10 Lessons from Spark: Monument Circle

We’ll miss the free activities that enlivened the Circle over the last couple months. Here’s what the hit event taught us.

On August 1, Spark: Monument Circle opened as an experiment to identify activities people will engage with in Indy’s most vital public space. Today, as Spark packs up its ping-pong tables and Wagon of Wonders after a successful 11-week run, we look back on what we learned.

1. You don’t need to restrict traffic on Monument Circle to make it a hangout. Part of the purpose of Spark was to test a permanent infrastructure change, a proposal in the city’s in-development Monument Circle Redesign Plan that would push parking farther into the Circle to create more programming space on the outer ring and restrict traffic to one lane. During Spark, traffic jams did not ensue. In fact, Spark organizer Jim Walker has changed his mind on the issue of closing the Circle to traffic. He used to be for it; now he’s against it, believing cars make the hub more lively and give passengers a chance to see what’s happening on the Circle.

2. Programming the Circle with fun stuff to do doesn’t have to cost a lot. Spark had $400,000 in funding, including a $200,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. But crowds responded to the creativity. Example: the magnetic alphabet whiteboard, encouraging kids and adults to express their minds.

3. There’s a demand for free cafe-style seating on the Circle. Those lime-green and red tables—some in adorable “parklets” bordered by flower boxes—were occupied every day.

4. Everyone loves ping-pong, even star athletes. Indianapolis Colts tight end Dwayne Allen was spotted playing pick-up games hours before Monday Night Football in September. He explained to one fan that coach Chuck Pagano had told the players to go loosen up.

5. A table-tennis bar is a no-brainer business idea in Indianapolis. Investor: Dwayne Allen!

6. It’s hard to catch a ping-pong ball that skitters across bricks.

7. Based on the popularity of the listening booth (where pedestrians could bend the ear of an expert), oversized Jenga, the Wagon of Wonders art activity station, and the answers on a chalkboard soliciting ideas for the Circle (“vampire bar”), Indy embraces weird.

8. The end of an oversized Jenga game kind of sounds like gunfire.

9. Chess brings people together. We witnessed quite a few games between strangers.

10. Jim Walker for mayor.