City's cultural districts take artful approach: Five areas use $250,000 in grants on original public art projects

February 13, 2006

Two wall-size murals now welcome people to Massachusetts Avenue. An abstract sculpture that looks like an Alexander Calder tribute sits on a bridge in the Canal District. A towering blue and green obelisk marks the north end of Broad Ripple on College Avenue.

The works aren't part of an elaborate conspiracy by a renegade public artist. They're the result of two years of careful planning by the city's Cultural Development Commission.

In 2003, the commission designated five areas of the city "cultural districts." It brainstormed ways to brand the areas-Broad Ripple Village, The Canal and White River State Park, Fountain Square, Mass Ave, and the Wholesale District-and 12 months later gave $250,000 in grants to the five districts for public art projects.

And it asked them to think locally.

"It was very important that each strategy or each execution undertaken by the districts was unique to that district," said Julia Watson, vice president of marketing and communications for Indianapolis Downtown Inc., which directs the cultural district program. The districts listened. They revealed their finished projects at the end of January and turned their attention to promoting their newly branded identities. Following is a closer look at each district and how it spent its grant money:

Slogan: We're open if you are


Extends north from 61st Street to 67th Street along College Avenue. Includes Butler University hangouts and bars along Broad Ripple Avenue. Claim to fame: An eclectic mix of shops, restaurants and art galleries. It also hosts a popular new bungalow tour in the fall.

North-side drivers motoring down College Avenue have undoubtedly seen Broad Ripple's new addition to the public art scene. The 20-foot green and blue obelisk sits in the median at 67th Street and College Avenue. "It signifies that there's a vital public arts community in Broad Ripple," said Carole Darst, grant coordinator for the sculpture, and owner of CD Design Collaborations. It also serves as an excellent landmark for those searching for one of the area's most elaborate outdoor sculpture collections. The Indianapolis Art Center is two blocks east on 67th Street. Tim Ryan, a northeast-side resident, built the massive obelisk using steel, concrete and 650 hand-made tiles. The district used $50,000 from the commission as well as $10,000 from the Indianapolis Art Center to pay for the piece. Darst and her colleagues hope to landscape around it and light it in the spring. That might not be the only work happening in the trendy little village in the next few months. Ellen Morley Matthews, the new president of the Broad Ripple Village Association, would like to improve the district's green spaces, clear telephone poles of wilted rock concert posters, and add more public lighting.

Slogan: Discovery runs through it Boundaries: A backwards Lshaped district, it traces the Central Canal from 11th Street to the White River. The Indianapolis Zoo sits on the western edge. Claim to fame: Indianapolis' version of Washington, D.C.'s mall, it hosts numerous museums, including the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art, Indiana State Museum and NCAA Hall of Champions. It's also the proposed site for the Indiana Museum of African American History that's slated to open in 2010.

Modern art enthusiasts will love the new sculpture in the Canal and White River State Park district. Pure form. Modern with a capital "M."

District organizers used $70,000 from the Indianapolis Cultural Development Commission to pay for the two-part sculpture, which was made by an artistic team from Indianapolis-based Urban Artifacts LLC.

"We chose this particular project because the Canal is below street level, and we don't think it's immediately apparent to people who aren't familiar with downtown where the Canal is and how you get there," said Tina Connor, executive vice president of the Historic Landmarks Foundation, who helped get the sculpture in place.

The work is far from over.

While the sculpture is in place, the district is using $200,000 in grant money from Sallie Mae to lay the foundation for an "interpretive plan."

In other words, Connor and her colleagues want to put signs up that explain the history of the area to pedestrians and cyclists.

The first of the district's 11 bridges will have interpretive elements on display by late spring. More money needs to be raised to finish the work.

Slogan: Anything but square


Southeast of downtown. Bordered by Fletcher Avenue on the north, Interstate 65 on the west, Orange Street on the south, and State Avenue on the east. Claim to fame: The most bohemian of the districts, it has a number of artistic residents and attractions, including the Wheeler Arts Community and the Murphy Art Center.

