And the 2018 Skip McKinney Faculty Award goes to...Dan Fifer!


A speechless and elated Dan Fifer rose from his seat on October 24 to accept the 2018 Skip McKinney Faculty Award. Fifer is an Indianapolis local and Hoosier native, growing up in Naptown and becoming interested in the arts during elementary school. Self-describing himself as someone who, when he grew up wanted to be an artist and a weirdo. He is now the Indianapolis Art Center’s Studio Chair of Printmaking, Photography, and Digital Arts.


Fifer was selected from five finalists including Art Center teaching artists Heidi Mandich, Dan Cooper, Ethan Culleton, and Bekah Pollard. The remaining finalists will receive $1,000 each. Additionally, with this fellowship Fifer has earned a solo exhibition in the Art Center’s Clowes Gallery comprised of work he completes throughout the coming year. 

Fifer became involved with the Art Center during his youth, while growing up in Broad Ripple and through traversing the Monon Trail. In high school he volunteered for the Broad Ripple Art Fair and often visited the Art Center’s free exhibits.  

The Skip McKinney Faculty Award is made possible by the McKinney Family Foundation. It honors the legacy of Arlene “Skip” McKinney, a long-time Art Center student, accomplished artist, and established community leader. Family members Robert H. McKinney, Lisa McKinney, Marni McKinney, and Kevin McKinney, along with panelists Rob McPherson and Marta Blades interviewed all the finalists and selected Fifer. 

Presenting the award to Fifer was Marni McKinney, daughter of Robert and Skip. “Each and every year that we’ve been able to come and announce the winners, my family has found this process is incredibly rewarding to us,” Marni said. “We are reminded each year of the incredible dedication and commitment of the faculty, and also the creativity of the faculty. And how much time really goes into trying to really build community in their classroom and throughout the Art Center.” 

On the scope of the award, Art Center President and Executive Director Patrick Flaherty said, “This award is unprecedented. It’s unlike anything that you’ll find in any community art center or even university across the country.” Flaherty continued, “It helps us with recruitment of new faculty and encourages our faculty to keep growing.” 

Our Social Media Manager Dion Hazelbaker sat down with Fifer to talk about his background in art and how it feels to be the 2018 Skip McKinney Faculty Award winner. Below is the lightly edited conversation:  


Congratulations, Dan! Tell me a little about yourself, your history as an artist, and your role at the Art Center!  

Dan: I am from Indianapolis. Grew up in Indianapolis, and after exploring the West Coast after college ended up here because I have family in town.  

In elementary school I decided I wanted to be an artist and wanted to be weird when I grew up. Through college I found photography and ended up with a degree in photography and related media, which included video and digital art. After that I worked in childcare for awhile, and eventually came here to the Art Center where I learned printmaking and added that to my repertoire, and I’ve been working here since!  

Currently I am the Studio Chair for Printmaking, Photography, and Digital Arts. I teach those three mediums and I particularly like to work in alternative processes and photography. 


What does it mean to you to win the Skip McKinney Faculty Award? 

Dan: It’s a huge honor to win this award. I know the instructors here at the Art Center are all amazing, so to be recognized as an outstanding faculty is an honor in itself.  Additionally, I will be able to improve and make my studio a more comfortable spot and personal workspace where I can make my artwork.  

What themes and mediums interest you 

Dan: “I’m mostly interested in photography, digital art, and printmaking. I think it’s the reproductive arts I enjoy. Each of them initially has this idea that you will make a mistake. There’s the test print, there’s the proof. So I’m just drawn to those.  

As far as styles, most of my work tends to be at least little bit abstracted. Even my photographs there’s some type of abstraction happening in those.  


What is it that you like working with photos, what attracts you to the medium? 

Dan: To be completely honest I’m drawn to these mediums because of my short attention span. Printmaking, photography, and digital arts each of those has these periods where you work, and then you can stop. You can walk away, you can go do something different, you can come right back and pick up where you left off. And so that is the other reason I’m drawn to these.  

Photography was the first artform I found. And when I go into the darkroom, put some headphones on. The rest of the world disappears and I can actually focus on my work. If I need to get a distraction or my attention span has run out, I can just take a break and come back to it a little bit later.  


What’s the most rewarding thing about teaching your students these artforms you love so much? 

Dan: It’s definitely showing them the broad options within each of the mediums. There’s so many possibilities within photography, beyond digital photography or even silver gelatin. That’s really why I’m drawn to alternative processes, when you get into cyanotype, Van Dyke brown, gum bichromate, you really start seeing a new world of photography.  

Same with printmaking, you’ve got silkscreen, calligraph, monotypes, lithography, relief, and really the possibilities are endless. So, when a student comes in and they think they know what they’re going to learn and then I just explode the world, that’s always a lot of fun.  


Of all of those processes and films you just mentioned, which one do you enjoy working with the most? 

Dan: Personally, I work with gum bichromate as an alternative process. I get to mix my emulsion myself, and it uses watercolor paints or pigments for the coloration, which allows me to choose any hue I can find in watercolor paint. So, it's not just black and white, but any color under the rainbow.  


Shifting gears a little bit, what are you most looking forward to with the exhibition you’ve just earned yourself next year? 

Dan: I’m looking forward to the freedom. I’ve seen what the previous winners have done, Ben Johnson had an amazing light up show in a balck room, Vandra was able to show different workshops she attended, Debbie Kirby put on an excellent story with her ceramic work. I have no idea where I’m going, but the idea that it’s free, open, that’s really exciting, and the possibilities are endless.  


What kind of themes have you been tinkering around with when you think about this show in the future? 

Dan: I’ve only been thinking about the show for about five minutes, but recently I have been working with alternative pigments. Pearlescent, metallic, and interference pigments with the gum bichromate. And those have a unique interaction with the light, and it makes a more dynamic viewing. So I’m excited to see where that can go, and I’m not really sure what it’s going to look like, but that’s the direction I’m headed.  


What do you love about teaching and learning at the Art Center? 

Dan: I love teaching here because the students are eager to learn. There are no grades, no homework. So any student who comes in through the doors is here for the sole purpose of learning. As for learning here there are so many different things to learn. I’ve been able to take and teach a class in all ten mediums here, and so the possibilities are endless and every day is something new to learn or explore. So that’s why I like to learn and teach! 


Any parting words? 

Dan: I would also like to thank the McKinney family for this award, it’s incredibly humbling to be nominated as a finalist, let alone win the entire thing. So thank you very, very much.