INDIANAPOLIS — The Penrod Society's signature event, the Penrod Arts Fair, is celebrating its 55th anniversary on Saturday, September 10.
"The first year I came, it was just more like a flea market," K.P. Singh, an architectural artist, told WRTV.
Singh has participated in the Penrod Arts Fair for 50 consecutive years now. As one of the longest-featured artists of the annual event, Singh has seen the event go from flea-market style to one of the largest single-day art fairs in the country.
In 1972, five years after the first Penrod Arts Fair (at one point called "Arts Fair at Oldfields"), Singh didn't have any display equipment for his artwork, nor did the Penrod Society.
"I said, 'Could I put some nails in the trees behind me and hang some of my favorite pieces?' And they said, 'Go right ahead.' So, I sold several pieces," Singh said, remembering that time. "I never quit."
Ronan Johnson, the chair of the 2022 Penrod Arts Fair, added to the evident growth of the Fair, sharing that at one point, the 22 founders of The Penrod Society bribed people with free beer to come out.
"If you put yourself in Indianapolis in 1967, I think the word I've heard probably best described it was 'India-no-place.' There wasn't a whole lot going on necessarily civically, and a whole lot necessarily to be proud of," Johnson said. "These folks said, 'How can we do something that'll help engage people civically and also bring people together and add some more excitement to the city?' And the idea that they came up with was to have an art fair."
Now — and for the last 30 years — The Penrod Arts Fair has been regarded as "Indiana's Nicest Day."
What will Indiana's 55th Nicest Day be like? 'Electric.'
In 2021, more than 20,000 people walked through the Newfields gates for the Penrod Arts Fair.
"It's not a word I ever thought I would associate with an art fair, but you throw the art with all the stages, and the music, and the children's area, and it's just electric," Johnson said.
"The artwork from here has traveled all over the world. Because people bring their guests and their friends from other countries, they bring their relatives from other states," Singh said. "This is the most beautiful art fair in the country."
Johnson says several artists reached out to The Penrod Society and said the 2021 Evening with Penrod and Penrod Arts Fair was the most successful one yet, and he agrees. He says, however, the Society also received much-needed constructive feedback.
"The outcome of some of that success was we had really long lines to get in the gate. We had long food lines; we had food vendors that ran out of food, long lines for drink stations, and things like that," Johnson said.
So this year, The Penrod Society has doubled the number of entry gates, volunteer staff, restaurants, and drink stations. For instance, last year, the Fair had 100 volunteers; this year, the Society got 200 volunteers to help.
"We'll end up with over twice as many volunteers as we've ever had historically. And that right there is just the Indianapolis community coming out," Johnson said. "It's just an amazing outpouring of support from all communities."
The 2022 Penrod Arts Fair will feature 300 artists from around the country displaying and selling their artwork. In addition, the Fair will have six stages with a packed lineup of 10 dance performances and 15 bands.
Wendy Franklin, an artist who has been participating in the Penrod Arts Fair for 22 years, says it's "a very comprehensive show."
"You get great food, great music, great art. And you can really spend as much or as little time as you want here; you can swing through the art booths, you can stay all day," Franklin said.
If the 2022 Penrod Arts Fair will be your first, Franklin has two tips for you: Wear comfortable shoes and, before coming out, check out your living space.
"Take a spin around your home and see where you could use art, check out your outfits, and see what pieces need an accessory or piece of jewelry. Then, think about who you're buying gifts for," Franklin said. "Have a little bit of a plan on how you want to approach this show and shop."
Tickets are $15 if ordered before Tuesday, Sept. 6, and $25 thereafter.
A civic $5 million in 55 years
The Penrod Society has survived the last 55 years thanks to volunteers willing to dedicate their free time to organizing several events.
After a record-breaking turnout to The Penrod Society's events last year, such as Evening With Penrod, which occurs the Friday night before the Penrod Arts Fair, and, of course, the Fair, more than $275,000 was given out to several Indianapolis nonprofit organizations.
So far, in its existence, The Penrod Society has given out $5 million to local nonprofits thanks to these events.
"Our overhead is literally a website and storage unit," Johnson started.
"Sometimes, folks don't understand when they come to the Fair what they're really supporting. And not only are they supporting having an amazing day and an amazing time, but they're also helping support The Penrod Society further its mission, which is to take 100% of those proceeds, and give them all back out," Johnson said.
This will be Johnson's 10th year with The Penrod Society. He says, first, it's the electric atmosphere of the Penrod Arts Fair that keeps him volunteering his time, and second, it's getting to see firsthand how The Penrod Society's process of civic engagement works and makes an impact.
"When you look around, and you're like, 'Hey, a collection of volunteers, that all have other jobs, that are doing this on the side, made all of this happen.' And it helps support all those artists too. because for the vast majority of our artists, this is their livelihood," Johnson said. "And when you think of the scope of the organization that we give to, it's always kind of amazing."
As someone who has worked for decades to help preserve significant pieces of Indiana history, Singh understands how organizations like The Penrod Society prosper for years.
"Institutions only survive if those who have benefited from it keep supporting it, keep participating, keep promoting it," Singh said.
You can learn more about The Penrod Society at penrod.org.
WRTV Digital Reporter Shakkira Harris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow her on Twitter, @shakkirasays.