The jubilant fizz that overcame our city’s corporate-political-media class last week with the announcement that Indianapolis had scored the 2012 Super Bowl was something to behold. The Star was so giddy, it even printed a guide to reading Roman numerals so that Hoosiers might understand that XLVI equals 46.
Thanks to an ingenious bid package that promises to remake the city’s downtown into a steroidal sound and light show — or “village,” as the bid’s promoters quaintly put it — and build a sports practice facility on the grounds of Arsenal Tech, not to mention the unrelenting optimism of local movers and shakers, Indy managed to out flank the lures of sun, palm trees and bare flesh that generally appeal to the refined appetites of NFL owners.
Much is being promised regarding this event. Depending on who you talk to, the game could bring in anywhere from $90 million to $350 million. And, of course, there is that all-important “exposure” the game will afford us. For a week, the country’s television cameras will be focused on Indianapolis. This, we are constantly told, will be really great. But the people who believe this tend to eat, sleep and work for the media, so it’s probably best to take what they say with a grain of salt. After all, the “eyes of the nation” were fixed on us for not one, but two weeks during the recent presidential primary and the weeds in my front yard are no more beautiful now than they were before Barack and Hillary passed through.
What really turns our local big dogs on about landing the Super Bowl is that it is the most lavish corporate spectacle anyone has yet dreamt up. The NFL has managed to turn a roughneck Midwestern pastime into a fireworks celebration of the controlled violence at the root of American capitalism’s fantasy life. Although there will be relatively few local folks in the leaden-named Lucas Oil Stadium, the seats will be filled to overflowing with the butts of big shots from every corner of the nation’s expense-account universe. This Super Bowl is all about trying to impress corporate America — something Indianapolis has been trying to do for a long time. We’ll see if it works.
If anything about this hullabaloo is certain, it’s that our leadership’s desire to brand Indianapolis as a sports destination has finally been clinched. It’s a lucky thing, too. With our priorities, it would have been a tragedy had the NFL owners managed to reject us again in favor of some sunnier burg. Nothing tells you what’s important to a city like its architecture; that’s certainly true in Indianapolis. One look at how the new stadium dominates this city’s skyline is worth a thousand words. It’s like an anvil dropped in an herb garden. The message is clear: Big Time Sports is what Indy is about.
Would that the same could be said about the arts. After almost a decade of conscientiously trying to make this city a so-called arts destination, it seems we’re still stuck in Palookaville. Last week, AmericanStyle Magazine, a publication devoted to the arts and travel, published its annual list of the nation’s Top 25 arts destinations. In the Big City category, including populations of 500,000 or more, were names like Albuquerque, Baltimore, Columbus, Ohio, Milwaukee, Denver, Charlotte, N.C., and Phoenix. Indianapolis was no place.
This isn’t really surprising. While our leaders are willing to invest $25 million just to make a Super Bowl bid and will doubtless raise another $7 million to build that practice facility on the Eastside, anyone who has ever tried raising money here for a cultural initiative can tell you a story about pulling teeth. Ask the people who have been trying to raise $50 million to build an Indiana Museum of African-American History in White River Park. They’ve been reduced to hoping an “angel” comes forward with a big donation to prime the pump. Odds are they’ll be hoping for a long time.
We treat the arts here as frosting. The quality and impact of the work is less important than its ability to animate our designated cultural districts with something conventioneers and suburbanites might call atmosphere. But when it comes to real investment — the kind that might make news in the larger world — well, you’ll hear people say you can’t make something better by throwing money at it.
Better to throw passes instead.