As director of cultural tourism for the City of Indianapolis, Marty Peters is point person for Mayor Bart Peterson’s Cultural Development Initiative. When Peterson unveiled his Initiative in July 2001, he went further to acknowledge the importance of the city’s arts and cultural resources to public policy than any mayor before him. He also unleashed a flood of pent-up expectations among the city’s arts and cultural leaders.
Marty Peters: trying to turn a big idea into practical results
Enter Marty Peters, whose job it’s been to turn a big idea into a program that can show practical results. Thus the public face of the Cultural Development Initiative has turned, for the time being, into Cultural Tourism and Peters’ office has literally been moved from the Arts Council of Indianapolis to the Convention Center. For some, this represents a process of definition that’s as welcome as it is necessary. For others it’s been woefully reductive. Peters’ work, in any event, moves forward. Peters came to her position after serving as executive assistant for the arts and community outreach to Gov. Frank O’Bannon. She was also an aide to first lady Judy O’Bannon and has held positions with Indiana’s Main Street program and with the State Tourism Office. NUVO met with Peters recently for a progress report. NUVO: You went from a position with the State of Indiana to your current city job as director of cultural tourism. Has there been a learning curve in going from the state to the city? Peters: It’s been an incredible ride. I feel very, very fortunate. I did when I was asked to fill this position and, every day, I feel even more so. This is an incredible opportunity to be on the cusp of something new that the community is working toward. The community side of it is probably what I like the most. I’ve had the opportunity of getting to know more personally, beyond just a name, the actual players that are making things happen, and I have truly enjoyed that part of it. There are differences between state government and city government but it has been a very easy transition. NUVO: Have there been any surprises? Peters: There have been many. I think the No. 1 is the emotion that this initiative brings to bear with everyone. There is such a — with all groups, with individuals in the community — there is a real sense of, ‘it’s mine, it should be something for me, and this is the time, don’t blow it.’ I think whether you’re an individual or an organization or just a resident, I think everyone is feeling ‘this is it.’ That emotion surprised me. I thought we might have to work a little harder to get people jazzed and that hasn’t been it at all. NUVO: What are we talking about when we talk about culture in a city like Indianapolis? Are people all on the same page? Peters: Oh, no. Everyone has a different definition or a different approach about what needs to be done and who should be the ones who really benefit. So trying to lead is challenging. It’s keeping that big, overarching picture of what’s going to raise the bar for the most people and for the city. What will make a difference five years from now, 10 years from now? Helping organizations, individuals realize that it takes time. Most of the time it’s been a very nice sharing and understanding of each other’s needs. NUVO: Shortly after you started, a study revealed that Indianapolis lacks a vocabulary to describe its sense of place. What challenges does that particular problem confront you with? Peters: We have to look at a very holistic, big, big picture. When we talk about Indianapolis it seems like whether you’re a visitor, a business or whether you just live here, it’s easy to go to those Midwest values — we’re friendly, we’re safe, it’s economically a good place to raise a family — these core things that we think are so vital. And they are vital. But when it becomes an individual asking, “What’s in it for me?” “What’s going to make my life more complete?” then we start becoming a little more fragmented. And it’s like, “Well, it’s not a very diverse community,” or “There’s not the kind of arts scene that I want,” or “I want something edgier and I can’t find it.” We have to almost reintroduce all of us to the strong pieces of our cultural scene that are here. Not to say there aren’t things we can’t improve. But to say we don’t need to keep making excuses for who we are and what we’re doing because there are some things we’re doing very, very well. We just need to keep building upon them. How we’re doingNUVO: In July 2001, Mayor Peterson launched the Cultural Initiative with a $10 million budget. There were four goals articulated at that time and I’d like to go through those and get your feelings about where we’re at now with each one. The first was to stimulate increased local participation by residents in cultural activities. How are we doing? Peters: I think we’re doing better. I’m not sure that if we had to do a strict measurement at this point that we’d see huge increases, but I am basing that on the fact that two years ago we weren’t even talking about it. Now there’s hardly a week that goes by that some kind of mention or connection isn’t made to cultural tourism and what’s happening in the city. Whether it’s through economic development, or the arts, or the city, somebody always seems to make that connection. So by raising the awareness I’m hoping that we will see that trickle-down into “everybody else is doing it, I should be doing it, too.” NUVO: It is striking that five years ago this was not a public policy conversation at any level. Peters: I feel like we’ve made headway because when life sciences are looking at their big plans and their goals, they’re coming to us and saying, “Help us sell quality of life.” When we talk about business recruitment, we’ll have people say, “What are you all doing to help solve the image of Indianapolis?” And so I think people are realizing that we can’t continue to work as if there is one audience, because our lives cross over, our work and play crosses over, and we need to be, in a sense, reading off the same page. NUVO: A second goal was to maximize the cultural experience for visitors. Peters: We’re great at attracting people to an event. We’re not necessarily, in the past, very good at keeping them longer, or expanding the experience beyond just that one, singular thing. So as we work with the different cultural organizations, but even as we work with the hospitality side of things, we’ve been beginning to say, “We’ve got to broaden the landscape a little bit.” We’ve got to let people know that there are so many things, and it’s so easy to do things in this city. That’s been the core message: We’re glad you’re here, but there’s more than just one thing to do. NUVO: The third goal was to strengthen Indianapolis and Central Indiana as a unique cultural destination. Peters: I think that one has been, in many peoples’ minds, a big leap because we’re Midwest. We don’t have any real great