When Brian Payne became president and CEO of the Central Indiana Community Foundation in 2000, it was a somewhat staid organization. The charitable foundation, which controls some $800 million in funds, doled out money to local groups but was no one’s idea of an activist organization.
But that soon changed. Under Payne’s leadership, the CICF doubled its annual grant-making to more than $50 million. And the nature of those projects evolved. During the early years of the 21st century, the focus was on physically tying the Indy area together. It culminated in 2013 with the christening of the Indianapolis Cultural Trail, which links all the city’s major cultural areas with eight miles of downtown trails lined with public art. The unique project has been written about and studied around the world.
“Pretty much every community foundation in the country does grant-making and donor services,” Payne said. “And that’s a very important part of our work. But we can also be incredibly visionary and entrepreneurial. My goal is to make sure we do those first two things really well, but that we are also a visionary, big-idea organization when it comes to civic improvements.”
While the Cultural Trail was visionary, Payne’s next overarching goal for the CICF is vastly more ambitious.
“Within the last five years, we’ve been on a journey around racial equity and dismantling systemic racism,” Payne said.
The effort will involve very little brick and mortar, but quite a bit of soul-searching on the part of Indianapolis residents. The programs that have already been announced deal with reconstructing how people think about and interact with others. Admittedly, this will be a far tougher challenge than creating a downtown walking path, but Payne said he is up for it.
“The Cultural Trail changed my life,” he said. “I’m forever grateful for how it came together, with partners and supporters and a good dose of luck. But I’m hoping that this work we’re doing now to dismantle systemic racism will be the most successful part of my career.”