Under the decisive leadership of resourceful city leaders, Indianapolis underwent a dramatic identity change from a sleepy backwater town to a vibrant metropolis during the decades following the 1960s. Although much of the city's reputation was built upon government reform, sports, and Hoosier Hospitality, Indianapolis's mayors also harnessed the economic potential of the arts to rebuild and reinvent the city's image. Their encouragement and sponsorship of public art helped to foster a lively arts scene in Indy and served as an effective method for rehabilitating the city. In the above image from 1973, after twelve years of delay, Mayor Richard Lugar oversaw completion of the installation of "The Ruins" in Holliday Park.
Patterns of urban geography in America began shifting in the 1960s with the decline of American manufacturing and the economic downturn that followed. In what has become known as the "urban crisis," cities across the nation were scrambling to manage the fall-outs of deindustrialization, which included deteriorating city centers, middle-class flight to rapidly developing suburban peripheries, high unemployment, and financial cut-backs. In this climate, cities adapted at the local level by generating strategies for government reform and community renewal in order to market their cities, improve their work force, and foster economic development. The cloud of smog hanging over Indy in this 1968 photo illustrates how much work needed to be done to improve the quality of life in the city.
The defining components of Indianapolis's urban renewal strategy were downtown revitalization and a commitment to sports and arts as economic stimulants. Although sports is what Indy became widely known for, city support of public art helped usher in a cultural boom in the Indianapolis area from the late '60s forward. City leaders prized this cultural development tool, believing that a vibrant arts environment enhanced the city's reputation, attracted businesses, investors, and people, and fed the economy through job creation and arts profits. Pictured during the William Hudnut administration, locals gather downtown to celebrate the 1982 National Sports Festival featuring 1, 2, and 3 from Robert Indiana's "Numbers" sculpture as medal podium markers.
Mayor Richard Lugar initiated the use of arts to celebrate and beautify Indy beginning with a year-long sesquicentennial celebration in 1971. Festivities commemorated Indy's history and showcased its cultural diversity. To foster community pride, the city commissioned artistic pieces to celebrate Indy. Artist Roland Hobart created a series of five graphic screen prints, each representing an important characteristic of Indianapolis. The city also purchased an abstract sculpture by Mark di Suvero called "Snowplow" as a gift to the city, installing it outside the downtown Convention Center in 1977.
In 1973, Lugar announced a city-wide Urban Walls Program, which aimed to improve Indy's downtown by painting artistic graphics on prominent bare walls. The first design contest was overseen by a task force operating under the Parks and Recreation Department. After considering a total of 35 submitted proposals, Austrian-born artist Roland Hobart's design of vividly colored geometric shapes was selected, winning him a $700 prize. Hobart is pictured here shaking Deputy Mayor Mike DeFabis's hand with a shot of the walls and the planned design. The execution of the project was funded through a $3500 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, which was matched by a donation from the American Fletcher National Bank and Trust Company.
Mayor Lugar recognized Hobart at the dedication ceremony for the finished mural, which was applied to the walls of the Indiana Parking Garage and the Union Title Building at Delaware Street and Court Street. The completion of this first project represented the city's official commitment to the arts and creatively transformed bland urban space into an artistic experience. Government leaders' efforts to beautify the city with urban murals continued in the following years with further inclusion of members of the local community and youth groups.
The city was also committed to fostering local artistic talent in order to bolster the local economy. On April 4, 1975, Mayor Lugar announced the creation of 20 new positions for the Metropolitan Arts Council of Indianapolis through funding from the federal Comprehensive Employment and Training Act of 1973 (CETA). CETA helped cities manage job creation and growth by bundling employment and training programs into one comprehensive delivery system. The artists hired to these positions helped to beautify the city through art and taught children art in area schools.
Upon taking office in 1976, Mayor William Hudnut continued to use public art as a place-making tool to both revamp the city and encourage unity among Hoosier communities. Like Lugar, Hudnut emphasized the importance of public-private partnerships, but he also brought focus upon grassroots activism for beautifying the city. Urban murals were a popular way to bring communities together, encourage local artistic talent, and improve the city's image. Hudnut lent the prestige of his office as mayor to many public art events, such as this group mural project at a city underpass in 1977. Other notable murals which Hudnut supported included a 1978 mural executed by at-risk youth groups with the help of Roland Hobart and a Fountain Square mural completed by a youth coalition in 1990.
In 1984, the city began working on what Mayor Hudnut called "a new weapon in our economic development arsenal." Under the direction of the Greater Indianapolis Progress Committee (GIPC), an arts planning task force recommended the city form a new council to fill the vacancy left by the financially defunct Metropolitan Arts Council. Following an extensive period of research, the start-up Indianapolis Arts Council announced a comprehensive arts strategy entitled "Climate for Creativity." The plan was designed to bring the same kind of civic support to arts in the city that sports had received, and it solidified the city's dedication to arts as an economic incentive, a cultural attraction, and a redevelopment tool.
