When we initiated the NUVO Cultural Vision Awards 10 years ago, we had at least two goals in mind. The first was to recognize individuals and organizations in this city doing innovative work. Contrary to stereotype, Indianapolis is a place where new and creative things happen. Unfortunately, because of that stereotype — that this is the last place to adopt a new idea or way of doing things — genuine innovation here is often overlooked. The NUVO Cultural Vision Awards are about shining a light on the talented people and creative enterprises who defy that stereotype.
Our second goal for the awards can be summed up in a single word: community. Selecting and recognizing Cultural Vision Award honorees is an ongoing process. Nominees for the awards are suggested throughout the course of the year by people all over the city. Anyone can make a nomination and anyone can be nominated. These nominations are compiled and brought before NUVO’s Editorial Board, which, in a series of meetings, arrives at the final selection you find here.
The NUVO Cultural Vision Awards were first handed out in 1999, and there are now 100 honorees. Fewer than five have moved to other cities; 10 have passed on to the afterlife; and the rest are still here, still working every day to improve the community and culture of Indianapolis.
We see all of these honorees, no matter what their field of endeavor, as being related to one another. They share a certain commitment, creativity, enthusiasm and willingness to say “yes.” We think they represent a kind of community within which we all belong, and we hope to find opportunities to bring them together so that they might draw strength from one another and so that NUVO might draw strength from them.
Once again, this year’s honorees exemplify the qualities the NUVO Cultural Vision Awards are intended to celebrate. You’ll meet artists and activists, peacemakers and provocateurs, educators and innovators. Read their stories. Each one provides an opportunity to reflect upon our own commitment to community, as well as a reason to celebrate the culture of this place we all call home.
NUVO Editorial Board
Kevin McKinney, Publisher
Jim Poyser, Managing Editor
Laura McPhee, News Editor
David Hoppe, Arts Editor
Scott Shoger, Music Editor
Lisa Gauthier, Calendar Editor
Just causeIndianapolis Peace and Justice Center
Capital punishment. A living wage. Nukes. War. Palestinian-Israeli relations. Violence against women. Environmental concerns. It’s safe to say that few just causes have escaped the notice of the Indianapolis Peace and Justice Center in its 25-plus years of existence.
IPJC is housed in a modest classroom inside Broadway United Methodist Church, where bookshelves are stocked with titles like The World Is My Country and Nuclear Culture, and metal shelves hold boxes brimming with papers. More accurately, the room is home to IPJC’s prodigious archives, while the center itself is embodied in its people, its associations and its work.
Founding member and current Vice President Jane Haldeman says some 30 groups partner with IPJC, which she describes as “kind of a two-headed animal.”
“We’re an umbrella group, but we’re also a group that wants to take action,” she explains.
And their actions are plentiful. Over the years, the center has called countless anti-war rallies on Monument Circle, timed to coincide with military milestones and keep Indy residents from slipping into complacency. Since Sept. 11, the Federal Building downtown is the scene of IPJC-led vigils every Friday afternoon.
Collaborations with groups like Justice for Janitors, Christian Peacemaker Teams, the Indiana Information Center on the Abolition of Capital Punishment and various student peace groups have called the power structure to task and boosted visibility of critical causes.
IPJC co-sponsors the annual Midwest Peace and Justice Summit and has hosted presentations on everything from the U.S. occupation in Iraq to IndyGo’s role in helping the workforce stay employed. International, national and local peace and social justice concerns: All are on this organization’s radar.
And as time went by, the nonprofit that grew out of a draft resistance hotline in the early 1980s gradually became the oldest continuously operating organization of its kind in Indy.
“We’re just a bunch of grey-headed but hardworking folk,” Haldeman jokes.
What is she proudest of? The Indianapolis Peace and Justice Journal, an eight-page newsletter the center has published each month without fail since its inception. With a current distribution of 3,500, the journal compiles the kind of atypical news, opinion and political cartoons too often buried in conventional media. “We print news that’s not covered in other ways; that’s basically our motivation,” Haldeman says.
