When NUVO initiated the Cultural Vision Awards, we had at least two goals in mind. We wanted to recognize individuals and organizations doing innovative work in this city. The Cultural Vision Awards are NUVO’s way of shining a light on talented people and creative enterprises that make this town unique.
Our second goal for these awards can be summed up in one word: community. We see all of these honorees, no matter what their field of endeavor, as being related to one another. They share a certain commitment, creativity and enthusiasm. We think they represent a kind of community and hope to find opportunities to bring them together, so that they might draw strength from one another — and so that NUVO might draw strength from them.
Selecting and recognizing the Cultural Vision Award honorees is an ongoing process. Nominees for the awards are suggested to us throughout the course of the year by people all over the city. Anyone can make a nomination — and anyone can be nominated. These nominations are compiled and brought before a committee consisting of NUVO editors and representatives from our media partner, WISH TV. Together, we arrive at the list of honorees you find here.
This year’s honorees exemplify the qualities the NUVO Cultural Vision Awards are intended to celebrate. You’ll meet artists and activists, peacemakers and provocateurs. Read their stories. Each one provides another reason to feel good about the city we call home.
The ACLU of Indiana could close its doors forever if the constitutional and civil rights of all citizens were protected and enforced by the law itself. But it’s not a perfect world, and politicians have been known to favor agendas other than that of true democracy.
In a year that has seen Indiana state Sen. Patricia Miller introduce a bill that would require marriage as a condition for parenting; Attorney General Steve Carter attempt to seize the medical records of Planned Parenthood patients without evidence of any crime being committed; Marion County Superior Court Civil Judge Cale Bradford forbid divorced parents from exposing their child to “non-mainstream” religions; and Speaker of the House Brian Bosma advocate for proselytizing Christian prayers as the state-approved faith of the Statehouse, the ACLU of Indiana has had more than enough work to keep its small but dedicated staff working overtime.
“We get more than 1,000 requests a month for assistance, more than 10,000 in any given year,” says ACLU of Indiana Executive Director Fran Quigley, “and we do the best we can to go through those and find the cases we can actually take on. Generally that’s about 40 cases at any given time.”
Those cases fall to Legal Director Ken Falk, an adjunct professor at the Indiana University School of Law in Indianapolis, who has litigated cases at every level of the judicial system, up to and including the U.S. Supreme Court. Falk, who came to the ACLU in 1996 after nearly two decades of representing low-income clients at Legal Services Organization of Indianapolis, leads a legal team at the ACLU of Indiana that accepts one of the most important and ambitious dockets in the country.
At the heart of what the ACLU of Indiana does is solve problems by educating the public and elected representatives about violations to the state and federal constitutions. Whether they are filing a high profile lawsuit, or holding public forums to educate people on constitutional principles, the goal is always the same: to protect civil liberties and defend the human spirit — lofty and necessary goals, without which a democracy cannot exist.
To walk into Big Hat Books and meet its owner, Liz Barden, is to come face-to-face with enthusiasm. That was certainly Nick Hornby’s experience. The best-selling British author of High Fidelity was in town for a reading at Butler University. When he stopped by the independent bookshop, Barden asked him if he would do her the honor of selecting books for the store’s music section. Hornby jumped at the offer. “This is a writer’s dream,” he said, “to have a stake in a bookstore without any liability!”
So customers at Big Hat will soon have a chance to peruse music books selected specially for them by one of the world’s most famous music writers. The great thing about this is that Hornby’s music section will fit nicely with an overall inventory that has been thoughtfully handpicked to provide readers with maximum pleasure for their money.
That personal touch has quickly made Big Hat Books an indispensable part of the local community. Barden, who moved here from New York City with her writer-husband Dan Barden, didn’t set out to own a bookstore — one of the most high-risk business ventures there is. “I thought it was something I would do later on, when I had the time and the money — and then I realized, you can wait a long time for that,” she says.
For Barden, the discovery that Indianapolis was without a full-service independent bookstore was a serious cultural problem that had to be remedied. “The only thing that was missing — other than an ocean, or the East River — was a bookstore. Without it, there wasn’t the sense of community or neighborhood the way that I was used to it.”
Rather than wait for someone else to do it, Barden opened Big Hat Books a year and a half ago. Grateful readers began showing up almost immediately. Since then, Barden has used her store to connect the city with a larger literary world, welcoming writers from around the country, providing intelligence to the New York Times’ Book Review and even hosting a reading by Andy Jacobs that was nationally cablecast on C-SPAN.
