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2012 CVAs: John Mutz: Lifetime Achievement 

click to enlarge John Mutz, the 2012 Lifetime Achievement Honoree - MARK LEE
  • John Mutz, the 2012 Lifetime Achievement Honoree
  • Mark Lee

John Mutz is an Indianapolis lifer. "I've spent too much of my heart and soul in this community to leave," he says. Mutz grew up in the Forest Hills neighborhood on the northside. His parents' house backed up against the Monon railroad. "My favorite deal was to take a penny and put it on the tracks."

Mutz attended Broad Ripple High School, where he was managing editor of the school's newspaper, The Riparian. Before graduation, he attended a summer program sponsored by the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. "That experience," he says, "opened up a whole world for this green kid from Indianapolis."

Mutz was 29 when he first ran for office in Indiana's state legislature. Since then, he has served as a State Representative (1967-70); a State Senator (1971-80); and a two-term Lt. Governor under Robert Orr.

Mutz turned from politics to philanthropy in 1989, when he was chosen to lead the Lilly Endowment, one of the ten largest private foundations in America. In 1993, he turned his attention to the utility industry, becoming president of PSI Energy, the state's largest electric utility. And, between 2002 and 2010, Mutz served as chairman of the Lumina Foundation for Education.

Mutz has successfully pursued a variety of business interests. And his community service directorships include the Indiana Economic Development Corporation, the Indiana Stadium and Convention Building Authority and the Indiana and Indianapolis chambers of commerce.

But one can argue that Mutz's greatest contribution came without a title and was strictly voluntary. In the 1970's, he was a founding member of a group called the City Committee. Made up of men primarily in their 30's, the City Committee consisted of Indianapolis rising stars in politics, the professions and business. "We were so-called up-and-comers," says Mutz. "We were all full of enthusiasm for changing Indianapolis to make it a more exciting place to live."

The City Committee met on a regular basis, often at various members' homes. It had no bylaws and did not seek publicity. Over time, the group developed a vision for a revitalized downtown based on four themes: amateur sports; food and nutrition; the arts; and education. That vision became the basis for the downtown Indianapolis we experience today.

Among the City Committee's ideas was the development of White River State Park. "We kept saying we've got this river running through downtown Indianapolis and nobody pays any attention to it," Mutz says today. "Why shouldn't we turn our attention toward the river instead of turning our backs to it?"

The result was the creation of a multi-faceted destination including a greatly expanded IUPUI, the Eiteljorg and State Museums, NCAA headquarters and performance venues.

The City Committee also identified the convention business as crucial to downtown sustainability. Several committee members, including Mutz, were state legislators who were able to develop the funding mechanisms necessary to create the city's Convention Center.

They didn't stop there. "We had a downtown with no retail," says Mutz. The answer was Circle Centre Mall, a daring concept at the time. The group also encouraged the renovation of such architectural treasures as the Circle and Indiana theaters, now better known as the Hilbert Circle Theatre and the Indiana Roof. "What we were doing was saying let's create these locations where fun and exciting things could happen."

To say that the City Committee's efforts were worth it is an understatement. Downtown Indianapolis has become a recognized model for other cities across the country. "We had fun," says Mutz, looking back on his City Committee experience. "There's never been a time in my career when I had more fun than I did then."

Mutz says, "Indianapolis is an island in Indiana now. It's an island of more progressive policies, a little better economic climate, a little better employment picture, and a concentration of better educated people. Young Hoosiers coming out of school want to be here."

That's not to say the city is without significant challenges. "Is this a totally transparent, open community? Not as much as we'd like it to be. Is it a community where women have equal power and equal billing? No, not yet. Is it a community where we care about disadvantaged people? To some extent, but we still have a long way to go."

Mutz is concerned about what he calls "a cultural divide" due to the 900,000 adults in Indiana who cannot read, write or do mathematics above a fifth grade level. Adult education here, he says, is in a state of crisis. "One of my ideas is that we should have a No Adult Left Behind program. I think we need something that rivals the GI Bill for this group of people...Most of them have — or have had — jobs. But when they lose those jobs there will be no place for them to go."

Mutz can remember being in college with veterans who were taking advantage of the original GI Bill, a federally-funded program that provided returning World War II veterans with cash payments of tuition and living expenses to attend college and vocational schools. "The vets who went back to school were deadly serious about getting an education," he says. "I don't see why we can't figure out how to do that in Indiana. I think we have the resources to get it done. It's the kind of thing that raises hope."

Mutz has experience along this line. When he became Lt. Governor in 1980, Indiana was in the midst of a major recession, suffering double-digit unemployment, interest rates and inflation. He created an initiative to form local economic development organizations in communities throughout the state so that towns were better able to take advantage of business opportunities when they arose.

As president of the Lilly Endowment, Mutz led the way in the creation of community foundations in towns that had previously been considered too small to be able to support resources of this type. "Money came out of places we never knew had it.

"You have to build an environment where people are comfortable expressing themselves and saying how they really feel," says Mutz. He believes the growing social network in Indianapolis, including women, Blacks, Hispanics and gays, is improving the city's overall quality of life. "You have to have some confidence and faith in people."

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