The civic festival Spirit and Place, which runs Nov. 5-16, has been a fixture of the fall season since 1996, but organizers
are still trying to explain to Indianapolis residents what it’s all about.
So what is a “civic festival?” It’s a series of 40 events in which musicians, writers, scientists and historians, among others, offer their interpretations of a given theme. This year, it’s “inspired places.”
If Spirit and Place seems more New Yorker than People, here’s why: The whole thing began with an academic research project on “the relationship between urban culture and religion,” Director Pam Blevins Hinkle explained. The Polis Center at IUPUI, which conducted the research, decided to cap the project off in 1996 with a “public conversation” on the topic. John Updike and Kurt Vonnegut, who appeared at the event, happened to be two of the most influential writers of the 20th century.
The unscripted conversation between Updike and native son Vonnegut was wildly popular, Hinkle said,
and it spawned an entire festival.
This year, Spirit and Place has a $340,000 budget, most of which goes toward promotion and staging the public conversation. The marquee event this year features former four-term Indianapolis Mayor Bill Hudnut and John Fetterman, the mayor of Braddock, Pa., who won election in 2005 by a single vote.
The Polis Center continues to be the lead organizer, employing two full-time staffers to work on the festival. Lilly Endowment, the Allen Whitehill Clowes Charitable Foundation, the Central Indiana Community Foundation and local congregations are the main underwriters. Many participating organizations schedule and pay for their own events.
“We are hard to get your hands around,” Hinkle said. “There’s nothing else like us in the country. Ours is unique. The larger purpose is to bring us together. Our mission is to promote civic engagement and imagination.”