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Best of Indy 2009: Arts and Culture 

ARTS AND CULTURE

Best local museum: Indianapolis Museum of Art

One hundred and twenty-five years ago, Indianapolis art lovers had a three-week exhibition in a hotel on the circle. In 2009, the Indianapolis Museum of Art celebrates this milestone anniversary as the fifth largest general art museum in the country. In the virtual art world, the IMA leads the way; Art Babble, the interactive art video Web site launched by the museum in April, has already won awards and attracted all-star partners such as MOMA, Art: 21 and the New York Pubic Library. Looks like the IMA is still living up to its historic mission statement ("in every way possible to encourage the study and love of art among the people"), making art engaging and accessible for a Web 2.0 audience while maintaining a top-notch museum. www.imamuseum.org, 4000 Michigan Road, 923-1331

Second: Indianapolis Children's Museum

Third: Indiana State Museum

Best local performing arts group: Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra

While many cities' orchestras only perform concerts on a monthly or seasonal basis, Indianapolis is lucky to have a group that performs 52 weekends a year. They are one of the few symphony orchestras in the nation to present a new show each week. They play a variety of music that includes seasonal music, popular hits and classical pieces; they offer music in almost every genre within their robust calendar. The Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra also has the Happy Hour at the Symphony series, offering free food, drinks and pre-show entertainment and give-aways on select Thursdays throughout its season. www.indianapolissymphony.org, Hilbert Circle Theatre box office, 45 Monument Circle, 639-4300

Second: Indianapolis Children's Choir

Third: Dance Kaleidoscope

Best local live theater: Indiana Repertory Theatre

In its 37th season, Indiana Repertory Theater offers a selection of plays each year that vary culturally, historically and stylistically. Each season the actors at IRT bring their professional theater artistry to stage in the form of 10 plays. This year theatergoers can enjoy a drink in the new public lobby before the show or during intermission, and if the show doesn't impress, the beautiful 81-year-old Indiana Theatre building will. All shows at the theater are within an affordable price range, as IRT is a non-profit organization focused on promoting the arts in Indianapolis. www.irtlive.com, 140 W. Washington St., 635-5252

Second: IndyFringe

Third: Phoenix Theatre

Best local comedy: ComedySportz

Combine Whose Line Is It Anyway? and MTV's Wild 'N Out and put it in the middle of Indy and you've got ComedySportz. Two teams of comedians go head to head in an improv showdown, battling for laughs, cheers and the audience's votes. Because each match-up includes new games and new suggestions from the audience, every night is a different show. The entertainment at ComedySportz is also family-friendly and there are new showdowns every Thursday, Friday and Saturday. You can come be a part of the experience, joining in with your laughs, giggles and guffaws. www.indycomedysportz.com, 721 Massachusetts Ave., 951-8499

Second: Crackers

Third: Morty's

Best local film festival: Heartland Film Festival

Since 1991, the Heartland Film Festival has been honoring films that explore life and the human experience in a positive way. They show movies that are carefully made but still express the idea that there is hope in this ever-changing world. Each October, the members of non-profit organization Heartland Truly Moving Pictures screen independent films and award $200,000 to deserving filmmakers who they believe represent the true spirit of human life in their works. This year's festival will take place Oct. 15-24 and movies will be shown at theaters throughout the Indianapolis area. www.heartlandfilmfestival.org, 200 S. Meridian St., Suite 220, 464-9405

Second: LGBT Film Festival

Third: Indianapolis International Film Festival

Best local outdoor festival: Irish Fest

Each fall, the Indy Irish Fest comes to Military Park. The three-day festival is a delicious excuse to gorge oneself on hearty Irish food and chug down Guinness. The festival features the Indianapolis Irish Dancers as well as many other musical acts, to keep the festivalgoers jigging non-stop. If drinking and dancing aren't appealing, there's always other exciting activities like a sheep-herding demonstrations, a Hurling tournament, the Kilted Mile and the Rugby Jamboree. It's the largest taste of Ireland you can find in Indianapolis, and adult tickets are at the wee price of $8 in advance. www.indyirishfest.com, 801 W. Washington St., 713-7117

Second: Indy Pride

Third: Penrod

Best local art gallery: Stutz Art Space

Stutz Art Space is more than just a gallery; the first floor of the Stutz Business Center holds an entire visual art center where both adults and children can take a variety of creative classes as well as tour several on-going art exhibits. The Stutz Artist Association, which includes more than 70 artists, houses their studios there but give back to the community by offering their artistic intuition as teachers at the center. The mission of this gallery is to strengthen the cultural scene in Indianapolis by helping the arts to flourish in the community. www.stutzartists.com, 212 W. 10th St., B100 (enter from alley off 10th Street), 503-6420

Second: Indianapolis Art Center

Third: Big Car Gallery

Best local public art: "LOVE" (Robert Indiana), Indianapolis Museum of Art

We may bring in contemporary public art from around the world, but Indianapolis' first "LOVE" is still Robert Indiana's famous sculpture. The 1970 installation at the IMA was one of the artist's first reproductions of this steel pop art icon. Others can be found in New York City, Philadelphia, Tokyo, Bangkok and Bilbao (to name just a few of "LOVE"'s locations) while Israel and Italy boast translated versions. Our "LOVE" may not be unique, but our claim to Indiana is: He's a New Castle native who lived in Indy and graduated from Arsenal Technical High School.

