Best Of Indianapolis 2018 — Arts & Culture

It wasn’t just the year of the e-scooter in Indianapolis. It was the year of the luxury mattress, destination coffee shop, boozy food hall, Amish doughnut, experiential boutique, daring theater company, Kimbal Musk restaurant, and offbeat park. These are among the 97 life essentials exalted in this edition of our annual toast to the city’s latest and greatest.

Weekly Comedy Show
When most people think of a stand-up comedy show, they picture buying tickets in advance, paying a two-drink minimum, then cramming into a large room to see someone they recognize from a long-canceled sitcom. In other words, they imagine everything Rocketship Comedy’s Sunday Showcase isn’t.

Hosted in the taproom above Greek’s Pizzeria—itself a hidden gem in SoBro—the weekly Sunday Showcase celebrated its eighth anniversary this year, making it the longest-running independent weekly stand-up series in the city by almost eight years. (The average run is about three weeks.) The show is free, the room is intimate, and you can have as many or as few of the 17 craft beers on tap as you like. Throw in 70 minutes of comedy from up-and-coming headliners from all over the country, alongside the best of Indy’s independent scene, and it’s almost enough to make a person forget about trudging into work Monday morning. (The show starts at 9 p.m., although with a seating capacity of about 60 people, it’s best to arrive early.)

On a recent Sunday night, the show’s founder, Cam O’Connor, stood outside Greek’s, excitedly discussing the future of the series with friends. (Rocketship favorite D.J. Dangler will headline on December 16.) Just then, a comic from New York City, who had been in town playing various bigger stages, approached and gave O’Connor a big smile and a handshake. “Man, I had so much fun here tonight,” he said. “This was my favorite show the whole time I was in Indiana.” Our sentiments exactly.

New Performance Space
The Circle City’s swanky new cabaret space is Broadway’s latest buzz. Old Hollywood meets urban chic in a softly lit, chandelier-filled room that holds 180 people at The Cabaret, where even in the “nosebleeds”—no seat is more than five rows from the stage­—it feels like Lea Salonga is giving her life for you. Stick around for a meet-and-greet after the spellbinding serenade.

Photo Op
The five sets of Angel Wings along the Monon Trail through Broad Ripple present a whimsical backdrop for striking a pose for social media. Local artists Jamie Locke and Megan Jefferson brought the global winged-graffiti-with-a-heart trend to Indianapolis as a way to encourage peace, hope, and love. Just don’t forget to hashtag before posting your shots to Facebook or Instagram.

Coloring Book
Local illustrator Tyeesha Bradley ventured outside the lines early last year when she published her gorgeous adult coloring book Au Naturale, dedicated to African-American hairstyles. This winter, she’s back with Edify, a collection of portraits of lesser-known figures of black history. Color in Mary Ann Shadd Cary (the first African-American woman to publish a newspaper) and Lonnie Johnson (inventor of the Super Soaker). It’s the coolest paperback at Indy Reads Books right now, and there’s scarcely a word in it.

New Radio Station
“Community radio” landed in Indy this year thanks to WQRT 99.1. The latest experiment from Big Car Collaborative plays an eclectic mix, with a penchant for rhinestone country and non-Top 40 fare like longform metal combos and psychedelic dirges. Talk programming is mixed in, and anyone can pitch a show. The station broadcasts commercial-free from Listen Hear, a sound-art space and audio studio in Garfield Park that’s open to the public on First Fridays. The only thing they’re selling is variety.

Musical Import
Indy’s best-kept secret is only an email sign-up away. Sofar Sounds hosts intimate monthly concerts at boutiques, barns, and art galleries, and occasionally in someone’s living room. The concept began in London and expanded here last year. To attend, guests apply for tickets online and receive the venue address the day before the performance. Concerts feature three surprise local acts, from rappers to folk bands to jazz guitarists, which only adds to the hip, stumbled-upon vibe of the experience.

Night Out
The Harrison Center’s monthly Art Dish events open with a dance performance as a fully set table constructed of found lumber slowly descends from the ceiling into the main gallery, setting the stage for extravagant multicourse, wine- or beer-paired meals prepped by some of the city’s best chefs. Intimate dinner conversation with exhibiting artists and fellow guests is always on the menu.

The Design Gallery at the Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields

Gallery Redo
Newfields’s recently overhauled Design Gallery includes a virtual-reality tour of Columbus’s landmark Miller House, a wall where you can touch the materials you can’t on the displayed work, and a lab for designing a miniature 3-D chair or lamp. (Alas, the museum won’t do the printing for you, but will point you toward places that will for a fee.) Managing to be simultaneously sophisticated and fun, it’s one of the most interactive galleries in the city.

New Theater Company: Downtown
Summit Performance reached for the stars and connected with its inaugural production in June, Lauren Gunderson’s Silent Sky. Committed to producing female playwrights, employing a high percentage of women both on- and offstage, and spotlighting women’s experiences, Summit—housed at the new Phoenix Theatre—puts its values where its box office is. Next up: Conversation-sparking one-act plays, followed by a summer production of Amy Herzog’s acclaimed Mary Jane, about a single woman taking care of her sick child.

New Theater Company: Outskirts
After a controversial departure from his longstanding artistic home at the Phoenix Theatre, Bryan Fonseca quickly pulled together a diverse team, moved just across the river, and launched Fonseca Theatre, dedicated to “purposeful theater and civic engagement.” That means plays by and about minorities. Its first two productions took place at Indy Convergence, but the plan is for its new westside home to be ready by January. The bold schedule includes the local premiere of Pulitzer Prize–winner Quiara Alegria Hudes’s musical Miss You Like Hell.

New Books By Hoosier Authors
A Touch of Gold by Annie Sullivan
Sullivan began writing her debut novel—a young-adult fantasy about King Midas’s cursed daughter—in Butler University’s MFA program. Released in August, it became the first piece of fiction from the program to instantly earn its author a book deal. The title has sold so well, a sequel is already in the works.

Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture by Roxane Gay
Last year, Gay opened up about her own rape and the trauma that followed in her searing memoir Hunger. This year, a collection edited by the departing Purdue University professor gives voice to more survivors in 29 poignant, heartbreaking essays.

How It Happened by Michael Koryta

Larry D. Sweazy

Almost all of Koryta’s crime novels make The New York Times bestseller list, but few have such a close connection to his home in Bloomington. Based loosely on the murder of Jill Behrman but set in Maine, How It Happened—already optioned for a television series—is his best book in years.

All These Beautiful Strangers by Elizabeth Klehfoth
Devour this page-turning psychological thriller by Klehfoth, who hails from Elkhart, before it hits the big screen. In May, the book was optioned by Reese Witherspoon’s former business partner, who helped produce Gone Girl and Big Little Lies.

Western Writer
Western Writers of America doesn’t nominate just any greenhorn for its Spur Award. A past winner for Best Paperback Original and Best Short Fiction, Noblesville’s Larry D. Sweazy was a finalist again in 2018 for Point Blank, Texas. That comes on the (spurred) heels of his novel A Thousand Falling Crows being named a mystery pick of the month by Library Journal, and rustling up a Will Rogers Medallion Award for Western Fiction for his Josiah Wolfe series.