Thursday, February 21, 2013
Guest Editorial: Community Activist Criticizes Arts Center Representatives Support of Commercial Development of Greenway as Well As Proposed Public Art on Canal Towpath
Will the bullying mentality be checked in the update of our Greenways Master Plan?
Two representatives of the Indianapolis Art Center saw fit to write letters to city zoning officials in support of the recent rezoning petition for 5301 Winthrop Ave. to permit a brewery/restaurant and outdoor concert venue. The operation is considered by many near-neighbors as overly intense for the largely residential area.
The petitioner’s exhibits for the February 6th MDC hearing contained letters by Ashleigh Graves-Roesler, shown as the Art Center’s Annual Fund Manager, and Patrick Flaherty, Director of Exhibitions and Artist Services. Mr. Flaherty’s address was shown as 4422 Guilford and Ms. Graves-Roesler’s is 5325 Carrollton.
Mr. Flaherty’s letter demonizes the impacted remonstrators who number in the hundreds and have legitimate concerns about the over-reaching scale and thus high impacts of the proposal. In his December 12th email he charged: ‘The small group of nay-sayers have a track record of opposing everything. We cannot let them stall the re-awakening of this area…”
The reality is that nearly all of the remonstrators had never opposed any neighborhood re-development or rezoning. But in this time of disingenuous digital commentary, facts are often less important than “free expression” which is a trademark of the arts. Mr. Flaherty doubtless knew his statement was patently false, but his intent was not to clarify or enlighten but to discredit and distract.
The Art Center has been taking an aggressive stance in attempting to install art wherever on public property it desires. Thus it’s probable that its two letter writers were actually interested in securing a potential friendly site for public art along the Monon Trail.
The Monon greenway as a linear art exhibit isn’t enough for the Art Center, even though it has installed several pieces along it. More recently, the scenic and historic Central Canal has been targeted. Last year, in consort with Midtown, Inc., the Broad Ripple Village Association, and others, it tried to encroach upon the canal with a plan for a series of intrusive public art— to create an “art to art trail”. Fortunately, that attempt, driven largely by perceived entitlement, was checked by Citizens Water which owns the property. Following public outcry and a plea for an open public process for reviewing the siting of art (visit savecentralcanal.wordpress.com), Citizens Water announced in September that the company does not anticipate approving any public art on its canal property.
In its push to place art on the canal, the Art Center was not only aggressive, but also contemptuous of community concerns and the public interest. It even publicly, but again falsely, attacked one of the objectors in a letter to The Indianapolis Star. When questioned about the propriety of its plan, it didn’t take long for its bully mentality to be revealed as it resorted to unfounded personal attack in the public media. (The unbecoming penchant for bullying by some art groups was spotlighted by Indianapolis Business Journal columnist Mike Redmond in his criticism of forcible public art-- Forget Elvis on Velvet; Art Bullies Have Other Plans”, 1-15-07).
The bigger issue today is the emergence of a development-at-any-cost political machine that has been created in north Indianapolis by a consortium of the Art Center, Midtown, Inc., the Broad Ripple Village Association, Meridian Kessler Neighborhood Association, and other powerful commercial groups. They've mastered the alluring rhetoric of community/walkability/livability, but they actually push economic growth, and their own commercial interests, above all else-- even where the quality of life of the neighbors is needlessly sacrificed. This machine has been consistently encouraged by Mayor Ballard’s office and other administration and Council officials who push economic growth, in part via recent EDA and TIF district designations, regardless of the costs to the community or the near-neighbors.
An update to the greenways master plan is currently being prepared by City staff. Some indications are that City administrators might be intent upon commercializing the greenways. Will inappropriate or ubiquitous public art become a permanent brand or blight on our scenic greenways? It will be crucial for neighborhoods to monitor and re-direct this process so that commercial developers and the institutional art bullies are not, in effect, handed the keys to the city. While there might well be locations along the greenways for which commercial development and public art might be beneficial, those decisions must be made carefully and collectively and not in isolation with only the invited institutional “stakeholders”.