Fountain Square received $60,000 from the Cultural Development Commission, and that's only a fraction of the cash being spent on improvements in the area. It also has $500,000 in federal grant money that will be used to improve the streetscape near the district's main intersection. The money from the Cultural Development Commission was supplemented with additional funding from sources including the Southeast Umbrella Organization to bring the budget for the district's public art project up to $85,000. The cash was used to build a small park on the southwest corner of Virginia Avenue and Leonard Street that reflects the district's history. The park has the address markers of the buildings that originally stood at the location, diagonal walkways, and an abstract sculpture of a fountain by local artist Dick Lutin. Landscaping will be added this spring. "It's representative of the streets that used to [be here] before [Interstate 65] came through," said Mark Stewart, president of the Southeast Neighborhood Corp., a community development group. The $500,000 transportation grant will be used to make the intersection at Shelby and Prospect streets more pedestrianfriendly and more visually appealing. It'll also be used to install a second signature fountain at the intersection. Steward hopes to complete the work by the end of 2007. After that, he'd like to find more grant money and tidy up the inter- section just north at Virginia and Woodlawn avenues.

To complete both projects, he'll have to land another $500,000 in grant money and roughly $400,000 in private funding.

Slogan: Rhythm reborn Boundaries: IUPUI sits in the middle of the district. It's bordered by New York Street on the south, 11th Street on the north, Riley Hospital on the west, and Capitol Avenue on the east. Claim to fame: Known for honoring the city's rich black heritage, it features the famed Madame Walker Theatre Center and the Crispus Attucks Museum.

The Indiana Avenue Cultural District used to be part of the Canal and White River State Park, and didn't get designated as its own cultural district until 2004. For that reason, the district is one year behind the other five. It's just now finishing its strategy. While the district plans to promote its image as the center of Indianapolis' black heritage, it'll also focus on some more pragmatic goals. "The Indiana Avenue stakeholders want to focus their opportunity on a deeper sense of redevelopment and planning," said IDI's Watson. Because it doesn't get as many leisure visitors as the other districts, that means trying to increase home ownership, as well as enhancing awareness of Indianapolis' black history.

Slogan: 45 degrees from ordinary Boundaries: Start at Delaware Street and draw a line northeast up Massachusetts Avenue to one block beyond College Avenue. Claim to fame: a sophisticated mix of cultural attractions, including the Theatre on the Square, Murat Centre, and numerous art galleries and restaurants.

Several local artists benefited from the $50,000 the Cultural Development Commission steered to Mass Ave.

It used the money for murals ($25,000), art boxes ($10,000) and outdoor art ($15,000).

"It reinforces that we're an arts district," said Susan Vogt, deputy director for the Riley Area Development Corp., a community development organization.

More of the same is on the way. The district will soon announce a new sculpture program and it's already looking for sitespecific pieces.

It'll use money from the Arts Council of Indianapolis for the works and hopes to have them in place by June.

Slogan: Welcome to the main event


Includes the area south of the Circle between Pennsylvania Street and Capitol Avenue. Bordered on the south by Union Station. Claim to fame: The "Times Square" of Indianapolis, it's known for numerous entertainment options, including the Indiana Repertory Theatre, Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, Indianapolis Colts and Indiana Pacers.

The Wholesale District received $20,000 from the commission and spent the money improving the façade lighting of the Indiana Repertory Theatre and the Indianapolis Symphony Center. The district also received a grant from IDI for the project. "The goal was to make lighting a signature element of the district," said Terry Sweeney, vice president of real estate development at IDI. "And to use it in an artistic way that highlights the district's historic architecture. It's kind of the Broadway or Times Square of Indianapolis." The new lights will be used for more than productions of "King Lear" and "A Christmas Carol." Expect blue lights on the facades on days when Peyton Manning lines up behind center and green lights on St. Patrick's Day. "We want every night to feel like opening night," Sweeney said. "We want it to feel like premiere night or Oscar night." In conjunction with the opening weekend of the theater and the symphony-Sept. 15-17-district bigwigs will also work with restaurants and hotels in the area to put together ticket packages to lure visitors downtown for a getaway weekend.

The future

The projects bring to a close the branding phase of the six districts. Now it's time to get out the promotional playbook. That's why IDI is focusing its 2006 efforts on real estate development and marketing.

That means open houses with local real estate brokers and community leaders. It also means a heavy marketing push.

For instance, by mid-March, it hopes to have stickers or signs in storefronts in each district that advertise their location in a cultural hot spot.

It also means maps and signs, what IDI refers to as "wayfinding." It wants to plant four map kiosks in each district so shoppers and diners can find their way around.

City officials hope the effort puts the six districts on par with famous neighborhoods such as the Garden District in New Orleans or the Gaslight District in San Diego.

"We want people to come to Indianapolis and say, 'You know what? While you're here, you have to go to Mass Ave,'" said Keira Amstutz, deputy mayor and administrator of the Office of Cultural Tourism.
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