The City Market in Indianapolis downtown dates back to 1821. In its initial incarnation, it was a hub for the exchange of Indiana produce, meat and other grocery items before giant corporate grocery stores inundated the United States. As a meeting place for people gathering sustenance, the City Market offered a casual environment for the exchange of news and ideas as early Hoosiers picked from baskets full of apples, oranges and ears of corn. It even had an auditorium!
Indianapolis people were able to “embrace their agricultural heritage” at the City Market all the way up to World War II. But as grocery chains began to dominate the buying and selling of food in the late 1940s and 50s, the City Market found it necessary to reinvent itself. As the building fell into disrepair, the Circle City hemmed and hawed about what to do with the empty space in the middle of downtown Indianapolis. In 1968, it received funds from the Lilly Endowment for restoration purposes and found protection in a listing on the National Historic Register. By 1977, the City Market had found new life as a hub for meeting downtown. It became a popular lunch destination, as its walls filled with countless cafes, bistros, bakeries and more.
Now that our old City Market has seen almost two hundred years of life in Indianapolis downtown, it seems time for it to again rise from the ashes of what it once was to reinvention for a new generation of Hoosiers. The city of Indianapolis is currently reviewing six proposals for the fair phoenix we know as the City Market, the most interesting of which is an Indianapolis Performing Arts Center (but we’ll get to that a bit later). Five other proposals are currently on Mayor Greg Ballard’s desk, as the city once again debates how the City Market should be used.
Among these proposals are a are five level parking deck, a bike hub and shop/ brewery/ outdoor performance space/ green grocer, an Indiana Agriculture Market (which harkens to City Market’s early days that proved none to successful in the modern age)/ black box theatre and/or cabaret space, a fitness center/ culinary school/ wellness center and an entertainment venue (ala the Murat or Conseco Fieldhouse) with attached restaurants. Two of the five pitted against the ingenious proposed Indianapolis Performing Arts Center also contain performance spaces for Indianapolis artists and Indianapolis arts organizations. Though not of the same level as the Performing Arts Center, these performance space proposals reveal a deep ceded need for additional Indianapolis performing arts venues.
The Indianapolis Performing Art Center, if chosen, will be the first of its kind anywhere in the United States, placing Indianapolis culture on the map when it comes to innovative arts and culture ideas. It offers a number of facilities, that will be avidly used by the Indianapolis arts community, and a multitude of options for how these organizations can utilize the facilities to suit their individual needs. Flexibility and variety are the name of the game in this City Market proposal.
First, lets talk about facilities. The Indianapolis Performing Arts Center will be a one stop shop for arts and culture in Indianapolis. With a 500 seat theatre, three flexible black box spaces, dance studios, theatre classrooms, music rehearsal rooms, a literary center, office space for Indianapolis nonprofit organizations, affordable housing for performing and literary artists, commercial space, storage, a catering kitchen, an artist hotel and possible museum/ gallery space, the Indianapolis Performing Arts Center is by far the most cohesive proposal. If designed intelligently (no question for Indianapolis based Riley Area Development Corporation), the Indianapolis Performing Arts Center will be a web of arts for Indy.
The Riley proposal explains its vision: “Imagine a performing arts complex with a central area for crowds to gather on weekends to mix and mingle, then disperse to the five different performance opportunities at 8:00 pm. All in a complex that provides affordable housing and rehearsal space to the performing arts and literary arts community, conveniently located on the Cultural Trail and accessible from all part of Indianapolis.”
The need for such a place in Indianapolis is apparent, simply by reading the NUVO Newsweekly each week. Countless cultural and artistic organizations are scattered to and fro every month, scrambling to draw audience to various found and inconsistent performance spaces. In fact, Riley was able to attach nonbinding letters of intent from seventeen Indianapolis arts organizations, who are all eager to fill such a space with life and art. Countless more theatre, dance and music groups are popping up around the city, as Hoosiers find an internal need to express themselves and the world around them.
Just ask any participant in performances by No Exit Theatre Company, Susurus Performance Group, Indy City Ballet, Dance Kaleidoscope, Indiana Ballet Company, Russian Ballet Academy, Indianapolis Opera, Storytelling Arts of Indiana, IUPUI, Music For All, Gregory Hancock Dance Theatre, Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra, Heartland Actors Repertory Theatre, Freetown Village, New World Youth Orchestra, Indiana Academy of Music, Kenyetta Dance Company or Sapphire Theatre Company. Not to mention the dozens of participants each year in the indyFringe Theatre Festival, who wait all year to perform in low cost venues for two weeks.
A Facebook group, Supporters of the Proposed Indianapolis Performing Arts Center, in support of the Riley’s proposal is already more 3,300 people strong and growing everyday. Support at this level for the five other City Market proposals has yet to spring up, a telling sign of the true will of Indianapolis society.
Having a home and a place to call their own will keep these Indianapolis arts companies from continually having to scrimp and scrape by to produce original art, performance and literature. No longer should we force our artists, the scribes of our community, to apologetically attempt to draw audiences to see their work. With consistent housing and performance venues, these groups can grow to make an even bigger impact on Indianapolis than they already do.
However, a few dark clouds hang over the bright future of a possible Indianapolis Performing Arts Center. The Mayor’s office has expressed fears that additional performing arts space will draw audiences away from other stages in Indianapolis, such as the Indiana Repertory Theatre, the Phoenix Theatre or Theatre on the Square. On the surface, this argument seems to make sense. But delving deeper into the supportive nature of the arts community in Indianapolis reveals a greater purpose.
The Indianapolis Performing Arts Center would not draw audiences away from other performances in Indy, but rather cultivate audiences that attends more Indianapolis theatre, dance and Indianapolis music. Plus, the Indianapolis Performing Arts Center would be largely used by groups that are already busy producing art for Indianapolis. Centralizing their location would strengthen the state of art overall in Indianapolis, not weaken it. In addition drawing more people downtown for more events will create business for Indianapolis restaurants, Indianapolis bars and other Indianapolis businesses downtown.
Let’s place Indianapolis culture and art on the map with a one of a kind venue in the Midwest. To show your support of the proposed Indianapolis Performing Arts Center, write a letter to indypac(at)gmail.com!