She has also become a fierce advocate for locally-owned businesses. “Out of every $100, 68 to 69 of those dollars go directly back into the community — that means your schools, your potholes, your arts, your police, all of that. It’s hard, because when that $100 is in your pocket, it seems like the right thing to be getting $2 off this and a dollar off that in some chain. But that immediate thinking absolutely destroys the future.”
Books, Barden says, are the great equalizer. “Reading not only takes you places,” she says, “it’s one thing that can put you on a level playing field. And, hopefully, in the world, that’s where we’re all going to meet.”
When the Indianapolis Museum of Art opened its new Contemporary Art Galleries at a gala happening last November, it seemed that both the museum and the city itself had finally reached a significant milestone. Indianapolis was now officially open for the works of living artists from around the world.
At the center of this newfound action was Lisa Freiman, the IMA’s curator of contemporary art. The new galleries — 5,000 square feet of exhibition space — are a reflection of Freiman’s vision. She oversaw virtually every aspect of the project, from the relocating of outlet boxes and alarms, to the preservation of some of the museum’s spectacular third floor views. Oh, and she also determined the selection and placement of the art found there. “I wanted to show that the IMA is taking its commitment to contemporary art seriously. When you take an object seriously, you have to show it in its very best light. I wanted to let the great pieces shine.
“Everything is done for a reason,” Freiman says. That reason might be summed up as serving to provide museum visitors with a truly engaging experience. “I want to put the museum on the map for having an interesting permanent collection that’s worth seeing for its unexpected and compelling choices.”
But Freiman has also worked to balance the permanent collection and an active acquisitions program with an on-going series of temporary exhibitions. “The temporary program gives us a chance to experiment with different types of artwork.”
Freiman’s is an inclusive vision, a vision that has simultaneously embraced the global nature of the contemporary art scene while also recognizing the importance of local practitioners. Upon discovering the work of Bloomington video artist Arthur Liu at the J. Martin Gallery, Freiman acquired it for the museum’s permanent collection. “I don’t like showing Indiana artists separately from the other artists in the collection,” Freiman says. “The IMA is the premier visual arts organization in the state and the artists who are shown here should be at the top of their game, whether local, national or international. It should be competitive and it should be ambitious.”
As she speaks, Freiman is preparing to visit an opening downtown at the iMOCA gallery. “We’re starting,” she says, “to create a scene and a kind of excitement in the community so that people want to go to different shows and openings. It gives artists a reason to stay here and to push themselves. I think it’s a really interesting time to be in Indianapolis.”
Create a scene. Support local art,” proclaims a flyer taped in the window of a coffeehouse on Alabama Street around the corner from Mark Ruschman’s art gallery. The flyer promotes “First Fridays,” one of the many programs that are sponsored by the Indianapolis Downtown Artists and Dealers Association (IDADA), the coalition of creative people and enterprises that Ruschman helped form. He also serves as its president.
IDADA was started in 2002 in response to Mayor Bart Peterson’s cultural initiative. “It sounded like it had legs,” Ruschman recalls, “and it became apparent that the visual arts community needed to come together and position themselves with a coherent message.”
Three years later, IDADA includes 25 galleries and a host of individual artists and other arts businesses. Where it used to focus on action taking place within a 20 block radius of the Circle, it has now expanded to include the rest of the city, as well as associate members elsewhere in Indiana and out of state.
In addition to its First Fridays openings, IDADA advertises on NPR and collaborates with organizations like the city’s Arts Council and the Central Indiana Community Foundation. It has also established a deep presence on a nationally distributed gallery guide. “Three years ago, if you opened that guide, which is utilized by museums and art galleries across the country,” Ruschman says, “you would have only found a listing for the Indianapolis Museum of Art. You open that publication now and you see maps, photographs for up to 20 gallery listings.”
In addition to providing the local visual arts scene with greater credibility, IDADA has also served as a gathering place where ideas and information are exchanged. It has also created a collective voice for speaking with the city and city officials. “It’s given them an opportunity to call us and ask for our input,” Ruschman notes.
“In the last few years the idea of creating a scene seems to be taking hold, it seems like we’re on the radar screen now,” he says. “People, unsolicited, are talking about First Fridays and you have a sense that you’re part of their consciousness. At the Harrison Center, Fountain Square, Massachusetts Avenue and Broad Ripple — they’re all becoming part of peoples’ awareness as places where things are going on and the visual arts have a strong presence.”
This awareness is also translating into better sales and an improving arts economy. “We’re becoming part of something,” Ruschman says. “The buzz is on the street.”
