Indianapolis Cultural Development Commission

“In 28 years, a lot of ideas have been discussed. But in the last five years, they’ve started coming true.” — John Vanausdall

“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.”

— David Hoppe

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