The "Climate for Creativity" plan and the incorporation of the new Arts Council of Indianapolis were the culminating results of a seven-month research and development project. Compiled data from public workshops, interviews, cultural forums, and surveys resulted in an arts census report called "Profile of the Arts in Indianapolis, 1987." The report analyzes art organizations, individual artists, and the economic influence of the arts in Indianapolis. The work completed in these years established a vision for the role of arts in public policy that city leaders continued to build upon throughout the remainder of the century.
Public art also played a vital role in helping mayors punctuate major redevelopment issues. Home to Indianapolis's African American community since the late 1930s, Lockefield Gardens was symbolically and culturally significant. By the 1980s much of the area had fallen into disrepair; city planners initially advocated completely clearing the neighborhood. Following community outcry, the Hudnut administration modified renovation plans in order to preserve the cultural heritage of the areas around both Indiana Avenue and Lockefield Gardens. To honor this heritage, John Spaulding, a native of the neighborhood with familial ties to the local jazz scene, created the sculpture "Jammin' on the Avenue." In 1989, Hudnut dedicated the statue in a ceremony that marked a positive convergence between local politics, arts and culture, and democratic engagement in the community.
Stephen Goldsmith succeeded William Hudnut as mayor and served two terms beginning in 1992. Goldsmith continued the work initiated by his predecessors by acting as an advocate for arts as a way to build communities and improve the city. He argued that public art promoted "neighborhood revitalization, nonviolence, and overall quality of life." Pictured here, Goldsmith interacts with the members of the First Temple of the Divine Mind as they celebrate their "Dream Wall" in 1992.
As mayor, Stephen Goldsmith emphasized privatization of certain city services and prioritized fiscal responsibility. His application of these policies to public art resulted in some novel developments in Indy's art scene. Recognizing the financial and cultural opportunities afforded by recycling an underappreciated or unpopular piece of public art, Goldsmith arranged to sell Mark di Suvero's "Snowplow" to the Indianapolis Museum of Art in 1993. He then reinvested the proceeds into a new work that commemorated a significant moment in Indianapolis history - the speech delivered by Robert Kennedy on April 4, 1968, following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. The memorial, entitled "A Landmark for Peace," was officially unveiled in the Martin Luther King Jr. Park in 1995.
One way that mayors could lend support to the arts was by using the power of publicity that comes with their office. Publicity took the form of photo opportunities, proclamations, mayoral awards, and press releases. This press release describes the public art awards given by Mayor Goldsmith to "A Landmark for Peace" and a project entitled "Mass Attractions" for their demonstration of "the unique diversity and culture of Indianapolis." Public acts of artistic recognition and celebration by city leaders raised community consciousness of public art and fostered local artistic expression.
In 1997, world-renowned artist Wyland completed the 74th of his series of 100 "Wyland Walls" featuring marine life in aquatic habitats. The campaign was one of the largest public art projects in history, spanning 79 cities throughout the world, including locations in China, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Samoa, and the United States. The Indianapolis wall, which is located on the north side of the Indianapolis Public Schools building, is entitled "Orca's Passage." Wyland's murals were meant to spark increased awareness of marine conservation and environmentalism. "Orca's Passage" brought Indianapolis into this global civic dialogue by using public art in the urban environment as an opportunity to educate.
From 1999 to the early 2000s, the city designated six Cultural Districts: Massachusetts Avenue, Fountain Square, The Canal & White River State Park, Indiana Avenue, the Wholesale District, and Broad Ripple. With the inception of the Cultural Development Commission (CDC) in late 2001, developing and marketing these districts became a top priority. Mayor Bart Peterson's cultural initiative was outlined by the CDC's four primary goals, which were to stimulate local cultural participation, to maximize citizens' cultural experiences, to strengthen Indianapolis as a destination city, and to build a sustainable infrastructure for cultural development. Michael Kuschnir's "Looking Through Windows" along the Cultural Trail in the Indiana Avenue District brings together these threads of public art, cultural tourism, and community-making by providing an "opportunity to look at this community through each other's lenses."
The Cultural Development Commission (CDC) was instrumental in planning and constructing Indy's Cultural Trail, which broke ground in 2007. The CDC was a collaborative group composed of members from the mayor's office, the Central Indiana Community Foundation, the Arts Council, Indianapolis Downtown Inc., and the Convention and Visitors Association. By maximizing their efforts in four key program areas - the cultural districts, public art, fast-track funding, and public awareness - the initiatives of the CDC made a significant impact on Indy's economy and quality of life and secured the city a ranking among the country's top culturally-thriving destinations. Considering the tremendous momentum an active arts and culture strategy provided for Indianapolis, investing in the arts has been considered money well spent by city officials in their place-making efforts to rehabilitate Indy's identity and economic competitiveness.
This exhibit was created under the auspices of the Institute for Civic Leadership & Mayoral Archives at the University of Indianapolis. Its primary author is research associate Lauren Judd, with collaboration from Edward Frantz and archivist Mark Vopelak. It was completed in December 2015 using source material from the university's Mayoral Archives.