In Spanish, Carolina Sanchez ticks off the long list of her nightly duties as a janitor in the downtown One North Capitol building. “I clean the bathrooms and a kitchen area, I mop the floors, I clean counters and sinks. I do the vacuuming and dusting, and when I am finished, I take out the garbage,” she says.
For this decidedly laborious labor, usually performed in the wee hours, the 55-year-old Sanchez and other local janitors are paid anywhere from $5.50 to $7.50 per hour, well below the poverty level. Like most janitors, Sanchez has no health insurance. She has stopped going to the doctor because she can’t afford it.
Last year, as part of a nationwide effort by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Sanchez and 40 other Indianapolis janitors went on strike to demand better wages and benefits from Group Services France (GSF), the largest cleaning company for Indianapolis office buildings.
“A lot of people told the workers they would not win this,” says Rebecca Maran, Justice for Janitors’ lead organizer. “They were told this is not a union town, and you have to just take whatever the company gives you, even if they are not following the rules.”
But the janitors launched lively purple-shirted tub-thumping downtown pickets, and gained momentum from widespread community support expressed by elected officials, clergy and other labor unions. In November, when GSF agreed to allow Sanchez and more than 400 other janitors to seek union representation, the janitors achieved one of the most significant labor victories in recent Indiana history.
Sanchez and Maran are quick to point out that the local Justice for Janitors campaign found its beginning, not its end, with the GSF victory. They talk of non-GSF janitors who were recently fired after complaining about being paid sub-minimum wage for cleaning a downtown office building, and others who travel in the middle of the night to clean far-Northside office parks for $6 an hour.
Sanchez vows not to leave behind these other janitors seeking justice. “We are going to keep fighting,” she says. “We are still in the struggle.”
This is like building the Golden Gate Bridge,” says Indiana Supreme Court Justice Ted Boehm. “You’ve got to keep building. You’ve got to keep the momentum going.”
Boehm is talking about the work of the city’s Cultural Development Commission, a volunteer board he has chaired since its inception in 2002. Now in its fifth year, the CDC, whose members include representatives from the Mayor’s Office, the Central Indiana Community Foundation, the Arts Council, Indianapolis Downtown Inc. and the Convention and Visitors Association, was formed in order to focus on and lend impetus to Mayor Bart Peterson’s cultural initiative.
Given a five-year lease on life with funding from the Capitol Improvements Board and the Lilly Endowment, the CDC identified several areas for emphasis, including the promotion of cultural tourism, raising public awareness — at home and abroad — regarding the city’s cultural resources and attractions and increasing local participation in cultural activities.
This has translated into an energetic and often innovative support for public art and art projects, the creation of a “fast track” grant program; the creation and promotion of neighborhood cultural districts including Broad Ripple, Fountain Square, Massachusetts Avenue, the Wholesale District, White River State Park and Indiana Avenue; and a rain of giant Red Arrows around the city, marking significant cultural happenings. These efforts peaked in 2005, which the CDC declared the year of “Cultural Convergence.” The CDC and its partners were able to collaborate in order to successfully promote and celebrate a flurry of openings, expansions, special events and new initiatives.
John Vanausdall, the president of the Eiteljorg Museum, has worked with and seen his institution benefit from the CDC’s efforts. “I feel the arts have the kind of momentum the sports initiative brought in the late ’70s,” he says. “We’re not preaching to the choir; everybody’s listening.”
Boehm and Vanausdall agree that the CDC’s greatest accomplishment may be the model of collaboration it represents. “The way the Arts Council, the ICVA and Indianapolis Downtown Inc. have all worked together as our partners is really unprecedented,” Boehm says, “not just in this city, but almost anywhere.”
Although the CDC’s grants from the Capitol Improvements Board and Lilly Endowment are scheduled to expire in 2007, the board will reach that date with approximately half a million dollars yet to spend. “I think we’ll be able to survive in some meaningful form,” Boehm says. Vanausdall, a veteran of the local cultural scene, hopes that’s true. “In 28 years, a lot of ideas have been discussed. But in the last five years, they’ve started coming true.”
Regina Marsh doesn’t like to have her picture taken. She’s uncomfortable in the suit and fancy hairstyle needed to “look official” for her photo.
“I love my job,” she says, tugging at the collar of her blazer. “But I’d rather be wearing my jeans and be playing basketball with the kids than doing all this grown-up stuff!”
