Circle to get $8M boost for patriotic light show as Lilly Endowment doles out $50M in special grants

A nightly patriotic light and sound display is coming to Monument Circle, thanks to nearly $8 million in grant funding from the Lilly Endowment.

Downtown Indy Inc. and the Indiana War Memorials Commission will each receive about $3.8 million from Lilly Endowment to enhance Monument Circle by updating the Circle’s infrastructure — including lighting, staging and sound improvements — so it can better host big and small events.

“We see this as the people’s plaza,” said Bob Schultz, senior vice president of marketing for Downtown Indy Inc. “It’s the cultural and geographic hub of the city and state. The big idea was a nightly signature salute that we as a community could be proud of and invite our family and friends to come downtown and enjoy. It’s about a daily recognition of what the monument stands for.”

The Circle grants are part of $50 million in funding that Lilly Endowment announced Wednesday. It will fund17 ideas across Indianapolis as part of its one-time “Strengthening Indianapolis Through Arts and Cultural Innovation” program. The grants will go to initiatives to strengthen arts and culture districts in Indianapolis neighborhoods, invest in historic landmarks and cultural assets, create housing for artists, and increase access to the arts for people with disabilities.

The nightly salute at the Monument is part of a broader project, called Shining a Light on Indianapolis. The grant will allow the project to be funded for three years. After that, Downtown Indy is hoping to sustain it with corporate grants and private donations.

The sound and light enhancements, as well as the purchase of a stage that can be easily moved in and out for events, will allow the Circle to have more events throughout the year, according to Downtown Indy.

There will also be so-called “video mapping” projection capabilities, meaning that surrounding buildings at the Circle will become part of a “canvas for increased fanfare and activation,” Schultz said.

“Picture themed vignetters for the month of May or around a basketball tournament,” Schultz said. “It’s not just about what happens on the steps of the monument but the full space, a visual amphitheater.”

The nightly salute is expected to include recorded (or sometimes live) patriotic music from the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. Over the music, an Indiana veteran will be heard sharing a memory of battle or an inspiring thought. At the end of the music, a lone bugler will play "Taps," and a patriotic video will be projected onto the monument.

To mark the end of the experience, there will be four intense beams of light shooting skyward around the Monument.

Schultz thanked Lilly for encouraging applicants to “dream big and don’t bring old ideas.”

“We have chewed on ways to get more out of Monument Circle over the years,” Schultz said. “They’ve just not been fully realized because [people said] that’s going to take a lot of money. Lilly was the first to say: Don’t keep the dream buried.”

In addition to the money for the Monument Circle enhancements, other Lilly grants include:

  • $9.2 million to the Indianapolis Parks Foundation to restore the dilapidated Thomas Taggart Memorial in Riverside Park, renovating it to create a outdoor theatre venue that will be used for free Shakespeare performances each summer, among other events
  • $8 million to Newfields to expand capacity to host large-scale festivals, including a fall Harvest festival next year
  • $5.8 million to the city of Lawrence to create a cultural campus at Fort Harrison
  • $4.3 million to the John H. Boner Community Center to support an arts and design district on East 10th Street.
  • $3 million to Big Car to create artist housing in Garfield Park

Also receiving grant funding are Phalen Leadership Academies, Wayne Township schools, Keep Indianapolis Beautiful, IndyFringe, Indianapolis Neighborhood Resource Center, Indiana Blink Children’s Foundation, Indiana Black Expo, Harrison Center for the Arts, Eagle Creek Park Foundation, Central Indiana Community Foundation and Arts for Learning.

The 80-year-old Lilly Endowment, which has more than $10 billion in assets and doles out more than $400 million in grants annually, put out a call for the grants in January, announcing it would award $25 million. Organizations submitted applications for more than 220 projects, requesting a total of $345 million. 

Lilly decided to double the amount it awarded because of the caliber of the proposals that were submitted, according to Rob Smith, the endowment's vice president of community development.

“We were impressed not just by the number of proposals we received but also by the applicants’ collaborative spirit, imagination and energetic desire to make Indianapolis a more vibrant and engaging community,” Smith said. “We believe that the projects funded through this initiative will significantly enhance the quality of life for residents and create compelling new experiences for visitors.”

Big Car founder Jim Walker lauded the Lilly Endowment for creating a program aimed at special art-related initiatives said it shows that “people are starting to understand how artists can bring different ideas to the table and collaborate with other experts on development and architecture.”

Big Car will receive $3 million for work its planning on Cruft Street and Nelson Avenue near Garfield Park, where it already operates the Tube Factory Artspace. Walker said the money will be used to renovate a 40,000-square foot building south of the Tube Factory, renovate three nearby homes to rent to artists, renovate a tiny church into a public space, and create a common green space between its main buildings.

Already Big Car has renovated five houses on Cruft Street to sell to artists and operates Listen Hear, a space for sound projects a block away on Shelby Street.

The goal is to help provide affordable housing and exhibit spaces for artists but also to uplift a neighborhood that Walker said has struggled, pinned between the interstate and busy Shelby Street.

“This competition is really designed for organizations that work through their mission to strengthen Indianapolis through the arts and that’s what we do,” Walker said. “It’s not a side thing for us. That’s our work.”

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