Endowment’s cultural grants lead to great community ideas

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Kudos to Lilly Endowment Inc. for the $49 million in grants it distributed last month to organizations for cultural projects that will likely spur additional development and impact the city for decades.

The money came through a one-time program—Strengthening Indianapolis through Arts and Cultural Innovation—that the endowment established to foster community building in the city.

Initially, the endowment planned to grant $25 million to organizations for short- or long-term projects that improved quality of life and brought the arts to more residents. But it received 226 proposals, and officials were so moved by the ideas that they essentially doubled the investment.

“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,” said Rob Smith, the endowment’s vice president for community development, in a statement released when the winners were announced.

In all, the endowment awarded 17 grants, including $8 million to help Newfields expand its ability to hold large-scale events, $4.3 million to the John H. Boner Community Center to support an arts-and-design district on East 10th Street, and $3 million to Big Car to create artist housing and additional studio and exhibit space in the Garfield Park neighborhood.

On page 3, you can read reporter Susan Orr’s story about a $9.2 million grant to the Indianapolis Parks Foundation to restore the dilapidated Thomas Taggart Memorial in Riverside Park. The memorial will be renovated to create an outdoor theater venue that will be used for free Shakespeare performances each summer, among other events.

In the Dec. 21 issue of IBJ, Orr wrote about a $5.85 million grant to the city of Lawrence and not-for-profit Arts for Lawrence to launch a major economic development project focused on the arts and the area’s military history.

In both of those cases—and in many others—the projects are meant to kickstart larger projects, with the hope that significant private investment could follow in the surrounding neighborhoods.

Of course, these grants are just one part of the hundreds of millions of dollars Lilly Endowment, which is the nation’s third-largest private foundation, grants to Indiana organizations every year. Much of that already goes to arts organizations, and the endowment funds other community development programs as well as education and religious initiatives.

In 2017, the endowment approved 1,062 grants for a total of $537.8 million to 788 grantees. About 70 percent of the recipients were in Indiana. Of the remaining 30 percent, most of the money went to religion grants.

Still, there’s something special about the Strengthening Indianapolis through Arts and Cultural Innovation and the way the program spurred organizations to think in a bigger, more creative way about Indianapolis neighborhoods and residents.

We are excited to see these newly funded projects get underway—many will start construction or programming this year—and watch the community reap the rewards.

And we are hopeful that Lilly Endowment will be happy enough with the results that it will consider trying this program again.•

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