IRT co-founder Ben Cameron at the IMA 

  • Ben Cameron

Ben Cameron came to the Indianapolis Museum of Art June 26 to close out this season’s Leaders Speakers Series. Not the Ben from Nashville, Tenn., whose voice and original music are racking up accolades, but the Ben from New York City-based Doris Duke Foundation and who has been making a major impact through advocacy for the arts, and whose own accolades include the insignia of Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters, conferred by the French Embassy.

This Ben has roots in Indianapolis. He served at one time as Associate Artistic Director with the Indiana Repertory Theatre. I attended because Ben and I go back to thirty-one years ago from IRT and onward to our mutual work with U.S. Representative Sydney Yates on the founding of the National Endowments for the Art and for the Humanities. We went on to work together on the development of the Theatre Communications Group — the umbrella organization uniting repertory theatres as they began to appear across the U.S. in the 1980s. Interestingly, though we’ve grown older, we’ve not outgrown that original mission make the arts essential in our lives personally and as a member of a larger community.

Did Ben say anything ‘astounding’ from the stage of the DeBoest Lecture Hall? Depends on where you’re coming from and intending to go to. You see, Ben has been institutionalizing what Meredith Wilson so beguilingly snared us into considering with The Music Man — sustainability is based on essentiality, be it for-profit or non-profit, business, industry or the arts. If what you do is shown to be, is perceived to be essential to a life of quality in a neighborhood, a town or city, you will gain a loyal following.

And this is Ben’s ‘astounding’ message whatever it is you do — be it a product you’re crafting or a dance company you’re running — you have to be nourishing the people around you. You have to be breathing together, fighting for the same reasons; you have to be ‘at one’ with the people you want to be serving—not above or beyond them. You have to be down in the trenches with them asking, "Why should we care about clean water, safe streets, quality schools, fair wages for important work, etc?"

“How can I grow my community, how can I damage my community if I don’t succeed, how can I be my community’s ideal partner, its advocate?” asked Cameron. “How can I personally drive my field forward in this place, at this time and build it so it has a long life? What can I take from the past that works and let go of what doesn’t?”

Interesting how parallel this ‘message’ is with the story NUVO just published about Sun King Brewing Company’s mission and how Sun King is now influencing Indiana’s craft beer industry, pushing forward what works in sync with the common good.

The arts, business and industry each have their own ways of operating, yet at the bottom line and at the top of leadership they are on par with each other. They share an understanding that while technologies change, human needs remain constant, and it is within that enigma of the constancy of change that we must seek to serve for the common good.

Editor's note, July 15: A previous version of this story said that Cameron was a co-founder of Indiana Repertory Theatre. In fact, he joined the organization more than a decade after it had been created.


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Rita Kohn

Rita Kohn

Rita Kohn has been covering craft beer and the arts for NUVO for two decades. She’s the author of True Brew: A Guide to Craft Beer in Indiana.

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