In print or in person, by e-mail or vigil, the voice of IPJC is a welcome one.
It is us nowIndianapolis International Film Festival
It was just over five years ago that Brian Owens returned to Indianapolis from a trip to the Toronto Film Festival. Owens had not only feasted on all the films there, but was also struck with a vision he couldn’t shake: He was convinced the time had come for Indianapolis to have an international film festival of its own.
Now, five years later, the Indianapolis International Film Festival has established itself as a destination for cinema from around the world. “It’s definitely grown faster than I’d originally expected,” Owens says. “I knew it was something people would take to, but I think word spread a little faster than expected, especially outside the city.”
Indeed, the IIFF’s reputation may be larger among filmmakers on the national and international festival circuit than it is among folks in Indianapolis.
But that is changing, thanks, especially, to the festival’s success in attracting younger audiences. While the IIFF has succeeded in drawing filmgoers of all ages, it has proven to have a special appeal to college-age fans and people in their 20s. “Seeing that loyalty from a young audience is really exciting,” Owens says. “It’s not about wearing hip colors. It’s about letting people know we have the best of something we can possibly offer.”
The festival has created a unique venue for types of films that don’t generally find wide distribution. It’s a gold mine of short films — works that can be as short as 90 seconds — and foreign language features.
Owens sees Indianapolis occupying a distinctive niche among film festivals. “If you come here and succeed here, odds are you’re going to succeed anywhere. It used to be Peoria, I think it’s us now. We’re a really good test market. I think that’s what we offer.”
But Owens believes that, ultimately, the IIFF is for and about people in Indianapolis who simply love movies — all kinds of movies. “This is about the public.”
This is contentment
Regina Mehallick, founder
“I have food running through my head all the time,” says Chef Regina Mehallick, founder of R Bistro. Every week there’s a new menu, and a fresh array of seasonal ingredients to choose from. To share a meal at R Bistro is to take a leap, to open oneself to the possibility of a culinary improvisation.
Mehallick has accomplished a lot since opening R Bistro seven years ago. For starters, by establishing her business at the east end of downtown’s Massachusetts Avenue corridor, she helped to extend and define a neighborhood that would eventually be designated one of the city’s Cultural Districts.
But Mehallick’s emphasis on locally grown meats and produce not only anticipated what would soon emerge as a major trend, but has helped to put the culture back in local agriculture.
Mehallick moved to Indianapolis with her husband after living and working several years in the U.K. After a stint in the kitchen at the Canterbury Hotel, she opened R Bistro. “I wanted it to be a small menu with complete dishes and incorporating local ingredients,” she says. It didn’t take long for the city’s foodies to find and fall for Mehallick’s inventive interpretations of various cuisines. Asked to characterize what she does, Mehallick, who now works with a collaborative team of chefs, says, “It’s kind of like whatever we want to do. It’s obviously very contemporary. It has a bistro flair. I think we’ve established that and people are willing to come here and have Indiana food or English food or Italian or Mediterranean or all-American.”
At the heart of all these variations is Mehallick’s reliance on Indiana suppliers, many of whom now seek her out. Last fall, she got a call from a woman in Anderson who had just picked 20 pounds of chestnuts and wanted Mehallick to have them. “Yesterday,” she says, “we got the first-of-the-year lettuces from a greenhouse and,” her eyes light up, “oh, my God, they’re this beautiful color and so tender!”
Business-people have urged Mehallick to expand R Bistro or open additional restaurants in other locations. She’s not interested. “I don’t know if in business that’s the way you should be — but I am,” she says. Then she takes a long look around the space she’s created — from the selection of wines and beer behind the bar to the works by local artists on the walls — and says, “This is contentment.”
Doing what you love
Ron Spencer, executive artistic director Theatre on the Square
Ron Spencer is an institution in the Indianapolis theater community, and a reminder that not all of our great local artists leave for more culturally savvy pastures.
