Newfields plans fall festival, more parking, culinary center with $8M Lilly Endowment grant

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Newfields will use $8 million from the Lilly Endowment to launch a major fall festival, add a 200-space parking lot, transform the former Lilly “playhouse” into a culinary center and strengthen arts programing across its 152-acre campus.

The improvements are part of a masterplan that aims to bring hundreds of thousands more visitors to the complex, which includes the Indianapolis Museum of Art, Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park, Lilly House and a greenhouse and beer garden.

“We’re delighted that Lilly Endowment thought that the vision we had deserved this level of investment,” said Newfields CEO Charles Venable. “This grant will accelerate our mission to be at the intersection of art and nature and to curate amazing experiences.”

Lilly Endowment announced nearly $50 million in grants Wednesday as part of its one-time “Strengthening Indianapolis Through Arts and Cultural Innovation” program. The endowment funded 17 ideas.

About half of Newfields’ $8 million grant will go to new programming, 30 percent to infrastructure and 20 percent to its endowment.

A major goal is setting the campus up to handle larger crowds and then host more seasonal events like Winter Lights, which is now in its second year. Winter Lights “exceeded our expectations well over 100 percent in terms of visitation,” Venable said.

This fall, Newfields piloted a two-day fall festival, but it has much grander plans for the event.

Information released by the Lilly Endowment called the new event “Harvest” and said it will “bring people of all ages together to celebrate Indiana’s strong agricultural heritage and explore the bounty of the fall season.”

But Venable said staff and the Newfields board have not yet settled on a name. Still, he said harvest “gives you an idea of the kind of imagery we want.” The goal is to incorporate the original Lilly vegetable gardens and orchard that are on the Newfields campus with art programs related to the season.

The festival could also take advantage of the new home for Newfields’ culinary arts department, which will be in a building Venable said was once considered the Lilly playhouse. Later, it was home to an IMA restaurant. But it will be upgraded to take on bigger food-related events. Imagine large-scale, farm-to-fork dinners, Venable said.

The fall event and the culinary building are essentially expansions of smaller projects—such as the beer garden—that Newfields has been experimenting with. And it plans to pilot more food- and drink-related ideas, which have been popular with guests.

The culinary department is planning a pop-up tea shop in the museum and a noodle shop to go with upcoming Japanese exhibits.

One cap on the ability to add programming has been parking, Venable said. The grant will allow Newfields to create a new lot with space for 200 cars within its existing campus along Michigan Road. The current lot has about 470 spaces. But the new lot won’t be concrete or asphalt. Instead, contractors will build a solid base under an existing green lawn and then replant grass on top.

That will allow overflow parking during events that won’t destroy the lawn. But when it’s not needed, the space will remain park-like.

Much of the work will begin quickly. Newfields staff has been quietly working on the projects in anticipation of the grant. Work on the parking lot and the culinary center will start in 2019.

The fall festival will take several years “to reach maturity, where we expect several thousand people a day” attending, Venable said.

“We hope that, over time, we’re able to attract another 500,000 people to these types of programs,” he said. “We’re one of the few places here that can accommodate that many people.”

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