Second: "Anne Dancing" (Julian Opie), Massachusetts Avenue

Third: "The Ruins" (Taflinger & Bitter), Holliday Park

Best Indianapolis Cultural District: Mass Ave

To those who doubt Indy is cultural and cool, we present Massachusetts Avenue. With the theater district, a gathering of art galleries, culinary classics, comfy coffee shops and cute boutiques, the Avenue offers a critical mass of our favorite things. First Friday gallery walks, the IndyFringe theater festival and the Merchant Association's events give a great excuse to visit, but we would hang out just to enjoy the public art, historic architecture and vivacity of a neighborhood full of interesting people. On top of all that, they're green, too; we love the chic recycling bins and can't wait for their corridor of the Cultural Trail.

Second: Broad Ripple

Third: Fountain Square

Best Indy Park: White River State Park

With its claim as Indiana's only urban state park, White River State Park offers an escape from the stress of daily life right downtown. Besides the obvious grassy plains, walking trails and waterways that most parks have in common, White River State Park offers a variety of cultural and learning experiences. Within the park are such attractions as the Indianapolis Zoo, White River Gardens, Indiana State Museum, an IMAX Theater and Victory Field among others. The park offers something for everyone, whether you want to relax with family for the day or go on a romantic date to the park. www.in.gov/whiteriver/index.html, 801 W. Washington St., 233-2434

Second: Eagle Creek

Third: Holliday Park

Best Indianapolis college/university: IUPUI

Because IUPUI is located in the heart of Indianapolis, it offers a big-city college experience in the heart of the Hoosier State. Because the university offers courses that align themselves with both Purdue University and Indiana University, it hosts a variety of major and degree programs to suit students' needs. The university strives to make its amenities accessible to all, and has a diverse student body. As part of its current diversity initiative, the university is also working to hire a more diverse body of faculty, in the hopes of creating a more well-rounded approach to learning. www.iupui.edu, 420 University Blvd., 274-5555

Second: Butler University

Third: University of Indianapolis

Best house of worship: Lockerbie Central UMC

At Lockerbie Central, worship is just one form of expression for a community with a conscious. These progressive Methodists also clothe and feed the homeless, run an organic café, screen documentaries about social issues, display local artwork and host poetry slams, yoga, dancers and drum circles. They describe themselves as a "lay-led" congregation and "strive to worship in a communal and conversational manner," designing services based on discussion in meetings and on their blog. It's hard to find the line between their congregation and their community space -- and that's a good thing. www.lockerbiecentral.com, 237 N. East St., 637-2716

Second: St. Luke's UMC

Third: Jesus Metropolitan Church

Best charitable event: Mutt Strut benefiting Human Society of Indianapolis

Indianapolis is world-renowned for our racetrack, but the sights seen at Mutt Strutt are not the typical 500 photo ops. At the 2009 event in April, over 8,000 people and their pets took to the Speedway to take a two and a half mile walk and raise money for the Indianapolis Humane Society. The event raised over $350,000 in 2009 and engaged 400 volunteers. On top of the charitable cause, it's worth it for a shot of you and your pooch on the bricks. www.indymuttstrut.org

Second: Tonic Ball, benefiting Second Helpings

Third: Gods and Goddesses, benefiting Planned Parenthood of Indiana

Best place to volunteer: Keep Indianapolis Beautiful

Keep Indianapolis Beautiful deserves this award on the sheer basis of numbers: In 2008, they recruited nearly 45,000 volunteers for over 500 projects. But beyond the numbers, KIB offers volunteers hands-on and meaningful opportunities. They frequently get people involved in their own neighborhoods and community, where it's easy to see the fruits (and leaves) of their labors planting trees, picking up litter and recycling. The NeighborWoods program provides volunteers the chance to be part of something big -- a pledge to plant 100,000 trees in Indianapolis in 10 years. www.kibi.org

Second: Humane Society of Indianapolis

Third: WFYI

Best place to take your pooch: Three Dog Bakery

If you want to treat your pooch like a prince (or princess), Three Dog Bakery has two Indianapolis locations that offer a large selection of goodies for your dog. You can pick up a box of Bark 'N' Fetch Biscuits, or a party tray or gift box for your next canine celebration or puppy play date. The team at Three Dog Bakery has consulted veterinarians, breeders and pet-shop owners to create treats and cookies from all-natural ingredients that keep dogs both healthy and happy. Let your dog know he's a full-fledged family member. www.threedog.com, 844 Broad Ripple Ave., 317-466-1646 and 444 Massachusetts Ave., 238-0000