Spencer is an anecdotal treasure as well as a theater maven. Spend enough time hanging around the theater, and you might hear Spencer recite, in his gravelly voice, cigarette in hand, a story like this: “My first venture into performing was at age 6 when I played Tom Thumb, the groom, in A Tom Thumb Wedding at McCordsville Grade School [Indiana]. … Not only was that my introduction to theater, it was also when I realized I was gay. I passed out during the dress rehearsal when I had to kiss Connie Ramsey, my little blond bride-to-be.”
Spencer first broke into Indianapolis theaters at age 14 via Civic Theatre, which was, at the time, located where Footlite Musicals is now housed. But he was drawn to material that most Indianapolis theaters weren’t offering. “I always enjoyed the unusual and consequently lesser-produced plays and musicals. I have never directed a musical by Rodgers and Hammerstein or Lerner and Lowe. I directed and choreographed the first production of Stephen Sondheim’s Company to be staged in Indy at the now defunct Command Player at Fort Benjamin Harrison in 1974 with a mixed cast. I also had firsts with Chicago and Irma La Douce at Theatre in the Woods at the Jewish Community Center in the ’70s and Nine at Buck Creek in the ’80s,” he says.
“Theatre on the Square came about when Joe Traynor, our charter board president, suggested that since I was working a regular 9 to 5 job all day and working all night on shows that perhaps I should consider starting my own theater company. As it turns out, my first and sanest reaction was to laugh and assure him he had lost his mind.” TOTS first opened in 1988 in Fountain Square. When it outgrew its location, it moved in 1993 to its current location on Massachusetts Avenue.
As TOTS’ executive artistic director, Spencer has helped to bring such challenging shows as Corpus Christi, Equus, The Last Session and Southern Baptist Sissies to Indianapolis audiences. As an actor, he has donned drag to star in campy takes of such shows as Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, and has sung beautifully in musicals such as Kiss of the Spider Woman at TOTS and Victor/Victoria (which just closed June 1 at American Cabaret Theatre).
Today, Spencer says, “With producing well over a hundred shows in the past 20 years and directing 80 of them, I have come to the realization that if you are going to work 12 to 16 hours a day, then it should be at something you love.”
Scratch an apartment complex in Indianapolis, and you’ll find a multitude of stray and feral cats. Look in any urban neighborhood, and though you may not see them, free-roaming, unowned felines are eking out an existence.
It wasn’t long ago that these cats living on the fringes — an estimated 178,000 of them in Indianapolis — were subject to systematic extermination as the city worked to impound and destroy all unadoptable strays. IndyFeral founder Lisa Tudor knew there was a better way, and it was called Trap-Neuter-Return, or TNR.
Tudor recalls, “Historically, the city’s method of dealing with the problem was trapping and euthanizing stray and feral cats. And we just felt like folks wanted a non-lethal method to [manage the problem]. TNR had been around since the early ’90s and was having great success on the East and West Coasts, so we thought, why can’t we do that?”
Formed in 2002, the grass-roots animal welfare organization mounted an aggressive TNR program, marshalling cat lovers citywide. The goal was to interrupt the breeding cycle of the prolific felines without harming them. After sterilization and basic veterinary care, the wild kitties would live out their lives in groupings called cat colonies, which are monitored by volunteers. (“Feral cats and kittens are not adoption candidates,” Tudor explains.)
Since an ordinance passed in 2005 adopting TNR as an official tactic, IndyFeral has spayed or neutered 13,000 unowned cats. In the same time period, Indianapolis Animal Care and Control has seen a 37 percent decrease in stray and feral cat intake.
“The good thing about that 37 percent,” Tudor says, “is that it represents 2,000 fewer cats that ended up in the shelter.” Before IndyFeral, these cats would have met their death at IACC — and the cost of trapping, feeding and then disposing of them would have run around $150 a cat.
That translates to nearly $300,000 of taxpayers’ money saved by an organization that is funded by grants and individual donations.
IndyFeral has helped set up over 1,700 managed cat colonies, and typically sterilizes 250 to 300 cats each month.