Community development as performance art
At the end of July I started receiving a remarkable sequence of e-mails from Bill Levin, a storied Broad Ripple character. Now I have to say that, most of the time, I find e-mail to be a pretty wearisome medium for communication. But Levin’s e-mails were something else, a kind of performance art.
Over the weekend of the Brickyard 400 race, the city red bagged the parking meters in front of Bling of Broad Ripple, the jewelry store Levin and his wife, Allison, run. The bags were put on the meters in support of a promotion Crown Royal whisky was having in the Village that Friday night. But the bags appeared on Thursday morning and stayed through Sunday. This meant there was no parking on Levin’s block for four days. Levin did some math and figured this kept over 3,500 customers from patronizing the businesses on his block at a cost of around $20,000.
Levin addressed his first e-mail to Mayor Peterson. He suggested that the aggrieved businesses might be tempted to sue the city for their losses. But he closed in capital letters: “LET’S TALK. WE CAN WORK THIS OUT. WE’LL DO LUNCH, YES?”
If you’ve ever seen Bill Levin, you know he cuts a rakish figure, a cross somewhere between Lawrence of Arabia (had he lived) and Iggy Pop. You might be forgiven for finding the image of Levin sitting down for a power lunch with Bart Peterson a little, well, disconcerting.
But it quickly became clear in subsequent e-mails that the red bagging incident had triggered something in Levin — a geyser of civic creativity.
To his credit, Deputy Mayor Steve Campbell called Levin and visited him in Broad Ripple. Levin was ready for him with a kaleidoscopic list of suggestions. This encounter must have been quite something for Campbell — a little like being hit in the face with a cream pie. More on that in a moment …
Among other things, Levin proposed the city start a weekend pizza night for youth program at the New Paradigm Church; that Broad Ripple parking meter revenue be returned to the Broad Ripple Village Association for Village use; 10 more trash receptacles be placed on streets and corners; “an old school beat patrolman” be assigned to the Village; a city grant for a low voltage FM radio transmitter to broadcast Village events and shows; a three-story municipal parking garage on the site of the abandoned Marathon station; a pedestrian median honoring David Letterman down the middle of Broad Ripple Avenue; and, last but hardly least, a city-authorized, Village-sponsored WORLD’S LARGEST PIE FIGHT. “It’s good clean all-American fun, creative, easy to sponsor, and … with a small grant to rent a Ferris wheel, merry go round etc. … This could make national news,” Levin wrote.
Alas, Steve Campbell hasn’t been heard from since. Levin, however, is undeterred. He closes his messages with the words LIVE-LOVE-LAUGH-LEARN-CREATE-GROW. And he’s taking the gonzo approach he learned promoting rock bands to the BRVA, where he’s thrown his hat in the ring and offered himself as a candidate for its board of directors.
“I’ve been in this neighborhood since The Creature From the Black Lagoon in 3-D,” Levin told me one afternoon when I visited him at Bling. There was a dish offering free chocolates by the door, a couple of contented-looking cats resting on the counter and Doobie Brothers on the sound system. “Broad Ripple is being duplicated in Hamilton County,” he told me. “They’re building a mall across from Deer Creek and it looks like Broad Ripple Village! They’re copying Broad Ripple, but you can’t copy the original soul of rock ’n’ roll. This Village was built on rock ’n’ roll. It became cool because of rock ’n’ roll. We need to celebrate it and expand on it rather than restrain it and hide it. We need to have concerts and shows and theater in the park.”
Levin wants to be an advocate for what he calls “free-thinking people”; he opposes the encroachment of chains and corporate business in the Village. For him, the Village presents a kind of ongoing festival of opportunity for participation. “I want to address this city and look ’em in the eye, rather than have them look down on me,” he says.
To get elected to the BRVA board, Levin needs people to join the BRVA so they can vote in the annual election on Nov. 20. People, regardless of where they live, can become BRVA members by going to www.discoverbroadripplevillage.com and downloading a membership application.
In the meantime, you can attend a Family Pie Fight Levin is throwing in Broad Ripple Park on Sunday, Sept. 16 at 1 p.m. The cost is $5 to play and you bring your own towels. Anybody is free to watch, of course — but Levin would rather you joined in.