A&E SEASON PREVIEW: Talking points for local arts community

Who will take the top arts job in Carmel?

Steven Libman faced several huge tasks when he came to town two years ago as the first CEO of the Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel.

He had to recruit a board of trustees for the not-for-profit foundation that operates the center, hire staff, plan an opening gala, book acts and raise lots and lots of money. It’s unclear how much Libman raised, but the board was so pleased with his overall performance that in May his contract was extended for five years.

Then, on July 29, Libman suddenly resigned, and it didn’t take long for the reason to come to light. He’d started a romantic relationship with his executive assistant and promoted her without advertising the position, according to what Mayor James Brainard told Carmel weekly newspaper The Current.

The Current had uncovered the affair after launching an investigation of various rumors about mishandled money. It took its findings to Brainard, who hired private investigators and later presented his own findings to the center’s board. Libman walked away on the Friday before a ribbon cutting for The Tarkington theater. As of late August, Carmel officials had not revealed whether Libman actually misspent money.

Frank Basile, a leading arts philanthropist and vice chairman of the board, stepped in as interim executive. The center’s staff of about 40 continues to run the three venues without a hitch, Basile said, and a national search is under way for Libman’s replacement.

The job comes with an unusual challenge, as the CEO has to please the board of trustees and play well with the city council and Brainard, the center’s visionary.

When IBJ spoke with Libman back in August 2009 about his new job, he was diplomatic about how local politics would come into play.

“I suppose the optimist in me would say, ‘I guess the regional performing arts center will be in the news every day,’” Libman said at the time.


How will the Cultural Trail come together?

Merchants in Fountain Square will be relieved when the Cultural Trail is finally complete. Then what?

It has public art and even a public-art controversy around Fred Wilson’s “E. Pluribus Unum.” Trail officials are still trying to decide on a home for Wilson’s proposed sculpture, which won’t overlook the trail from the City-County Building after all.

Indianapolis Cultural Trail Inc. also has its first executive director, Karen Haley.

The eight-mile, $62.5 million sidewalk improvement will be substantially complete by the end of the year. It’s Haley’s job to make the trail a destination, a catalyst for fun events and the driving force behind new initiatives, such as a bike-sharing program.

Completed sections are ready for action. We wait to see how it comes together.


How much money can the arts raise now?

The ISO isn’t the only group looking to raise money during what was supposed to be an economic recovery.

Nearly every other arts organization in town is running a campaign or trying to figure out when to jump into the mix. How many of them will go forward after this summer brought the worst stock market performances since October 2008?

Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre might have gotten a head start. Might Civic announce a fund-raising goal and lead gifts at its Sept. 8 gala?

The Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art and Indianapolis Museum of Art were contemplating campaigns in 2010, but they have yet to announce dollar targets.

Heartland Truly Moving Pictures had set a goal of $12.5 million, and CEO Jeff Sparks expected to exceed that amount.

Then there’s the Center for the Performing Arts. The center needs to raise money for its operations without stepping on the toes of its not-for-profit tenants, such as Civic.

The ISO had not issued an update on its campaign by press time, but spokeswoman Jessica DiSanto said she expected to have something to talk about soon.


Will young maestro live up to the ISO’s expectations?

Classical music fans are obviously pleased with Krzysztof Urbanski as a conductor.

They gave the sub-30-year-old from Poland a standing ovation when he took the podium at Hilbert Circle Theatre in May for a performance that had been scheduled well before he accepted the job as music director.

Urbanski begins work under his four-year contract this season, and the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra will finally see how he performs behind the scenes, as well as on stage.

The ISO is trying to raise $100 million to bolster its endowment and cover operating expenses. CEO Simon Crookall sees the music director as a key figure in that effort.

“It gives us something to rally the community around,” Crookall said of Urbanski’s appointment last fall.

Urbanski has never directed an American orchestra, but he’s enthused about the opportunity, and says he’s a fan of the city. His contract requires him to spend six weeks here in the 2011-2012 season. Though Urbanski also has a full-time gig with the Trondheim Symphony Orchestra in Norway, Crookall thinks he will be a noticeable presence in the community.


Will Super Bowl elevate or suffocate A&E?

Everyone wants a piece of the Super Bowl spotlight, and the visual arts seem to have the best shot at getting television crews’ attention.

Special exhibits and projects are in the works by the Indianapolis Downtown Artists and Dealers Association, Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art, Indiana State Museum and the Arts Council of Indianapolis, which is planning $500,000 in murals around the city. Theatre on the Square will celebrate another aspect of football culture by staging “Debbie Does Dallas: the Musical,” a PG-13 version of the 1978 porn film about a high school girl’s quest to become a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader.

Performing arts groups such as the ISO and Indiana Repertory Theatre haven’t planned anything yet. They’ll be vacating their own venues to make way for private parties.

The Super Bowl Host Committee is supposed to be coming up with the city’s headline act.

Host committee chief Allison Melangton was trying back in February to raise money for shows on Monument Circle the week before the game. Initial plans were for multiple nights of entertainment and for the circle to become a pedestrian mall. A concert of some sort was rumored to be in the mix.

The host committee could turn to Hoosier special-event standby John Mellencamp – his musical with Stephen King, “Ghost Brothers of Darkland County,” doesn’t open at the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta until April.

Or will Melangton’s crew come up with something completely different – and cool?

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