How Ball State shaped Art Executive Carter Wolf

Carter Wolf, image courtesy of the Indianapolis Art Center
Carter Wolf, image courtesy of the Indianapolis Art Center

The Alliance members at their Wednesday, March 11 luncheon and program had the pleasure of hearing Carter Wolf, recently retired president and CEO of the Indianapolis Art Center, speak about his experiences as an art executive and the impact Ball State has had on him throughout his career.

Wolf transferred from Hanover College to join the Ball State architecture program. After a while, he realized that design and arts were more appealing to him, and he switched to the fine arts program. As a fine arts student, Carter had the opportunity to work with Dr. Alice Nichols, former chair of the BSU Art Department.

Bust sculpture of Alice Nichols located by the Riverside entrance to the David Owsley Museum of Art
Bust sculpture of Alice Nichols located by the Riverside entrance to the David Owsley Museum of Art

Nichols had a big role in shaping the David Owsley Museum of Art, back then known as the Ball State University Art Gallery. Nichols helped the gallery receive formal accreditation from the American Association of Museums in 1927 before her retirement. “Alice was her own pioneer,” Wolf reminisced, “and she broke a lot of ground. A lot of ground we didn’t know she was breaking.”

Wolf also mentioned his fine arts professor, Dr. Ned Griner, who taught him the importance of craftsmanship. “That is one of the best lessons I’ve learned overall – it doesn’t matter what the subject is, craftsmanship is everything, because otherwise it’s not finished.” The impact Griner had on Wolf’s craftsman ship is evident in the work at his contemporary furniture and housewares store Wolf would open later in life.

Ned Griner, image courtesy of
Ned Griner, image courtesy of

After receiving a bachelor’s degree in fine arts with a focus on painting and sculpture and sociology from Ball State University, Wolf continued with art education while beginning his career as a secondary school art teacher in northern Indiana. Wolf’s career as an art teacher was shaped by his relationship with the head of the art department at Burris Laboratory School, Pete Carr. While working with Pete, Wolf remembers him saying “Never teach down to kids. They can do a lot more than you think they can.” Carr’s passion for and commitment to children’s education impacted Wolf’s experience as an elementary educator.

Once he left teaching, Wolf opened a contemporary design store in northern Indiana. After the real-estate market took a hit, he jumped into the world of nonprofits. Wolf headed the movement to revitalize downtown South Bend in the 1990s as part of the nationally-recognized Main Street Program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. His time in the non-profit field was directly influenced by the art club, Kalista, he was president of during his time at Ball State. “It was an incredible leadership opportunity,” Wolf said. He also paid homage to the fact that his Ball State degree opened up doors and opportunities in South Bend for him that he wouldn’t have had otherwise.

After his time in South Bend, he was asked to come to Indianapolis by the Governor of the state Frank O’Bannon. Once in Indy, Wolf had the opportunity to oversee the directors of the Governor’s Commission on Community Service and the Indiana Arts Commission, which he described as “a great experience.” Wolf also got involved with homeless prevention. “My reputation of running fiscally responsible, mission driven non-profits and my art degree from Ball State helped me get the job of CEO of the Indianapolis Art Center.”

Facade of the Indianapolis Art Center, image courtesy of the Indianapolis Art Center.
Facade of the Indianapolis Art Center, image courtesy of the Indianapolis Art Center.

The Indianapolis Art Center is a nonprofit community art center that provides interactive art education, outreach to audiences in under-served areas, support of working artists and exposure to the visual arts for residents in central Indiana. The Indianapolis Art Center offers classes in fine arts from ceramics, to painting, glass blowing, and jewelry making. The center is dedicated to the Indianapolis community, and invites people of all ages to take advantage of their facilities. During Wolf’s time at the Indy Art Center, the organization saw a 25% increase in class enrollment from when he started—which he attributed in part to the creation of shorter-term classes, including single-session events—and an investment in improving studios.

Wolf ended his talk by saying, “Thank you Ball State. Thank you to all of the people who are no longer here who influenced me, and thank you for the experience that I had. It [Ball State] was the perfect place for me.”


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