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'Spotlight,' the rally, and optimism

April 21, 2009
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Times are tough, no question about it. But four events over the last few days conspired to put me in an optimistic mood about the future of the arts in Indy.

That feeling may pass, but for today--inspired by last night's Spotlight 2009 performance, the Indy Culture Matters gathering on Monument Circle, Sunday's Campus Super Star finals at the Madame Walker Theatre, and the Spark a Revolution event at Earth House--I'm going to focus on some reasons to feel positive.

--This isn't the first time I've mentioned Kenyetta Dance Company . But at Spotlight, I was once again impressed with this relative newcomer of a company (it was founded in 2004). Kenyetta calls itself a "pre-professional contemporary modern dance company," but anyone at Spotlight could see that the talented troupe has no trouble playing with the big guys. As demonstrated at the event, the company understands clearly that choreography isn't just about moving dancers around to music. An effective piece combines heart, head and body. Few things are more encouraging than seeing a new company step up. Bravo.

--I expected there to be some talented students featured at Campus Super Star, the annual "American Idol"-like Hillel benefit--and Olivia Hariston of IU was duly appointed as the clearly deserving winner after a classy rendition of "Come Rain or Come Shine." But, truthfully, what convinced me to go was knowing that Steven Stolen and Simon Crookall were judging. Stolen is the seemingly exhaustion-proof managing director of the IRT, founder and leader of the Meridian Song Project, and host of "Stolen Moments" on WFYI. Crookall is President and CEO of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. Both were insightful, fair and sensitive in their comments to the singers. And both are arts professionals who understand that staying behind the scenes won't work in these difficult times. It was great to see them give up their Sunday evenings for this event. Putting public faces on arts organizations is going to be even more vital as we wade through uncertain times.

--I only caught about two hours of the programming at Spark a Revolution and while the guys who played music on bicycles grew tiring after a few minutes and the time between acts was frustrating, I took great pleasure in my first exposure to the awkwardly named (Re)Collective Company. No, it isn't an architectural salvage business. It's a group of accomplished musicians whose performances integrate dancers and spoken word to its tribal sounds. The band doesn't back up the dancers exactly. Their work is more interconnected then that. I sense something really interesting on the horizon (and I'm sorry I missed the group at last year's IndyFringe). It's exciting to see not just the company, but the creation of a new form--at least, for here in Indy. 

--Earth House, which housed Spark a Revolution, is yet another new arts space available to percolating companies on the fringe. Many of these groups will fade out or move on, but such incubation is vital to a lively performing arts scene.

--As to the rally on Monument Circle, it indicates that Indy arts leaders are finally realizing that they need to advocate for themselves in a very public way. I only wish it were made clearer how tiny a percentage of those who participate in the arts in Indy were at the event.

You folks are out there going to these events, and sharing what you've seen, done, heard, experienced, enjoyed and processed is key to others knowing that people like them actually integrate arts and culture into their lives and value those opportunities. Your response to IBJ's boosted arts coverage over the past few years--including this blog--reinforces my optimism.

I should note that it's easier to be optimistic when there's so much to look forward to on the immediate horizon. In a little over a week, you could visit the Stutz Artists' Open House, hear a top national cabaret artist at the newly revamped American Cabaret Theatre, experience a little-seen Russian play at Butler University, see a hot contemporary drama at the IRT, listen to a live interview with arguably the world's greatest theatrical composer, Stephen Sondheim, at IU, and be in the presence of a world-class diva at Clowes.

The latest show at Theatre on the Square is just about sold out. The Phoenix Theatre continues its program of bi-lingual offerings. The Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra has, over the course of a few days, a Happy Hour event, a program for families, a benefit for a worthy cause, and an Mexican-infused program with Doc Severinsen. And if you prefere dulcimer music, well, Storytelling Arts has got that covered.

Then there's the lineup at the Jazz Kitchen, the new public art about to be installed, and the all-cat band that's coming to town (I kid you not)... 

I could go on, but blogs are supposed to be short.

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