Arts & Entertainment, etc. and Benner/Sports and Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra

BENNER: No good comes from driving wedge between sport and art

October 13, 2012

Yes, this is a sports column, so hang with me for a few paragraphs.

For a number of years now, my wife and I have shared with another couple season tickets to the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra’s Pops Series where the orchestra, the artists and the setting are routinely magnificent.

In the summertime, we purchase tickets to the ISO’s Symphony on the Prairie series at Conner Prairie. Great music and a stunning Hoosier sunset make for an incredible combination.

And last, going back more than 20 years, it has been a Benner family tradition to attend ISO’s Yuletide Celebration which instantly puts us in the mood of the holiday season.

We love the ISO. It is an incredible community asset.

So what on earth does this have to do with sports?

Time and again, I have read or heard the complaint that our slavish devotion to sports—in particular, the Indianapolis Colts and Indiana Pacers—takes away public resources that might more equitably be distributed to the arts community in general and, specifically, to our world-class ISO.

It is a point worthy of consideration, especially among those who consider ISO conductor Krzysztof Urbanski as the genuine young phenom in this town, and not Colts quarterback Andrew Luck or the Pacers’ Danny Granger.

Yet sports—for better and worse—is the opiate of the masses, and we Americans/Hoosiers are willing to pony up whatever it takes to satisfy our habit.

Echoing the theme of a recent column, most sports entities, especially the pros, have us right where they want us: ready, willing and eager to buy their product and build their stadiums.

It’s kind of like why the band plays at halftime of the football game, rather than the football game being played at the intermission of the band concert.

Arts and music lovers ask, what are our priorities? Well, let’s place it in another context. There are four major sports leagues in America, with more than 100 franchises, most of which play in largely publicly funded venues. And if any face financial difficulties, there are cities lined up for a chance to woo them.

Meanwhile, the ISO is one of just a dozen or so such orchestras in the country, and not the only one in financial peril.

Yet another answer to that priorities question—again, for better or worse.

In any case, this sports scribe says it shouldn’t be about sports versus the arts, but about sports and the arts. We should be looking for ways to link together, not pull apart.

A few years ago, we had the “cultural convergence” where we linked significant arts initiatives with an array of sports events that came to the city. More recently, the Super Bowl murals program also engaged the arts community and, of course, Hilbert Circle Theatre served as the venue for the hugely popular “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” show.

I realize none of this solves the very real financial issues confronting the ISO’s management and musicians. The day the music dies—and I fervently hope it does not come to that—will be a day our city will be significantly diminished.

Walking out of Lucas Oil Stadium in the moments after the Colts had completed that comeback win over Green Bay, the emotion and joy was palpable.

But it was not significantly different from what I have felt on any number of occasions at the conclusion of an ISO performance.

Perhaps in support of both, I should purchase a Colts jersey and have “Urbanski” placed on the back.

Then again, most would probably think he’s a new offensive lineman.

In any case, this sports guy has this plea: Save the ISO. If that’s not a community priority, it ought to be.•

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Benner is senior associate commissioner for external affairs for the Horizon League college athletic conference and a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at bbenner@ibj.com. He also has a blog, www.indyinsights.com.

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