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October 2007 Issue

An Unlikely Arts Mecca
Four arts facilities—and their landscapes—open in Indianapolis.

By Adam Regn Arvidson, ASLA

An Unlikely Arts Mecca Eiteljorg Museum

Would you believe Indianapolis is an arts town? True, the city’s biggest draws are its auto races out at the Brickyard. And it is far better known as the birthplace of basketball. And its football team just won the Super Bowl. But Indy is in fact an arts town: if not in repute, then in sheer variety. Indy (as this crossroads-of-America city of 780,000 is most commonly nicknamed) has a neo-Victorian glass Artsgarden hovering above a major downtown intersection. It eschews paint-a-cow plop art in favor of commissioning one internationally known artist to scatter new works throughout the city (Julian Opie’s 12 Signs will be up through 2007).

When it comes to art, however, the year 2005 was Indy’s coming-out party. That summer, a city-sponsored “big red arrow” (18 feet long and weighing around 700 pounds) traveled the city to point out the grand openings of four arts facilities expansions. “We never intended it all to occur at once,” says John Vanausdall, president and CEO of the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art. The Eiteljorg had expanded its building and outdoor spaces with the help of landscape architects and architects at Browning Day Mullins Dierdorf Architects (BDMD). That same firm also designed the new grounds at the Indianapolis Museum of Art and the Herron School of Art and Design’s new sculpture garden. Farther north, the arrow pointed at the Indianapolis Art Center’s brand new ARTSPARK, designed by landscape architecture firm Rundell Ernstberger Associates (REA).

Two of these new outdoor arts facilities (ARTSPARK and Eiteljorg) have won awards from the Indiana chapter of ASLA and, along with the sculpture garden at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, are as different as landscapes come. Together, they describe a cross section of the Indy arts scene, while raising questions about landscapes for art. What types of experiences should (or do) outdoor arts facilities provide? Do well-designed landscapes accentuate the art-viewing experience, or even the art itself? Are these gardens themselves art?

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