On the Move
Madison, Ind.’s Ellis buys Main Street building after selling old feed mill
His former West Street Art Gallery will be a brewery
(September 2018) – The West Street Art Center has been a landing place for members of Madison, Ind.’s arts community for the past decade. Owned and operated by Peter Ellis, 54, of Madison, the building has served as a haven for artists and musicians seeking to develop their craft and connect with one another.
This year, Ellis is leading a change that will move the organization from its location on West Street to the Main Street building previously occupied by Franco’s Restaurant. Ellis sold the building, a former feed mill, on West Street last spring to Jerry Wade of Indianapolis who is developing it into the Mad Paddle Brewery.
Photo by Sydney Hornsby
Peter Ellis is bringing his following of local artists to his new location on East Main Street in Madison, Ind.
The West Street Art Center’s move came as a surprise to members of Madison’s arts community, but Ellis is not moving on from art. “I want whatever we do in the new building to be able to foster the creative community and in a way do what we’ve done in the past,” Ellis said.
Ellis said he is looking forward to the continued creative process of helping the Madison arts community thrive. “One of the positives of developing an arts incubator is that I’ve met so many interesting people. You get to know what’s going on in the world. This is a hobby at best for me. I always say I’m not very good at it, but we have fun doing it. I’m trying to do something someone isn’t doing already.
Ellis graduated with a degree in architecture and became licensed as a civil engineer after moving back to Madison after college. “I don’t like to admit this, but I got into architecture and engineering because I was a frustrated artist,” Ellis said. He laughingly noted that engineering and art are polar opposites, yet Ellis found a way to further his love of art through the establishment of the West Street Art Center.
“With the West Street Art Center, I wanted to have a place as an incubator for arts in the community,” he said. One of Ellis’s early projects was helping design the Venture Out Business Center on Madison’s hilltop. It was designed by the City of Madison and the Chamber of Commerce to serve as an incubator for local businesses. “I had that idea in my brain when I bought the building on West Street. I started thinking about doing a similar thing and making it an arts incubator,” Ellis said.
He noted that the beauty of the West Street building made the possibility of building the arts retreat even greater. “The gallery space in the West Street building was done by Mark Koontz, who had the property before me. I was super fortunate to inherit that space,” he said.
The West Street Art Center kicked off when the late artist, Bob Saueressig, began renting studio space on the second floor. After connecting with Saueressig, Ellis began reaching out to other artists in the community.
“Bob and I started a group on Tuesday, a live drawing class. People could come and put $5 in the coffee can just to cover the cost of having a model,” he said. This group became an integral part of the Madison arts community and continues to flourish today.
The West Street Art Center also played host to events and concerts, while maintaining an art gallery space where work by artists near and far was featured. “It created an environment that hadn’t existed in the community. It’s been a nice scene,” Ellis said.
With the success of the West Street Art Center, the decision to move buildings resulted in bittersweet reactions from Madison artists. Russ Vossler, a painter and sculptor of Madison, said, “I was a little surprised. It’s been huge.” After moving back home to Madison from Los Angeles, Vossler found himself on the search for a community of artists.
“I used to have big city options that I’d take advantage of,” he said, mentioning that he used to take four painting classes a week in California. “It was extreme good fortune to find a place like the West Street Art Center and find someone who was extremely dedicated to holding workshops in a small town. My week turns on Tuesday. The drawing group is that important.”
Ellis himself has mixed feelings about the move. “I’m sorry that I’ve walked away from that. It was a world in town that people didn’t know was going on. Lots of people have told me that they regret me closing the place. I didn’t realize how much people appreciated it until I sold it. That was a nice feeling.”
Vossler agreed, saying, “The West Street Art Center was a great space. The light was fantastic. The sound was great. We definitely gave up something when we moved.”
When asked why he decided to move to the Main Street locations, Ellis said that it was a “building that was available at the time that I thought could somehow work for me. I knew the owner and knew there was interest in developing the building.”
When asked what his plans with the move are, Ellis honestly admits that his plans are “a little up in the air.” However, he said that he is committed to the arts community. “It will more or less be a continuation of the West Street Art Center but on a smaller scale. On West Street, I could keep busy full-time sweeping floors and fixing roof leaks.”
As a member of the Tuesday Night Drawing Group, Vossler said he is looking forward to that tradition continuing. “The new building has loads of potential, and I know there are all sorts of options. I think Peter is committed to the drawing group and the arts community. That hasn’t changed. So much depends on what he does with the building, but we know the drawing group will continue. He’s really devoted to the drawing group.”
The building has a second floor that Ellis is planning on renovating. It holds a full commercial kitchen on the ground floor from the restaurant that previously existed in the building. “I would like to see the kitchen facilities be put to good use,” he said. “I’m working right now on the second floor, but it would be great to see the first and second floors work together. I see the kitchen as an asset and not a liability.”
He was quick to mention that he is not planning on opening a restaurant. “That’s a tough business,” he said, noting that the building will continue to be a resource for those wishing to foster their creativity.
Despite the mixed emotions that come with this change, Ellis mentioned that many members of the arts community helped him move and set up on Main Street. “The Main Street program has also been very helpful, which is one of the perks of moving from Second to Main. The neighbors on Main Street have been welcoming. There’s a great sense of community on Main Street.”
Vossler said, “We’ve started putting art in the windows, and people have start noticing and being curious. The new building is in a great location. It’s on Main Street, which is really impressive and a real advantage.”
Vossler noted that the move to Main Street would help add to Madison’s standing as an arts destination, and he cited Ellis as being a key factor in that continuing. “Peter is a diamond in the rough,” he said.
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