The “grown-up stuff” Marsh oversees at the Forest Manor Multi-Service Center is considerable and, in many cases, life-saving. For the past 30 years, the center has worked to establish an organized system to address the human and social needs of the Forest Manor community. Established by area residents in March 1973, and originally sponsored and operated by the City of Indianapolis, Marsh and her co-workers facilitate holistic outreach programs for children and adults, including GED classes, 4-H, drama workshops and exercise and aerobics classes. In recent years, HIV prevention education and testing, on-site food pantry assistance and community referral resources have become major thrusts of the center and its $5 million annual budget.
This past year, Marsh and Forest Manor used their energy and passion to serve families affected by Hurricane Katrina. Marsh brought together local churches, community leaders and the Red Cross to provide case management for 60 families. On one day alone, she led a live broadcast effort with Radio One and raised $14,000 that was shared with Red Cross and UWCI to be directed for families and their needs.
“It’s been a crazy year,” Marsh says with a grin. “I turned 40, I had major surgery, I traveled to South Africa and I became a mother. But I love this place, I love these kids. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”
Marsh’s commitment is welcome news to the hundreds of Indianapolis residents who have come to depend on the programs at the Forest Manor Multi-Service Center. Before- and after-school child care services, teen mentoring, homelessness prevention and a senior wellness program are all vital to the lives of those who have come to depend on Forest Manor for help in tough times.
Helping her neighbors, serving her community and mothering just about every child she comes into contact with are all part of a day’s work for the busy director. “These are the things that really matter,” according to Regina Marsh. And we couldn’t agree more.
While the majority of Indiana residents favor comprehensive sex education, accessible health care and the use of contraception and condoms, it seems that the majority of Indiana lawmakers don’t. Every year, dozens of pieces of legislation are introduced aiming to curtail sexual education and reproductive choice. Without the incessant and effective grass-roots lobbying efforts of Planned Parenthood of Indiana, many of these bills would become law and the repercussions for all Hoosiers would be substantial.
“A real victory won’t come until we see legislation passed that actually protects women’s health,” says PPI Executive Director Betty Cockrum, a week after the 2006 General Assembly session ended last month. “But I’ve got to tell you,” she says with a grin, “it sure feels like we won the battle this year!”
Nearly 15 different anti-reproductive health bills came up during the past session, including the same abortion ban that became law in South Dakota recently. But not one of them passed — the first time in recent memory that women did not lose reproductive health rights or medical providers were not further constrained in providing reproductive health care as a result of the Indiana General Assembly.
The temporary victory came in large part as a result of the Planned Parenthood Action Network, the group’s Internet-based advocacy system, which uses e-mail to contact supporters during the legislative session, keeping them updated on bills affecting reproductive rights and giving them a direct link to their legislators. The Action Network has roughly 6,000 members statewide, who are also connected to Planned Parenthood’s national Action Network. Activists sent thousands of e-mails during the 2006 legislative session letting state legislators know where they stand on proposed bills affecting reproductive health.
“This really is a grass-roots organization,” Cockrum says proudly. “From the individuals who get up every morning to make sure our clinics are open, to the doctors and nurses who see the patients, to the people we have working at the Statehouse, to the thousands of people on our Action Network.”
Until Indiana lawmakers figure out how to do the will of the people, it seems Hoosiers will have to continue to rely on the dedication and work of groups like Planned Parenthood to protect women’s rights. Thankfully, Cockrum and her staff aren’t too battle weary to continue the fight.
“These same bills will be back next year,” Cockrum says with a tired, but earnest, smile. “But so will we.”
It’s easy today to despair at the loss of local independent businesses to the big box retailers. But it’s also easy to find hope. Just walk into Luna Music.
There, you might find Todd Robinson, who started Luna in 1994, standing at the counter. Friendly, full of energy and as hip as they come, Robinson sets the tone for his three stores. His vice president, Jason Pierce, makes the perfect complement — a little taller but equally bright and in touch with the music and art communities.
“The biggest thing we sell is customer service,” Robinson says. “But we don’t think we’re the only ones who know anything. We like to have an active dialogue with our clients when they come in the door.”
It needs to be a two-way street, Robinson says. He or one of his workers may recommend somebody a good record. Or they might hear about something cool from a customer and get it on the shelf. Robinson says it’s all about being connected. That’s part of the plan behind opening stores on Massachusetts Avenue and near Broad Ripple.
“We want to be part of the neighborhood. We want to be in walking distance,” he says. “We want going to Luna to be part of your daily routine of walking around the neighborhood, not something you have to plan like a trip out to a big box.”
Luna’s friendliness spills over into sponsorship and support of many arts and cultural happenings around the city. Luna hosts great live music shows in its stores and produces music on its own record label, putting out work by local bands and larger names like Guided by Voices. “We approach these things with no particular paradigm. We have no red tape, no corporate structure,” Robinson says. “So there’s nothing to stop us from getting involved in all of the great things going on around us. We like to give something back.”
