May 19th, 2015

Oh, the Places You’ll Go . . . and the Place You’ll Stay

by Emily Vanest



Two years ago, when I joined the staff of the Harrison Center, my first project was to help finish writing our first national grant – a lengthy application to ArtPlace, an innovative collaboration between multiple foundations, federal agencies, and financial institutions that works to put the arts and artists at the forefront of community development.  In 2013, over 1200 arts and community development organizations across the country submitted applications. The Harrison Center/City Gallery was one of the 84 projects (the only one in Indiana) that were awarded grants.


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Earlier this month, I had the privilege of traveling to Philadelphia for the annual ArtPlace Summit, a conference bringing together previous winners of ArtPlace grants. I met inspiring winners from around the country — a policewoman who uses the arts to prevent recidivism; a filmmaker-turned Architecture professor who is rehabbing a disinvested Detroit neighborhood house by abandoned house; a mother artist who trained her community to be public art program directors; the director of the Department of Making + Doing, a co-working maker space full of tools and project materials where kids rebuild their skateboards and local artists build public art installations.

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When the first person I met asked where I was from, I had no idea what reaction to expect when I said “Indianapolis.” He smiled. “Indianapolis,” he said, “that’s a city that really seems to have its act together.” I smiled. As I talked about the work of the Harrison Center and City Gallery throughout the week, about our city leaders and partners, about our high quality schools, about how the arts and our Harrison Center artists really are transforming our corner of the city, I began to realize more and more how truly great — and unique — Indianapolis is. I was proud of us. Proud that we collaborate with partners instead of competing against them. Proud that our civic, business and community leaders value and invest in the arts, live in our neighborhoods, and send their kids to our schools. Proud of Herron High School, just named in the top 1% of public high schools nationwide.  Proud of the expanding Oaks Academy who was recently told by a funder “Don’t give us your pitch. We know what you’re doing. Just tell us how much you need.”

This week, my oldest daughter will graduate from Herron High School; next week, my son will graduate from the Oaks Academy. When we moved here 15 years ago, we had no idea how incredibly rich an experience our children would have here in Indianapolis. They’ve had a world class education in both elementary and high school, been daily observers of the explosive growth of downtown, watched their own vibrant and diverse urban neighborhood be brought back to life, and been surrounded by all kinds of people who know and love them. As I walked back through the Indianapolis Airport, I was so thankful to be coming home, staying in this city I’m seeing through new eyes.