Posted and Printed on Sun, Oct. 06, 2002

Art Factory: Anything goes and anyone can come

By Steve Penhollow The Journal Gazette

It's 7 p.m. on a Saturday and I'm talking to a wiry man in granny glasses with Adrienne Barbeau's hair who is wearing nothing but a pair of flowery panties. We're standing on the corner of Lafayette and Berry outside the Art Factory. Cars are going by. When the man isn't standing around in public in flowery panties, he wears what can only be described as shipwreck pants. Sometimes he wears both at the same time. His name, he tells me, is Maestro Barefoot Bacon Bob. "I live in such a bad neighborhood," Bob says, "there's a coke (lower case) machine." Far from being down on his luck, or a few sausages short of a breakfast, Maestro Barefoot Bacon Bob is actually the trombonist in a Fort Wayne band called Rupert Bomb. The other members of the band are nearby - less provocatively attired but just as comically monikered: They insist on being called Channel 2, Big Green Truck, Brownie, and Pucklewartz. Maestro Barefoot Bacon Bob is a recent addition to Rupert Bomb. Valued initially for his tromboning, Bob has come to fill a void the band didn't know it had. "He's good at doing nothing on stage," Pucklewartz says. Also standing nearby is a reasonable-looking woman who could easily be a mom waiting patiently for all of this to end so she can drive her son home. But she's not a mom to Rupert Bomb. "Beelzebub's all our moms," Channel 2 explains helpfully. In fact, this woman - who quite sensibly calls herself Diane Groenert and not Gravy Boat Captain, or something - is more instigator than chaperone. Groenert is the manager of the Art Factory, a new gallery/music venue/performance space at 340 E. Berry St. It is quickly becoming one of the Summit City's more intriguing places to be creative and bask in the creativity of others. And no one is more surprised about it than Groenert. The next Art Factory event, involving two rooms-full of bands and DJs for $7 ($5 with a canned-food donation), starts at 9 p.m. Saturday. The Art Factory concept began as rudimentarily as it possibly could have about a year and a half ago. Visual artist Groenert was cast out from her studio space when it went condo. She looked around for a substitute space, and then for a cheap, vacant building she could divvy up with other artists. She fell in love with a former Berry Street printing house and rented the whole schmeer, fully expecting that fellow visual artists would fall all over themselves to share the love. It didn't happen that way. "I expected that artists would be coming out of the walls," she says. "But after Sept. 11, everyone was second-guessing everything." In desperation, Groenert started calling all of the bands listed in the alternative weekly WhatzUp in hopes that some of them would be interested in rehearsal space. That's when the Art Factory was truly born. Rupert Bomb not only rented a large space for itself, it agreed to arrange a lineup of concerts featuring bands that were frozen out of other venues for various reasons: among them, the age/alcohol quandary and the profits/safe-territory quandary. Rupert Bomb is one of those acts that isn't likely to emanate from your mom's itty bitty bedside boom box (or boomlet box) anytime soon, unless your mom's Sharon Osbourne. A band-affiliated announcer launches the show this particular Saturday evening by telling Rupert Bomb, "I heard your new CD today and it's horrible. You could sell it for 50 cents and I still wouldn't buy it," and addressing the audience in atypical ways: "I see all your faces and they all look empty. Grow some beards" and "Who wants beef jerky?" Strips of beef jerky are handed out. A Rupert Bomb performance is like a combination of Ornette Coleman, Suicidal Tendencies, Captain Beefheart, a steel workers strike, a meeting of Free Associaters Anonymous, the worst lounge act, and the best tailgate party. Audience members are encouraged to viciously toss a cymbal across the floor at strategic and not-so-strategic moments during one song. Rupert Bomb may be the only local band with a fan base that includes "an official testicle grabber." At one point, Rupert Bomb stops playing so that Snider High School student Ann Detwiler can read two poems she wrote while sitting on the front stoop of an adjacent building in the minutes before the show. In spite of, or maybe because of, the brevity of their construction, the poems are excellent and powerful. Some nights, for a $3 cover, patrons have seen as many as 13 bands, not to mention rooms full of art, poetry readers, experimental dramatists and assorted other exhibitionists-for-a-good-cause. "Our goal is to provide a safe space for free expression for anyone who wants to express themselves," Pucklewartz says. "That way, even if they suck, they can come to a place where people will cheer them." To date, Groenert says, 500 bands from across the Midwest have contacted her or Rupert Bomb about contributing to the Art Factory experience. It is a phenomenon that Groenert says she hardly has a handle on. But she's enjoying the ride. The building in which the Art Factory is tremulously but energetically ensconced recently changed hands and Groenert has been informed that it will be razed sometime in the next two years to make way for a parking lot. She's not sure she'll relocate when that happens. Given the surprising freshness of much of what has gone on at the Art Factory, she may just let it go, in the interests of artistic integrity and dying-before-one-gets-old. "People keep telling me, 'Oh, you should write grants' and such. You know what? I just want to paint." The Art Factory can be reached by calling 420-4717 or logging on to www.//

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