I think it started during the Goldsmith Administration. Members of the Indianapolis arts community, resembling whooping cranes, spotted owls or some similarly endangered species, threw themselves a lunch early in September to celebrate the start of another arts season.
Actually, it was the Arts Council of Indianapolis that came up with the idea of a “Start With Art” luncheon. In those days it had a whiff of the support group about it — it was reassuring to walk into an over-size room and see a lot of fellow travelers mingling there, folks looking forward to another year of making do in a place with one of the lowest arts budgets for a city its size in the country. Occasionally, the mayor, on his way from one corporate function to another, would stop by, take the podium and look out on our pallid faces with an expression showing equal parts condescension and perplexity. Then a certain recognition would cross his brow: no votes here. He would smile, assure us that he appreciated the good work we did and make a beeline for the door.
Well, things have changed since then. The city has a mayor, Bart Peterson, who has made the arts an important part of his agenda. This has led to a respectable level of public funding that, in turn, has leveraged a greater amount of philanthropic and private dollars than we’ve seen here before.
This money makes things possible. We have new or expanded arts facilities, a new emphasis on public art, new grass-roots theater groups and a dynamic gallery scene. In fact, it’s beginning to look as if our arts season has outgrown the familiar September to May frame we’ve used to define it.
This year, thanks to IndyFringe, the second annual Fringe Festival, the arts season began in August. And it started with a bang. The Fringe did almost as much business in its first week as in its entire inaugural run. It now seems safe to say that so long as we have IndyFringe, the arts season in Indianapolis will begin at the end of summer rather than the beginning of fall.
For a city that wants to be a cultural destination, this is good news. It’s a sign that, slowly but surely, Indianapolis is developing the kind of scene that isn’t limited to the school year. A cultural life, in other words, capable of running 24/7, 365 days a year.
This doesn’t mean the Arts Council needs to reschedule its annual luncheon. Start With Art has become a kind of tradition — the support group, I’m glad to report, has given way to full-fledged celebration.