geography. How are we going to be unique? I think it’s the approach. I think it’s the emotion of being part of an energy, of being part of a community that can make us unique. I think our people are unique. I think that what we’re doing with public art, what we’re doing with the Cultural Trail, what we’re doing with the Cultural Districts — while they may not have the same flavor of, say, a Little Italy or a Chinatown, it’s still going to have a very unique and authentic feel for Indianapolis. It’s not something that we’re going in and trying to prop up and say, “Oh look, all of a sudden we’re this.” That wouldn’t ring true. I think we’re putting into place mechanisms that will allow our city to have very strong, fundamental characteristics that are going to be with us for a long time. NUVO: The fourth goal was to build a sustainable infrastructure to support cultural development. A funding system that would be able to go well into the future. Peters: That will probably be one of the toughest because we are in an economic decline at this point. I think that it’s very important for us — and for all our partners — to continue building products that will leverage return. That’s what I’m really trying to do: help us focus on programs or projects that will have such an impact on the community that they’ll say, “We’ve got to continue this.” I think public art is a good example. We’re seeding it, we’re starting it, we believe in it. But it doesn’t necessarily have to be only funded through the Initiative. It’s something that should be able to leverage a public/private partnership of some sort. I think the Cultural Districts have that same capability. Looking at some of the things they want to do and saying to any of our corporate partners, “That’s something you could be a sponsor of or underwrite.” I don’t think it’s important to put additional dollars in our coffers as much as it is to bring projects or programs that the community believes in and will want to continue. Promoting the big pictureNUVO: Let’s talk about the status of marketing efforts right now. You started with an ad campaign, “Arrive Curious,” and now you’re moving into another stage. Peters: This has been a complicated area. I think it’s because we’re marrying two worlds that have very different end means. Tourism, by its nature, is all about marketing and getting the word out and bringing the people in. On the cultural side, the emphasis has always been much more on the programming. They definitely want the audience, but the majority of the emphasis is on the programming being delivered. Now we’re going, “Which is the strength here? Who leads? The marketing man or the programming man?” It’s not an either/or, but they both have to be identified. As far as the marketing, what we did and what we needed to do in the very beginning was we had research that was a couple of years old that got us to the point where the mayor and Lilly and everyone said, “Yes, we should invest in that.” But we needed to refresh. We needed to see where we were right now. So we began the research that gave us all the baseline — that we don’t have a good vocabulary, that people probably think better of us from the outside than they do inside, that for this to really work for the cultural community there needs to be increased resident participation. And so we started with an awareness campaign. I was very pleased with it. I think that it was a campaign that, while short-lived, did pique the interest of individuals. I think it did what it needed to do, which is raise the awareness. At the same time, the Cultural Development Commission started looking at all of our goals and started looking at budgeting and the reality of if we’re going to market this and grow it through the four steps, there’s our whole budget right there. There were a lot of other things we wanted to see accomplished through the Initiative. So we stepped back a little bit and, through the guidance of the Commission, asked, “Are we duplicating efforts? Are we adding a layer that doesn’t necessarily need to be here at this point?” IDI [Indianapolis Downtown Inc.] and the Arts Council are really speaking on a weekly average to the residents about what’s going on. They have that kind of local voice and they’re promoting local activities. ICVA’s [Indianapolis Convention and Visitors Association] role is, as it should be, speaking to an external audience. We decided that, at this point, advertising should not be what we’re about. We’re doing an assessment of what is the availability on the hospitality side of things on an annual basis. What is the programming being done throughout the city and what’s the capacity of visitors coming and when are they coming, what are they doing, and for how long. We’ve never really married those together. We know when we’ve got availability. We know from our calendars what the arts are doing. Really looking at it in a strategic way, if we’ve got opportunities, here’s where it is and here’s how we should start packaging things. So we’re in the process of doing that right now. Once we have that snapshot, what we intend to do is go back to the community, to all of our organizations, and say, “Here it is, we’re laying it out.” Everybody then helps put their programming into a format that helps us promote that kind of big picture of what this city has rather than a generalized “Hey! Ain’t Indianapolis Great?” That, to me, is a better role for cultural tourism. NUVO: A big part of the justification for the Cultural Initiative has to do with economic development and the benefits that would accrue to the city as a consequence of a successful effort. Have we been able to see any results yet? Peters: We have not measured at this point, so I can’t give you specifics. I think that it will be some sort of a mixed bag because what we have to do is rely very much on hospitality’s side of the equation and ICVA to help us with the beds and heads counting. I think the same is true on the cultural side, looking at the tickets that are purchased and how are we really increasing people through the front doors. But I think there’s another piece of it that I’m hoping we can take credit for, too. If public art becomes a priority for this community and we are able to incorporate artists into some of this work that we’re doing, and we can find ways to implement new individuals that may not have been there before — if we’re able to provide jobs that have not been readily available before, then I think we’re making an impact. NUVO: Is there a tendency to focus too much on money? Are there other forms of support that the city can help bring to bear? Peters: I think that when the city is able to bring people together for a common discussion and shows that there is great support from leadership that often lends credibility that can help. I’ve seen that happen a lot over the last 15 months. If we can be that resource broker, I think that’s a big benefit to the community.