Putty, the Offbeat Live Art Talk Show, Is Coming Back to Bloomington

December 7, 2018
Host Erin K. Drew sits on the Putty stage

Take a host, put them in front of a live “studio” audience, add some guests, toss in some games and round it out with a musical performance, and you’ve got all the makings of a late-night talk show.

Indianapolis mainstay Putty has all those ingredients, but it’s not shooting for a viral sketch or to crowd your YouTube feed the next morning – Putty wants to be your window into the local art scene.

“Bringing people together into one space is really important, and is a really appealing aspect of it to me. Bringing people from academia, and bringing people from DIY, and also integrating these visual elements through the games,” host Erin K. Drew said. “We can respond to things in real time, in unexpected ways.”

Drew created Putty as a way to, as she puts it, “appropriate and distort” the talk show format. It’s a live performance held once a month where Drew and a slew of guests go deep on art and art culture, play some games and feature some local musical talent.

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The crowd gets in on games like “Overrated, Underrated, Correctly Rated” and “What’ll We Do,” a play on a community calendar with a dash of existential crisis. Putty’s next show, Saturday, December 8 in Bloomington, will feature a Putty-fied version of Chopped: Each guest gets a box of materials in it and has to design something under a time limit.

It’s irreverent, at times off-kilter, and it’s amassed a loyal following over its past two seasons

“I think it’s for people who already have a foot in the art world.” Drew said. “Expanding the conversation around art for the people that are already involved in the art community is important. It was born out of this frustration of not having a broader art dialogue.”

The concept for Putty came while Drew was working for the General Public Collective, a now-closed gallery and project space that featured rotating exhibits. Frustrated by a lack of media coverage, Drew started interviewing artists for a new zine each time an exhibition would open. That worked for a while, but Drew thought it would be much more compelling in a live arena.

“It was going to be the hungover, Saturday-morning wake of first-Friday openings,” Drew said.

After General Public Collective shut its doors, Drew was still hooked on interviewing local artists, and she had her first Putty show at State Street Pub in Indianapolis soon after. That would become Putty’s home base.

Saturday’s show marks a return to Bloomington and Hopscotch Coffee for Putty. Drew’s last show in Bloomington in September kicked off of a three-episode series, or what Drew calls a “mini-residency.”

“It felt like something that fit with our community, even among ourselves,” said Erin Tobey, who works as an event coordinator and designer for Hopscotch Coffee. “[It’s] something we knew our staff would enjoy and feel some ownership over.”

Historically, Hopscotch doesn’t do many live events; they’ve had a couple music shows and a handful of poetry readings, but Tobey says they’re experimenting with Putty as a means to add more programming.

“It’s kind of an experiment to see who we can get in the door,” Tobey said, “who wants to come out and what do we think [attendees] want.”

Putty’s trilogy of shows at Hopscotch was supported through a grant from the Bloomington Urban Enterprise Association. It gave Drew and her team money to bring the show down from Indianapolis. (Tobey said one of Hopscotch’s owners is on the BUEA board but recused herself from this grant vote.)

However, following Putty’s final show at Hopscotch on February 2, the future of the series is uncertain. Apart from the BUEA grant, Putty is funded almost entirely by Drew, with help from small donations. At the close of the current season, she’s weighing her options between seeking more financial support or sunsetting Putty entirely. She may even leave the Indianapolis area to pursue more schooling.

“I’ve thought of it as my alternative, continuing education,” Drew said. If she ends up elsewhere, Drew added, “Theoretically, the show could come too.”

But Tobey says she’s not too worried about what comes next from the Putty creator.

“She’s someone who always has cool irons in the fire. I would be confident that even if Putty ends, she’s going to reiterate into something else,” Tobey said.

Regardless of where Putty goes next, Drew says she’s proud of the bolder steps she’s taken with recent shows. She says she’s been bolder about reaching out to the regional art community in places like Chicago and Detroit, and she even took Putty on a short tour through Cincinnati, Columbus, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.

“[I’m] delighted by how willing those artists were to come be on the show and come talk to me,” Drew said. “Asking for the conversations you want to have has been a pretty important dimension of it for me.”

Putty returns to Hopscotch Coffee Saturday at 7 p.m. Its final show in Bloomington will be Saturday, February 2. To see more of Putty, head to its website and Instagram.