Robin Williams moved back to Kokomo in 2018 after living in big cities such as New Orleans and Atlanta. Her mother had just passed away, and she wasn’t sure if she would settle in Kokomo for long.
Then she learned about Artist Alley and the city’s art scene.
“I came back here to really dig in because I saw that Kokomo was embracing more arts and culture,” Williams said. “I said, ‘You know what, I think I could stay here.'”
Now, one of her pieces is on display in the alley, along with 16 new works hung there in September.
Since 2014, the alley, located off Main Street between Mulberry and Walnut streets, has featured an array of artists working in a slew of mediums. Since then, hundreds of works have hung in the alley, allowing anyone walking through to take in top-notch art.
Now, the newest batch of works are on display, ranging from surreal portraits, pipe sculptures and vivid landscape paintings.
Williams, who took over as the director of the Delphi Opera House in August, said her work pays homage to women in her family, whose roots in Kokomo date back to the 1850s. Vintage photos placed throughout the piece highlight those women and their history in the city and county.
“I’m documenting the culture of my ancestors and the culture of Kokomo,” she said. “My piece was really devoted to, and inspired by, my ancestors that go back 170 years in Kokomo.”
Williams, who is also a multimedia artist, ethnographer and photographer who operates Fleur de Lygon Studios in Artswork Gallery, said the newest works in the alley represent a more diverse group of artists than ever before.
And that diversity is essential for a public arts display such as Artist Alley, she said.
“I think any city, whether it’s a larger one or a smaller one, should truly reflect the constituency and the diversity of the community and that it embraces all of those wonderful things,” Williams said.
Tarja Harney, a Kokomo native and an adjunct professor in the New Media, Art, and Technology Department at Indiana University Kokomo, has two pieces in the alley this year.
She said her work called “The Support System,” which is painted on two boards and connected by wire, is about “two individual parts relying on one another to be complete and existing as one.”
“They could be separated and displayed, but the wires help support them and bring a balance to the overall look,” Harney said in a description of her work. “They work together and support one another. This concept comes from my support system in life. We could work independently but instead we lend each other the support to grow and move forward together.”
Her sculpture “Pipe Dreams Closed Today” is also on display as “a maze of pipes leading to nothing.”
“There are valves that give the hope of being opened but they end up being a false sense of accomplishment,” Harney said in her description. “The dreams aren’t meant to be achieved today. Making the piece of the various pipes and valves, I wanted to feel like a labyrinth of hope/dreams not being able to be reached.”
Tashema Davis, an art teacher, is one new artist to display her work in the alley this year. Her piece called “PANDA WALK” focuses on the “beautiful innocence of childhood play.” She said the image for the piece was pulled from one of her self-published children’s books.
“When looking at this work it is my hope that you feel the joy and freedom of imagination and childhood memories,” Davis said in a description of her piece. “The vibrant colors should invoke excitement. Bamboo stalks are painted in the background, while the girls enjoy a panda walk in the foreground. Keep imagining the impossible.”
Cedric “Doc” Fields, who is also a new artist to the alley, painted a scene depicting his memories of Kokomo, including a cardinal in front of the gas tower that was demolished in 2000.
“I chose the cardinals because they represent hope,” he said in a description of the piece. “I believe it’s something we all need in these hard times. I added the state flower and gas tower to represent my own love and pride for my city. The tower was always the first thing I saw when I came home. It was the lighthouse of my city that guided me.”
Williams said places such as Artist Alley are critical for arts and culture to thrive in a city, and the diversity of artists on display this year mark a move toward a more inclusive art scene in Kokomo.
“I think we all have something really special and unique to contribute to our cultural scene,” she said. “I think it’s really important that we keep Artist Alley going and that it’s always there. Public art is a crucial part of our cultural map and quality of life.”