Sports and the arts in Indianapolis go together like Mike Pence and Glenda Ritz: not too well. The creative community complains that athletics gets all the love, and it’s hard to argue otherwise when you compare Lucas Oil Stadium, Bankers Life Fieldhouse, and Victory Field with the paltry sum the city spends on music and dance.
IndyFringe executive director Pauline Moffat wasn’t thinking about that divide last year when she asked for a meeting with Ersal Ozdemir, the owner of the Indy Eleven soccer franchise and CEO of Keystone Construction Corp. She needed money and a builder to outfit the structure that would house her new theater. She remembers thinking: Here’s a man with vision. He’s starting at a grassroots level with soccer, just as the Fringe did with performance. “And I wondered,” she says, “if he would see that shared vision.” Three meetings later, Ozdemir made the contribution she needed. And soon after, IndyFringe hired Keystone Construction to build out the Indy Eleven Theatre, which Moffat says is already booked well into 2016 with shows and events.
Ozdemir, who grew up in Turkey, had his reasons. He likes theater and the arts; he’s on the Indianapolis Museum of Art board of governors and the Carmel Center for the Performing Arts board of directors. He owns a soccer team trying to appeal to millennials and keep young people in Indianapolis.
Although the Indy Eleven Theatre has been open for several months, much of the city will get its first look at the new $600,000 space Aug. 13–23 during the 11th-annual IndyFringe Theatre Festival. The 80-seat theater, attached to the rear of the 100-seat IndyFringe Basile Theatre at 719 E. St. Clair St., lets the Fringe present two shows at a time and provides extra rehearsal space for the 30-plus companies that work there. The building also is equipped with a garage door–like back wall that opens onto a new courtyard. When the risers and chairs are removed, it becomes an indoor-outdoor venue that can accommodate 200 or so for a concert.
It’s a rare partnership, but Sharon Gamble, host of WFYI’s The Art of the Matter, says Ozdemir has the right idea with his investment. “If we’re aiming for a sound-mind-in-a-sound-body lifestyle in our city,” she says, “we need to abandon our either/or thinking and build some bridges.” She also has a wish: a new-millennium version of Bill Hudnut—a mayor who says, “I’m going to put Indianapolis on the map as the amateur arts capital of the world.”
This article appeared in the August 2015 issue.