Fort Ben Cultural Campus Celebrates Grand Opening
Photographer / Brian Brosmer
In 2018, the Lilly Endowment published a grant opportunity called “Strengthening Indianapolis Through Arts and Cultural Innovation.” Arts for Lawrence applied, and in 2019 the Fort Ben Cultural Campus, a public park and partnership between the City of Lawrence and Arts for Lawrence, received a $5.85 million grant from the Lilly Endowment. The project came to fruition in five phases.
The first phase involved the renovation of the 1929 theater by adding a sound booth, movie capabilities and a community art installation – a large, fused glass flag in the front lobby that was fashioned by art therapists and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients.
Phase Two was an addition to the back of the theater. It now has rehearsal and workshop space, a conference room, and access to two large community spaces. In the lobby of the addition is an art installation by an interactive group called Breakfast based out of Brooklyn, New York.
“The sculptures interact with people as they come in and out of the lobby,” says Judy Byron, executive director for Arts for Lawrence. “It’s a techy piece of artwork that I think the community will find fun.”
What makes it interactive are little flip disks that are the size of a dime. One side is gold, the other side green, and they flip up and down in a pattern, creating a wave calculated by the amount of green energy being produced in central Indiana. If someone walks in front of the sculpture, it acts as a mirror and the disks flip up and down.
“If you stand in front of it and wave your hand, you can see your hand wave back through the flip disks,” Byron says.
Phase Three involved creating the Visual Arts Center. Arts for Lawrence was gifted an historic Fort Harrison building by the Fort Harrison Reuse Authority. The organization actually picked it up and moved it to the campus to transform it into the Visual Arts Center, which has been renovated to include a gallery, ceramic studio, studio for resident artists, and space for hosting small workshops. They made all restrooms and exits ADA compliant, and upgraded restrooms to include touchless features and enhanced air-filtration systems.
Phase Four is the Plaza, which includes an amphitheater for outdoor concerts and festivals, lighted walkways, gardens and public seating. The main attraction of the Plaza is the world’s first permanent set of musical swings, which Byron calls “an experiment in community collaboration.” Daily tous les jours, an art and design studio from Montreal, Canada, brought visitors to the area for a four-week trial period in May of 2019. During that month, more than 20,000 visitors representing 60 central Indiana zip codes used the swings, and loved them so much that they requested the swings return permanently. Comfortable for all ages, the four colors of swings each represent a different instrument – piano, vibraphone, harp and guitar.
“When you swing, you can hear the musical instrument that your swing represents,” Byron says. “If you swing in unison with your neighbor, it will trigger an arpeggio.”
Finally, Phase Five involved the placemaking of public art.
On June 18 Arts for Lawrence, in partnership with the City of Lawrence, is hosting a grand opening for the Fort Ben Cultural Campus. It will be a weekend-long celebration that includes music, dance, storytelling, art, activities and a community art project.
Byron describes Lawrence as a vibrant town with a mixture of old and new features.
“There’s some interesting history with the Fort being here and the state park in an urban area of Indianapolis, but it was that community arts piece that was missing, and I feel like that’s so important,” Byron says.
While Arts for Lawrence has been actively pursuing arts programming for 12 years, the campus is a major asset to the arts community.
“This was kind of an arts desert,” Byron says. “As we offered little bits and pieces to the community, they’ve eaten it up and it blossomed into this substantial product, the Fort Ben Cultural Campus.”
Although right now most programming will be outdoors, leaders are activating the indoor spaces with limited time and capacity in order to ensure everyone’s safety. The indoor theater is set to open in September. There are, however, activities planned for the outdoor amphitheater. Organizers are bringing back Fridays at the Fort, a free concert series. In partnership with Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra musicians and other classical music talent, they are also introducing a new classical music concert series on Sundays.
Byron is eager to welcome patrons again.
“Whether their faces are covered by a mask doesn’t matter,” Byron says. “I miss everyone and I’m really excited that we now have this great outdoor space where we can enjoy art together.”
Fridays at the Fort Concert Series
Arts for Lawrence is bringing summer concerts to the new Fort Ben Cultural Campus. Complete with food trucks, children’s activities and a beer and wine tent, the free outdoor community concerts begin at 6 p.m. and end at 9 p.m. This summer’s dates and bands include:
- June 18: Indianapolis Jazz Orchestra
- July 2: Mississippi Raglips and the River Dogs
- July 16: Queen Delphine and The Crown Jewels
- July 30: Heartstone Crossing
- August 13: Teresa Reynolds
- August 27: 38th Infantry Division Band
Arts for Lawrence is located at 8920 Otis Avenue in Indianapolis. For more information, call 317-875-1900 or visit artsforlawrence.org.