Spirit & Place Festival Makes Lectures Cool

Explaining this month’s event

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Illustration by Serge Bloch

1. The Spirit & Place Festival encompasses 10 days of 38 wildly different events, each curated to spark conversation around a single theme. This year’s is “Journey.” Taking place all over the city November 7–16, the lineup always feels like a buffet for the mind and soul—but tickets are a la carte. Some events will be knockouts, and some won’t be your cup of tea. That’s okay; experimenting is part of the fun.

2. The Polis Center, an IUPUI research unit focused on communities, started Spirit & Place in 1996. Major backers now include Bohlsen Group, Scott Jones, Lilly Endowment, and the Clowes Fund.

3. Last year’s theme was “Risk,” and Spirit & Place risked a lot by holding a $20,000 competition to “reshape race notions in Central Indiana.” You know, easy stuff.

4. This year’s theme might remind you of 1981 prom night, but “journey” can carry serious meaning. The November 16 closing event, “Public Conversation,” is a good example—and also illustrates how Spirit & Place doesn’t shy away from hard discussions. Panelists will include cancer survivor and poet Mark Nepo, Passages author Gail Sheehy, and Dr. Timothy Quill, a supporter of physician-assisted suicide.

5. “Public Conversation” often draws big-name guests. In 2010, chefs Anthony Bourdain and Eric Ripert dropped by.

Kurt Vonnegut marqueed the inaugural Spirit & Place. Speaking about Indianapolis, he said, “It’s everything I am. It was all here for me. It was a pretty good slingshot for going out into the world.”

6. The festival’s best events represent odd pairings. “Separate Ways” on November 13 will mesh travelogues about hidden and unusual places with nine courses at Szechwan Garden restaurant.

7. “Out of Chaos, Hope,” November 8 at Northminster Presbyterian Church, will screen a film on gun violence and illustrate crime hotspots in Marion County. Beatboxer and spoken-word artist Tony Styxx will perform. Sounds like a long-overdue data-wonky conversation.

8. Crowdsourcing is all the rage now, but Spirit & Place has been doing it for 19 years. The organization relies on more than 100 Indianapolis groups to collaborate and host the festival’s workshops, panels, exhibits, and, yes, even a scavenger hunt on November 15.

Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

AP Photo by Marty Reichenthal

9. Getting an event into Spirit & Place isn’t easy. Organizations and individuals submit ideas early in the year, and then leaders from different disciplines (civic, government, religious, etc.) vigorously debate whether each event adds something to the conversation. Lots of ideas don’t make it in. Sad face.

10. Are you more of an “I’ll make the journey online, thank you very much” kind of person? That’s okay: Spirit & Place decks out its blog (spiritandplace.wordpress.com) with some fine writing. Last year, crossword god Will Shortz and federal judge Sarah Evans Barker (No. XI here) contributed.

Spirit & Place Festival, November 7–16, spiritandplace.org

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