A catalytic grant, valued at $220,000 including monetary and technical support, from the Southwest Airlines Heart of the Community program will enable both Indianapolis City Market and Big Car Collaborative to jointly implement their plans to engage the community in reimagining these historic sites as key public spaces in the "heart" of Indianapolis.
Indianapolis was one of five cities chosen out of nearly ninety applications, the two organizations were chosen due to the fact that the grant "focuses on placemaking, a movement that is revolutionizing cities around the world by boosting community participation in the creation, design, and unique programming of their public spaces. 'We recognize the power public spaces have to transform communities,' says Linda Rutherford, Vice President and Chief Communications Officer at Southwest Airlines, 'and are excited to support the efforts to reimagine City Market's East Plaza and Monument Circle in Indianapolis, a city we've been serving for 26 years.'"
The grant is a huge step for these two local organizations that are on a mission to bring more and more people together in the open public spaces around our downtown.
"We're in this together," says Walker, as he sips his drink, "it's a nice fit because Stevi has this place and they do lots of programming here, but she doesn't have a whole lot of people to do programing, and also they don't have anybody who can build stuff. We [Big Car] do a ton of programming out in other places, and we build things, and we own a lot of programming materials and supplies." So, in essence, they are the perfect collaboration.
For those of you unacquainted with Big Car Collaboration and what they do, I'll let them explain for themselves: they are a "nonprofit arts organization and collective of artists — formed in 2004 — that focuses on creative placemaking and socially engaged art ... As an adaptive and flexible cultural organization, Big Car draws together people of all backgrounds to promote and perpetuate creativity, invigorate public places, and support better neighborhoods. Big Car is a creative community builder working to boost livability from an engagement-based arts perspective."
While the City Market will be playing the role of venue for much of the programming, there will also be events in different areas around the city. Walker points out, "The network of activity will go from the City Market, to Monument Circle, to the new City-County Plaza, and link to Georgia Street, and the Canal, Memorial Plaza, White River State Park, and our goal is to make each of these places a little better with more activity and bringing people around Downtown."
Not only will City Market be acting as the venue for many of the events, the grant offers the opportunity for the 130-year-old market to fulfill a potential it never before had realized. "Project for Public Spaces has amazing resources, including Kelly Verel — who they fondly call the 'Market Maven' — who is a consultant who travels to public market sites and helps staff and executives rethink and reinvigorate their markets. Even from a traffic-flow standpoint of the markets, [PPS] really tries to make them the best, highest used, and most active places they can be ... so we have a lot of great resources at our fingertips, to use through this grant." This means possibly even better food, drinks, local produce, and overall experience for us market-goers.
"While we will be busy during the first year with some events, we will also be using that time for planning," says Walker. Making this a rare opportunity where the grant will be used over an extended period of time without a set plan from the start. This approach will allow the City Market and Big Car to truly hear and follow the voices of their community.
The planning already began with last summer's event series, Spark, which took place on Monument Circle. The series consisted of a nearly endless amount of events, ranging from concerts to yoga, historical lessons to performing arts pieces, and even films and forensic drawings. The events drew large crowds and gave the organizations the opportunity to really gauge the likes and dislikes of the community. "The events happening this year are based on what we learned last year, we tested some ideas ... like we know people like playing games together, we had assumed it, and then we really got to see how that works," says Jim. So programs that were tested last year will show up again this year. But, as Walker points out, "Some ideas we don't want to — and won't — go further until we really get to talk to everybody."
"We want the community to let us know, to say, 'Here's what we want, here's what we need,' and then we can take that information and forge a plan," says Stevi. Jim adds, "This grant was given to us, and they more or less are saying, 'We love the broad idea of your organization and we see the potential, but we're going to help you reach your goals.'" So, not only will they have the voices at the grassroots level, but they will also have the expertise of the people at Project for Public Spaces. "We've already gone to Dallas and spoken with them and this is just the beginning, this will be a long process and it's a long-term commitment from all parties involved."
Another huge benefit for both organizations, and in turn, the city of Indianapolis, is the fact that not only is Southwest giving money, they also are helping out with volunteers. These volunteers add a hands-on approach for Southwest to achieve its goal of "enhanc[ing] the experience in cities that they serve," says Stoesz. "They're making the city a great place not only for the people that live here, but a great destination for people visiting."
This grant doesn't simply benefit these two organizations. Through their efforts and programming, the influx of people in the downtown center helps bring business to locally-owned operations. "We found that down on the circle," says Walker, "the restaurants in that area really saw an increase in clientele. That is a huge part of our goal with this, and I'm sure Stevi would agree," he nods to Stevi and she nods in approval "we want our programs to keep people down here in the evenings, where they used to head back out to the suburbs, we want them to stay and to see merchants decide to open an evening street market and for restaurants to stay open and keep the fun going through the evening."
These programs will include some of the programs that did the best during Spark last year, but one that Stevi mentions that will be entirely new and intriguing to City Market lovers will be launching in June. On the second Thursday of every month, June through September the City Market will be holding a Twilight Market in their West Plaza. "It will feature healthy raw and prepared foods, live entertainment, a biergarten, and activities for adults and kids." It will be similar to a street fair and it is meant to highlight the market as an evening time destination and the perfect place to enjoy a sort of "happy hour" after work.
Stevi substantiates the idea of the after work appeal of the City Market, "in the market alone we have at least three to four merchants staying open in the evenings Monday through Saturday, whereas a few years ago everything closed down at 3 p.m. You're going to see a more robust activity level ... especially as things start to populate with all of the great new developments going in downtown and then with the added benefit of Tomlinson Tap Room where, during our programatic efforts, you will be able to go grab a beer [keep in mind Marion County law allows for you to take alcohol out of establishments and into public spaces] to enjoy while whatever activity we have planned for that evening."
This grant, through these two local businesses, is a major stepping stone for Indianapolis and furthering our city as a major and exciting destination. Stoesz says it best, "It is a great opportunity for us and for the community. Projects for Public Spaces thinks of a great destination as a place where you can do ten different things in the same location. You can ride a bike, you can work out, you can get some [great local] food, you can grab a beer, you can engage with other people, you can even relax and charge your phone, and it's great that we have an infrastructure in place that is set up to do all of this and that we can add to it. It really will be amazing once we get the programatic efforts in place and Jim's team does an amazing job with that and we have a lot of incredible local artists and merchants that can help with this and who stand to benefit from it."
I can see and hear the passion and the excitement coming from these two local Indy ambassadors. They, and their organizations, are in the perfect spot to further Indianapolis' progress. As I finish my cortado, Stoesz and Walker head off and I'm left sitting in my chair, excited for where we are headed. I may not have a complete picture of that future, but I know where I'm headed, downstairs to The Tamale Place for some spicy chipotle chicken nachos. Damn, the future looks good.