Second: Broad Ripple Dog Park

Third: Mutt Strutt

Editor's picks

(Editor's) Best local theater: The Theater Within

It's almost enough for us that The Theater Within spells theater with an -er, as if rejecting the popular British spelling means rejecting theater that is not genuine, basic and good -- very good. Artistic Director Rod Isaac is dedicated to presenting issues-oriented plays and, remarkably, chooses scripts that don't let issues stand in for a good story, sharp dialogue and careful performances. He wants it all and so do we. His sets are almost non-existent and his platform stage creaks, but I've been glued to everything I've seen on it. www.thechurchwithin.org

(Editor's) Best downtown scene: IndyFringe

Downtown Indianapolis has become undeniably more lively over the past few years, but let's face it: On most nights it can seem more like an urban movie set than a true urban setting. But every year in August, the annual theater fringe festival, IndyFringe, changes that. Operating out of a variety of venues in the Mass Ave cultural district, IndyFringe has never tried to gussy itself for the suburban crowd, never made any bones about its being a downtown scene, where people walk, hang out in cafes, enjoy a drink here and there, see a show and then repeat. www.indyfringe.org

(Editor's) Best arts administrator: Pauline Moffat

Pauline Moffat arrived on the IndyFringe scene as the festival's first incarnation was literally about to debut. She made herself indispensable that first year and, before long, was in charge. Since then, she has been a tireless source of invention, adding new dimensions to the festival, like a visual arts component, street performance and, ultimately, a headquarters in a reclaimed church that doubles as a year-round venue. Indeed, Moffat's programming at the eponymously named IndyFringe Building (there's gotta be a better name for it!) has been a festival in itself. www.indyfringe.org

(Editor's) Best audience: Walker Theatre

In the first place, there's hardly another room in town that can match the Walker's exotic Afro-Deco atmosphere. But the space itself is actually one-upped by Walker audiences. You'll be hard-pressed to find a friendlier, sharper dressed or more celebratory crowd at any venue in the city. Whether it's Pharoah Sanders or Smokey Robinson, Walker audiences are into it. Yes, the crowd control in the too-cozy lobby can sometimes seem a little up for grabs, but folks here usually remember their manners, so it's cool. Going to a show at the Walker is a blast. www.walkertheatre.com

(Editor's) Best biennial art show: the Eiteljorg Fellows

Starting in 1999 and carrying on every two years, the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art has conducted a fellowship program that identifies the top contemporary Indian artists in North America and presents an unfailingly mind-expanding exhibition of their works. Thanks to the curatorial insight of the museum's Jennifer Complo McNutt, these shows have not only introduced us to many artists for the first time, they have also raised questions about the intersection of artmaking, politics, cultural difference and spirituality that have been as profound as they are provocative.

(Editor's) Best venue on Sunday morning: Indianapolis Museum of Art grounds

One place highly recommended for communing with a higher power is the grounds at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. The IMA is an art museum where what's outdoors is arguably more memorable than most of what's found inside. Few institutions can boast such a wealth of horticultural splendor, whether the focus is on the meticulously landscaped grounds of the old Lilly estate or its wilder cousin in the coming-to-fruition Virginia Fairbanks Art & Nature Park across the canal. Either way, you're likely to find trees and other growing things that hold their own as natural works of art. Or, put another way, works of nature capable of lighting a path back to the nature in you.

(Editor's) Best Public Art: thinmanlittlebird

Peter Shelton's sculptures on the front of the old Central Library building are new in town, but they've made their presence felt in the best way public sculpture can: They've gotten people talking. A lot of people love the way these giant bronzes accentuate the older building and visually tie it to Evans Woollen's new addition. Then there's a significant number who think the sculptures make no sense at all and are an affront to Paul Cret's neo-classical design. Food for thought, in any event.

(Editor's) Best local arts legend: Mari Evans

She was mentored by Langston Hughes, became a pioneer of the Black Arts movement in the '60s, taught at many of the country's best universities and has written works of uncompromising poetry and prose that have taken the full measure of her own experience, given voice to underdogs and comfort to those on the down side of power. She's also an accomplished jazz musician and composer, a shrewd conversationalist and a person with a consummate sense of style. In Uganda, they dedicated a postage stamp to her. One of her poems adorns the new airport's stained glass windows. Mari Evans is Indy's gift to the world.

(Editor's) Best arts patrons: Chris and Ann Stack

The acquisition and installation of Peter Shelton's thinmanlittlebird at the downtown Central Library building was the latest in a series of significant contributions the Stacks have made to this city's arts scene. In a community where most patrons and funders stick to bricks and mortar, the Stacks have been adventurers, acquiring works by such artists as Robert Irwin, Joan Mitchell, Do-Ho Suh and John Currin, among others, for the collection of the Indianapolis Museum of Art. And for years Ann was the guiding hand behind Arts Indiana magazine.

(Sorry, no information is currently available for other years in this same award category.)
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