Robinson sees himself and his stores as “facilitators” for bringing together people who love music and culture. He also likes to help bring people a positive experience in his store. “My business is no different than anything else. You have to make it attractive, you have to make it appealing somehow if you are going to ask people to spend a dollar or two more than they would at the big box,” Robinsons says. “It’s great to be able to see that people dig what we do.”
“We are not what you call musicians, we are musical entertainers, and there is a difference.” —Aletra Hampton The tune “It Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing” is a credo for The Hampton Sisters, Aletra, piano and Virtue, bass.
Laura and Clarke “Deacon” Hampton raised 12 children, taught them how to play musical instruments and set out with them as a family band. Named “Deacon” Hampton & The Cottonpickers, they traveled a rough vaudeville circuit in the ’20s before settling in Indianapolis in the 1930s.
“We had no formal music training. Pop taught us everything by his own method. We didn’t have to read music,” Aletra Hampton recalls. Life on the road in those days of racism and segregation was hard on the family as they traveled in a converted panel delivery truck, barnstorming in the Midwest and South. Clarke “Deacon” Hampton instilled in his family a strong work ethic and adherence to a strict discipline, which both sisters fearlessly maintain today.
Aletra Hampton, whom some musicians have nicknamed “The Warrior,” is known among musicians for her no-nonsense approach and sharp business demeanor about music and performance. She’s never expressed any regrets that she had no childhood growing up being the oldest; her father’s values are what she adheres to today.
World War II caused the breakup of the Hampton family band because four of the brothers were in the service. The girls banded together to perform at local USO sites, entertaining the troops. “We broke into three or four groups when we left Pop’s band,” Virtue says. “The Andrew Sisters and The King Sisters were our inspiration to form our own group.”
Duke, the oldest brother, resurrected the family band after the war and they toured throughout the Midwest and East gathering a name for quality entertainment. Times were better as they played the hot spots of New York — the Apollo Theater and the Savoy Ballroom. “The most memorable and best musical experience we had was when we played Carnegie Hall in the late ’40s when Duke led the band,” Aletra remembers.
Returning to Indy, the Hampton band got steady work performing as the house band at the Sunset Terrace on Indiana Avenue before becoming the house band at Cincinnati’s Cotton Club. It was there they recorded “Lonesome Women Blues” by Aletra, and she sang “Baby Please Be Good To Me” and “The Push,” written by Lucky Hampton.
When modern jazz or bebop became the new trend, several of the brothers went off to study music and the new jazz. In the ’50s, the Hampton home on West Vermont Street became a hotbed of learning and rehearsals for young and upcoming musicians. Names like Jimmy Spaulding, Willis Kirk, Benny Barth, Sonny Johnson and David Baker were just a few of the fledgling jazz players that crowded in the family home for rehearsals, development and a career in jazz.
The girls Aletra, Virtue, Dawn (on vocals) and Carmalita (saxophone) regrouped and became locally renowned. They played all over the city for two decades as the Hampton Sisters with a long engagement of 15 years at Stein’s on North Meridian Street. “Everyone liked what we were playing, which was rhythm and blues and swing. We were the only ones playing that style in town and the public learned to dance to our music,” Aletra recalled.
When Carmalita died in 1987 it changed the group sound.
“When Carmelita passed and Dawn moved to New York, we got away from the earlier influences and we developed our own particular style,” Virtue says. Alonzo “Pookie” Johnson was brought in on sax. Now Russell “Whistling Postman” Webster holds that chair and Larry Clark is the group’s drummer.
In spite of all of the adjustments, Aletra proudly proclaims, “Pop used to say you play for the public. We are not what you call musicians, we are musical entertainers, and there is a difference.”
Aletra, 90, and Virtue, 84, continue to play gigs at schools, festivals and concerts and have gathered up numerous honors along the way. They were honored by the State of Indiana with the Governor’s Arts Award in 1991 for their contribution to Indiana’s musical heritage. In 2004, both sisters received honorary doctorates in music from the University of Indianapolis.
The Hampton Sisters are in big demand for performances and they show no inclination of slowing down.
One of their big passions is teaching children and passing on their love and knowledge of music. “You don’t talk to kids and talk down to them,” Aletra says. “Find out what they want to know and be sincere when you talk to them. If it is something they don’t like to hear, you tell them anyway because you have been there.”
Both Hampton Sisters still proudly proclaim, “We always give our best to give the public what they want.”