Potential riverfront access envisioned by the Indianapolis Art Center and SWT Design

Potential riverfront access envisioned by Indianapolis Art Center and SWT Design

The Indianapolis Art Center is considering new plans to improve access and interaction with its riverfront location and grounds.

To gather community input on the riverfront that is accessible to the Art Center, the nonprofit arts organization hosted a meeting of stakeholders Feb. 14. The meeting, funded by the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust, included funders, environmental groups, artists, river users, and city representatives. More than 45 attendees from 28 organizations participated in the meeting.

Focus groups discussed various opportunities for the Indianapolis Art Center grounds, including the river access. Possible improvements include a potential grand observation deck and a riverbank room on the west end, which could include an event space.

A community BBQ on Friday, June 22 aims to showcase the center’s engagement with the river and draw more interest in their waterfront improvement effort. Admission is free, and food and drinks will be available for purchase. There will also be games, activities, and music. Keep Indianapolis Beautiful, Inc. will have an activity highlighting the importance of keeping watersheds free of waste and debris.

The February 14 meeting (called a charrette) launched a series of discussions about how the Art Center grounds can better serve the Indy community. The earliest phases will include developing a stronger connectivity to the Monon and engagement with the IndyGo Redline when it comes in 2019. (IndyGo representatives will also be on hand at the community BBQ.)

While the overall focus was on better access to the riverfront from the Art Center, the work coincides with the larger effort to revitalize a 58-mile stretch of the White River, spanning from northern Hamilton to southern Marion counties, Partners for the White River announced in early May.

Since joining the IAC in 2014, President and Executive Director Patrick Flaherty has been talking with various funders about big-picture improvements that can be made.

The Indianapolis Art Center is known for its art classes and art exhibits, and it will continue to focus on those two areas as it has for several decades, says Flaherty. But they also don’t want to ignore the riverfront’s potential for bringing in new visitors, and they want to be a leader in how they approach improving access, appreciation, and stewardship of the river.

While the stakeholder meeting focused on long-term plans, such as building boardwalks and observation decks and making more of the trails better accessible to bikes, wheelchairs, and strollers, the Art Center has already been using what they learned to make small but significant improvements, and it will continue to do so.

“We’ve cleaned up our east entrance a bit, which has a functional wood kiln and a functioning sculpture garden,” Flaherty says. “We’re finding the happy medium between working studio and welcoming space. We’re investigating how in the short term, without significant funding, we can make that more apparent.”

Additionally, the Art Center has improved visibility from the Monon Trail by cutting back invasive species and by looking into adding more signs, art installations, and perhaps an “education path” says Director of Development Emily Hunter.

They are also working on other programming ideas to make the east entrance—the approach from the Monon Trail—more welcoming. They’re considering hosting food trucks, community festivals, and smaller pop-up events in that space, according to Hunter. She adds that they are also open to community groups contacting the Indianapolis Art Center with their ideas to discuss use of the space and potential partnerships.

And there will be ample opportunity during the community BBQ for such discussion. The BBQ coincides with the opening of the Art from the Heartland exhibition juried by Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art Director of Exhibitions Mike Barclay, as well as the opening of the exhibit featuring works by the Indianapolis Art Center’s Supportive Mentoring through ART (SMART) program, where youth ages 12–18 are partnered with art mentors to attend classes at the Art Center.

The meeting of stakeholders was just the first of many steps as the IAC continues to seek feedback from the community in the coming months. The next phase will be programming, participation, and partnerships, so there will continue to be opportunities for community involvement.

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