"People in Indianapolis used to actually brag about how nothing new ever got started here. The idea was that this town waited until ideas were tested elsewhere and then, ahem, we took the best ones for our own.
So much for early adopters.
NUVO started the Cultural Vision Awards because we knew that not only was this bad strategy for the city’s future, it wasn’t true. As our writers traversed Indianapolis, we were constantly finding people and organizations that weren’t waiting to hear about what was happening somewhere else — they were innovating on their own.
The only problem was that not enough people were finding out about the good works happening here.
This year, NUVO, along with our media partner WISH-TV Channel 8, celebrates another class of Cultural Vision Award honorees. Their ideas are an inspiration; their stories will make you glad you live here.
The Buselli Wallarab Jazz Orchestra
Mark Buselli and Brent Wallarab, founders
“There’s nothing like 16 real live musicians with blood pulsing through their veins, blowing air through instruments right at you,” says Mark Buselli, co-founder with Brent Wallarab of the Buselli Wallarab Jazz Orchestra. His eyes sparkle when he says this — he’s felt it, he knows.
Buselli and Wallarab met in Bloomington in 1994. Both were writing jazz compositions intended for big bands — and both were restless, tired of playing the same arrangements as everyone else. “We wanted a different approach,” Buselli says, “and we wanted the band to have a different sound.”
So instead of the conventional big band set-up with five saxes, four trombones and four trumpets, Buselli and Wallarab tried a different configuration, cutting the sax and trombone sections by one each, adding a French horn and allowing for a flugelhorn. Then they moved to Indianapolis, where their band has become a mainstay on the local music scene for over a decade.
In a city that claims a rich jazz heritage, the BWJO is a local treasure. Not only have they won themselves an international reputation through their recordings of original tracks, the BWJO has been a leader in jazz education and has also helped to preserve jazz history by resurrecting and performing classic jazz charts through its off-shoot, the Midcoast Swing Orchestra.
At the center of the band’s dynamism are the talented players that Buselli and Wallarab have managed to attract to this project. “Without the players in our band, the music is nothing but notes on a page,” Buselli says. “You can’t take an average musician to play what we’ve written.” And so Buselli and Wallarab take pride in creating a musical platform that allows for everyone in the band to shine. “We’re going to make sure somebody that’s playing for us has every opportunity to express themselves creatively.”
The Buselli Wallarab Jazz Orchestra is trying to do for jazz what the Indianapolis Symphony does for classical music: provide the community with a high quality and consistent source for a culturally vital artform. In the case of the BWJO, this means original big band jazz, a kind of music that’s as American as the stars and stripes. “I’ve been told you’ve got to have three things when you play,” Mark Buselli observes. “Great music, good pay, or you’ve got to have a great hang — good places and people to play with. If you have two of those out of three, you’ve got a good situation. Then every once in a while you get all three and it’s like being in heaven. That’s what we’re trying to do.”
— David Hoppe
Sagamore Institute for Policy Research
Located next door to a National Guard recruiting station on Indiana Avenue just south of Michigan Street are the annex office spaces of the Sagamore Institute for Policy Research. Stop in on any given day and you will hear a diverse mix of tunes wafting from the office of Senior Fellow John Clark. Gypsy music from the Balkans, Portuguese fado, bebop from Kansas City, Cuban salsa, a Mozart sonata or a current remix of a classic Beatles tune all figure into Clark’s eclectic taste for this universal language, an artform that moves human emotion by transcending time and political, religious, ethnic and national boundaries.
The power of transcendence is something Clark emulates with his superior intellect. Whether he is facilitating a public conversation with visiting journalists from Turkey, mayors from Israel and Palestine, or a group of high school students who have just viewed a current film about Iraq, Clark is a maestro in the Socratic method of engaging people in a meaningful exchange of ideas. Through intensive research Clark has also helped to inform a regional conversation about the impact of Hispanic immigration on Central Indiana.
John Clark is a major proponent of the notion of “glocalization,” or the power of trans-local partnerships, which he describes as a new model of public diplomacy and foreign aid. Central Indiana is rich with organizations and individuals that aspire to change the world through international outreach. International Center of Indianapolis, Franciscan Center for Global Studies, Christel DeHaan, Ambassadors for Children, IU-Kenya Partnership, Rotary, Kiwanis International (to name only a few) — each contributes to a symphony of actors striving for the kind of sustained social change that occurs through an intimate, local-to-local exchange of people, talent, resources and goodwill.
Well-credentialed, Clark received his master’s and Ph.D. from UC Berkeley, authored several books and published countless articles; he chooses to share his gifts with the community. “Provocate” is Clark’s latest enterprise designed to connect a needy world with those eager to serve. Visit his Web site at www.provocate.org to learn about the plethora of local opportunities to become a more informed glocal citizen and join in the growing chorus of concerned individuals with a willingness to change the world by thinking out loud.
Indianapolis Theatre Fringe Festival
Pauline Moffat, executive director
For some, the annual Fringe Festival is a misnomer. After all, what can be “fringe” about an event that basically takes over a significant chunk of the downtown for an entire month — not to mention the monthly FringeFriday events that have proved a magnet for audiences. In just a few years (the original Fringe was in 2005), the IFF has altered the arts calendar itself, moving it up a few weeks — giving patrons and adventurous theater-goers something exciting to look forward to in August (besides elephant ears).
Pauline Moffat, who was born in Melbourne and grew up in Sydney, Australia, took the Fringe reins last year and saw attendance double. Since then she has expanded the vision to include a film festival, while increasing the visibility of the Fringe with the FringeFriday performances. Also on her list of improvements is to increase the number of street performers, so that Fringe can continue to take over Massachusetts Avenue and beyond with weeks of spirited, creative and downright weird activity. Moffat says also that “this year our goal is to return $l00,000 to the performers.”
