Sunday, August 12, 2001

Indianapolis on fast track to cultural tourism




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        It's been a busy summer for the arts — in Indianapolis.

        Following the June 27 announcement of a $10 million investment in branding the city as an arts destination, Mayor Bart Peterson has been busy selecting members of a Commission on Cultural Development. Appointments are to be announced before the end of the month. The Arts Council of Indianapolis expects to complete new hires, including a cultural tourism manager, by mid-September.

        Get out your handkerchiefs, arts advocates.

        The story I'm about to tell you is all too familiar. It's just that in Indianapolis, the right people were listening.

        It all started about four years ago, a timeline not unlike that of our Regional Cultural Planning Committee.

        According to arts council deputy director Greg Charleston. Indianapolis was concerned about its national image.

        What, the city's players wondered, would best enhance Indy's national image? They had triumphed in a long-term commitment to amateur sports. What should the city next embrace as a community?

        Happily, the town already had an arts council that was working with an arts consultant.

        The ensuing report carried a lot of the same information that Tristate regional cultural planners desperately tried to pitch to our politicians and corporate bigwigs.

        • Cultural tourism is The Current Big Thing across the nation.

        • Cultural tourists are the demographic that cities want to attract. Why? They spend more money.

        • Local residents will benefit along with out-of-towners.

        New mayor Peterson (who took office in January) had seen what a long-term investment in amateur sports had done for the city. He wanted to add his own stamp and decided his legacy would be developing the arts.

        (Hmmm. Cincinnati will elect a mayor in less than three months ...)

        The city, the Convention & Visitors Association and Indianapolis Downtown Inc. were easily persuaded that a multiyear commitment to arts would attract visitors and businesses and bolster its regional, national and international profile.

        What Indianapolis will see in the next five years of this “first wave” is an expanded definition of “branding” that includesbolstering the arts.

        • Grants will be developed for artists, neighborhood, cultural organizations and partners in the hospitality industry.

        • Growth of cultural districts and a “neighborhood-by-neighborhood” approach to cultural development will be supported, investing in community centers, parks, green spaces, galleries and restaurants.

        • The Arts Council's Public Art Committee will be reactivated and will focus on the new airport terminal and major routes.

        • Transportation issues and signs along highways and city streets will be considered to make access to cultural institutions easier.

        • Residents will be encouraged to become “cultural ambassadors.”

        “We wanted a bigger vision than just marketing,” Mr. Charleston says.

        The heartbreaker is that Indianapolis can't approach the quality of our arts.

        What Indianapolis does have is political and corporate leaders with vision and will.

        Our arts deserve to have the region, the nation, the world know how good they are. As citizens, we deserve every opportunity to take pride in our community.

        Start the new arts season with resolve. Pick up your phone and tell the people who can make things happen to make them happen: Mayor's office, 352-3250; Charter Party (they have a mayoral candidate — Courtis Fuller — too), 241-0303; Downtown Cincinnati Inc., 421-4440; Greater Cincinnati Convention and Visitors Bureau, 621-2142.

        No matter what city or county you live in, call your elected officials. Remind them that your vote counts — and tell them what it will take to get your vote.

        While you're at it, call Cincinnati Institute of Fine Arts, 871-2787. The institute is about to name a manager for its festivals to celebrate the openings of the new Contemporary Arts Center and Underground Railroad Freedom Center.

        What shape these festivals will take is still to be determined. What better time to make your interest and concern known?

        Tell them it's about more than marketing. Tell them you want a festival worthy of the name, worth of regional, national and international attention.

        Resolve to be a cultural ambassador. It's a tough job, but somebody has to do it.

        Arts deals: Back-to-school commercials have returned to TV, so it must be time for back-to-school arts remarks:

        Attention moms and dads: Sign up your kids for Enjoy the Arts. There are great deals (including $500 in free ticket offers) for full-time students of any age.

        Enjoy the Arts/START (for young adults under 30) is making itself even more user-friendly thanks to a $105,000 matching grant from the Regional Initiatives Fund.

        The money will be used to develop a pilot ticketing program for small- to mid-sized arts organizations and a regional arts Web site to provide “one-stop shopping” for arts programming and information.

        The Web, ETA exec director Lisa Mullins says, “is the way our young audience prefers to get their information and for making decisions.”

        Enjoy the Arts will “audition” ticketing software this season even as it assesses the needs and specific situations of groups such as Cincinnati Shakespeare, Contemporary Dance Theatre and Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra.

        It's still early to check in at CincinnatiArts.com.

        At the moment, arts organizations submit their own information. A search using the keyword “theater” showed the only listings were from the Fifth Third Bank Broadway Series, Playhouse in the Park and Know Theatre Tribe.

        “Boy, do we have plans for this site,” Ms. Mullins promises. “Virtual tourism, discussion boards, a gallery on the Web with artwork by young local artists. We want the visual arts community to be a part of this, too.”

        The Regional Initiatives Fund grant will pay for the hire of a “computer- and ticketing-savvy person,” hopefully by the end of this month.

        In the meantime, information about Enjoy the Arts/START membership is available by phone, (513) 621-4700 or e-mail, etastart@fuse.net.

        Bard basics: Attention English teachers: There's going to be a “Tempest in Cincinnati” in October anchored to UC College-Conservatory of Music's production of the Shakespearian fantasia (Oct. 25-28).

        Among the guests will be Gerald Graff, on the faculty at University of Illinois at Chicago and author of the highly regarded Shakespeare in Schools.

        Mr. Graff will offer a master class for educators. Symposium organizer Norma Jenckes says, “I hope to identify a group of (high school and middle school) teachers who know what impact literature can have on students and who are interested in finding a new way of presenting Shakespeare in the classroom.”

        Interested? Contact Ms. Jenckes at University of Cincinnati, (513) 556-3914.

        London stages: Playhouse in the Park's Nixon's Nixon opened to favorable reviews in London's West End late last month.

        The London Times' Benedict Nightingale wrote that stars Keith Jochim and Tim Donoghue “... bring both guile and energy to (the) imaginative version of an evening when I for one would have traded my arms for tiny wings and my chair for a slot on the ceiling of the Lincoln Sitting Room.”

        The Evening Standard reports that “Charles Towers' production joyously exploits ... satirical opportunities” and The Daily Telegraph calls it “absorbing and amusing.”

        It's still-to-be-determined whether good words will translate to box office in the open-ended run.
       Contact Jackie Demaline by phone: 768-8530; fax: 768-8330; e-mail: jdemaline@yahoo.com.
       

       



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