance and perseverance and accepting how hard it is to fail and keep going.”

Ervin explains that a huge part of Indigo will be this creative-collaborative process. Her belief is that art should not be reserved for a select few; everyone should get to experience it. Art classes beyond the camp will be open to the public and likely free.

“We will learn how to be more kind and communicative and be a community together,” Ervin says. “It could help open up a lot of boundaries and barriers that exist within and outside of the creative community.”

And that is Budkie’s goal for Indigo as well: to reach beyond the established community of artists and engage those who may not normally have the chance to participate in art. She believes the affordability, accessibility and welcome environment will help.

“I know that there are a lot of things I don’t know and a lot I still have to learn,” she says. “But there are people in the community with a lot to say and a lot to share and teach that no one has been listening to, so I’m listening. I’m trying. I care.”

Indigo’s many mentors are a strong source of inspiration for this mission. Budkie specifically mentions Libby Hunter of WordPlay, Stacy Sims of the True Body Project, Tamara Harkavy of ArtWorks and Leslie Kochanowski of Loose Parts Projects.

Budkie also says there are a lot of organizations, like MYCincinnati and the Peaslee Neighborhood Center, that the members of Indigo respect and are exploring ways to work with.

Before returning to Cincinnati two years ago and coming up with the idea for Indigo, Budkie was working at one of the last old-school shoe factories, Maine’s Highland Shoe Company. There, she was in a more isolated setting, using hard skills instead of more intrinsic ones like teamwork.

Leaving the community here showed her just how important it really was to her. Budkie’s artistic support system includes artistic director of Indigo, Regina Middleton; UC Fine Arts intern Molly Jowitt; former Rock Paper Scissors owner Lindsay Nehls; remote board member Tori Craig; artist and musician Liz Wolf; community connector Jai Washington; and musician David Corns.

And that’s just to list a few. She says they’ve all contributed to Indigo Hippo, and everything was made possible through this collaboration.

“(Art is) so important, in that we can learn who we are, grow, work through struggles in our lives, connect to ourselves and other people and build community,” Budkie says. “Being a human is hard, but that’s a shared thing, and we’re able to express that through art. That’s what this is about.”

Originally written for Cincinnati CityBeat: CLICK HERE FOR THE STORY.

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