For those of you not yet familiar, here’s the briefing: Fringe Festival, based on similar festivals held worldwide, features 10 days of theater, along with a VisualFringe program, a 36-show Youth Theatre, the aforementioned short film festival and free public events. It’s an unjuried and uncensored showcase, and if that isn’t egalitarian enough, 100 percent of the admission revenue goes back to the performers ($76,000 last year). Groups and individuals come from all over the world to perform at Fringe. This year, we can look forward to performers from Minneapolis, Orlando, Los Angeles, New York and unique performances from Italy, Israel, Australia, Mexico, the United Kingdom and Canada. Local theater groups will once again participate, including Arden Theatre and the People’s Playhouse. For Moffat, the biggest delight has been that “IndyFringe has moved so quickly from a local festival … buzz about Indianapolis being such a hospitable city has spread so quickly in the Fringe world.”
Another innovation this year is the first Fringe Festival/NUVO new play contest — the results of which will be announced later this month.
Future plans for the Fringe Fest, according to Moffat, include “working closely with the Canadian Fringe Festival Association and U.S. Fringe Festival Association to develop a 2008 regional touring circuit, which would include Columbus, Ohio and new festivals in Detroit, Mich., Windsor, Mich., and across the border to Ontario … we wish to attract the best in the world to IndyFringe so our local performers and audiences can benefit from the experience.”
Moffat and the Fringefesters are still looking for volunteers. See www.indyfringe.org.
Jon Keep, president
It was a stunning development. An extremely close call followed by a huge collective sigh of relief from Indiana’s LGTB community and other stakeholders when the Indiana House of Representatives Rules and Legislative Procedures Committee voted five to five on April 3 to defeat Senate Resolution 7 (SJR 7), an amendment to the Indiana Constitution banning same-sex marriage. For many, it was also a defining moment for a population segment that has felt marginalized but can now use its growing political clout and influence to overcome its adversaries and empower its own.
Leading the charge to defeat the amendment was Indiana Equality, a statewide, bi-partisan coalition of organizations and individual members, which promotes “equality and justice for all LGTB Hoosiers.” Using a strategic approach, which began in 2005 when the Legislature first passed the amendment, the organization asked members to operate on a grass-roots level to contact their legislators and write letters to editors, formed alliances with domestic violence groups and other allies, and maintained a strong presence in the Statehouse through paid lobbyists who worked with legislators of both parties and other lobbyists on IE’s behalf. Probably the most successful element of the group’s strategy was the education it provided regarding how the amendment as written with unclear language could effect others, such as unmarried couples, the elderly, children and victims of domestic violence.
Hearing IE’s message that the amendment could also effect employee domestic partner benefits were some of Indiana’s largest companies, including Eli Lilly and Co., Cummins, Wellpoint, Emmis Communications and Dow AgroScience.
Indiana Equality may now reasonably lay claim to being the premier political action and lobbying organization representing the interests of Indiana’s LGTB population.
Founded in 2003, IE’s mission is “to secure basic human rights for Indiana’s LGBT citizens,” and has two primary objectives, “amending Indiana’s Civil Rights law to protect against discrimination based on either sexual orientation or gender identity, and ensuring that relationship protections for LGTB couples and families are not outlawed by the amendment [SJR 7] to the State Constitution.” To insure the latter goal, IE has already begun to organize against a referendum on the measure that could still go before the voters in ’08 if lawmakers introduce and approve it next spring.
Led by Jon Keep, Indiana Equality is a nonprofit 501 (c) (4) Indiana corporation. It works with civil rights groups, LGTB organizations and other partners to form regional steering committees across Indiana, representing their community on the IE board of directors.
Indiana Canine Assistant Network
Five years ago when ICAN founder Sally Irvin first approached Indiana prisons, the response was something like, “Who is this crazy dog lady?”
Irvin wanted to start a program modeled after one begun 28 years ago by a nun in Washington state, in which prisoners were put in charge of training service dogs for people with disabilities.
“They finally realized I wasn’t going away,” she says with a laugh.
Now, three area prisons are enthusiastically embracing the Indiana Canine Assistant Network (formerly ICAAN), and over 40 “graduates” have been placed as either service dogs to the disabled or in-home therapy dogs. But the numbers don’t tell the whole story. The program is as much about process as product.
Irvin, the nonprofit’s executive director, sees the dogs as catalysts for positive change on many levels. Offenders live with, care for and train their potential service dogs for nearly two years, requiring a level of commitment they may never have known before. The skills required often end up overlapping with life skills.
For example, the handlers learn to use positive reinforcement for desired behaviors, setting the dogs up for success. Each dog has a unique personality, just like people, and the handlers are encouraged to play to their particular dog’s strengths. This approach may be one that the offenders have never before experienced — one that, as Irvin points out, translates handily to interpersonal interactions.
The families receiving an ICAN dog meanwhile undergo an intensive application process. Most ICAN clients are children and adolescents, many with mobility issues. Some have developmental disabilities like autism or Down’s syndrome. Each client is carefully matched with a specific dog that meets his or her needs.
When the training process is complete and the dog is ready, the offender has the responsibility of teaching the recipient family how to handle the dog. Here again, Irvin points to some unquantifiable transformations as the offender and client team up for two weeks before the final handover.
“We see those preconceived notions just get blown out of the water,” she says. The recipients quickly see beyond their stereotypes of criminals, realizing that their dog’s trainer is a decent person who made a terrible mistake.
Handlers in turn begin to understand how fortunate they are to be able-bodied. “They start to say, ‘This person goes through so much just to get here this morning. I have to train the next dog to be even better,&rsqu"