FORTVILLE — Rachael O’Dell remembers the moment she found her new purpose.

O’Dell, a Fortville native, had spent several years in a medical career in Washington, D.C., before moving home with dreams of finding something that fulfilled her more, something that touched the creative spark in her heart.

She and her husband stumbled upon Nickel Plate Arts one day, and O’Dell was shocked to realize her childhood friend, Ailithir McGill, was the founder of the nonprofit, multi-disciplinary art studio in Noblesville.

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The two Fortville natives are leading the charge to strengthen the community through spreading awareness of local talent, whether it’s a display of sculpture, a painting, a piece played by a string quartet or the performance of a group of thespians promoting their upcoming play. O’Dell and McGill, childhood friends and Mt. Vernon High School graduates, help direct and coordinate the events and displays at the studio to provide a community outlet for visual, musical and performing arts.

And their partnership rekindled a friendship that started in their grade school days.

“I was like, oh my gosh, this is a stars-aligned sort of moment,” O’Dell said.

Nickel Plate Arts is all about helping local talent find a space to share their passions while helping strengthen the town’s sense of community in the process, said McGill, the organization’s executive director. McGill has been involved in growing the organization since its beginning through an initiative of Hamilton County Tourism Inc., a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting tourism.

From its humble beginnings, the studio has surpassed expectations in the past few years, McGill said. What started out as a few simple galleries has grown into a network of artists of every kind; their increased involvement in community arts often leaves her wondering what creative project they plan to tackle next, she said.

“I’ve been constantly building this aircraft as we’re taking off,” McGill said with a laugh.

Today, Nickel Plate Arts’ main campus, 107 S. 8th Street, does everything it can to connect people from all around Indiana to the creative part of the community, McGill said. Like most galleries, Nickel Plate displays the work of illustrators, painters and sketch artists, but they also promote the work of local theatre troupes, authors, poets, musicians and even culinary artists trying to make a name for themselves, McGill said.

Nickel Plate Arts boasts an accessible, pedestrian-friendly location in downtown Noblesville, said O’Dell, artist liaison and exhibit coordinator. The nonprofit benefits benefit greatly from the extra foot traffic of people exploring the various coffee shops, boutiques and galleries.

The old, small-town feel of the studio helps the community closer together, O’Dell said. This aids in Nickel Plate Arts’ mission to forge artists’ careers, help them to develop their skills and get connected in the right circles.

An unlikely reunion

McGill and O’Dell graduated from Mt. Vernon High School in 2000, O’Dell said. She remembers play-dates from when they were young girls, but the two naturally grew apart after leaving high school, she said.

However, it was inevitable that the two friends would cross paths again, especially with her husband being involved in the arts, McGill said. O’Dell turned out to be the perfect person to be their liaison and exhibit coordinator; her passion for helping other artists lent itself perfectly to the position.

The Mt. Vernon grads’ common background also helped them develop a trusting professional relationship that has carried the organization a long way, McGill said. The studio only has a handful of staff members, with McGill and O’Dell being the only full-time employees. When things get stressful, McGill said she can fall back on knowing that she and her closest confidant have a longstanding history that will help them conquer any challenge.

“That is a surprise I never expected to have in my career, but it’s been a very pleasant one,” McGill said.

For the past few years, she has considered herself fortunate to help her old friend find new ways to spread awareness about the art scene in central Indiana. It’s a role that the Fortville natives are proud to take on, together.

“I connect artists to opportunities,” O’Dell said. “I get to help people do art for a living, and that’s something I would do for free.”

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Evan Myers is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. He can be reached at 317-477-3228 or