Change the City: Pick Your Passion

April 2017Add a comment

CULTURE: Pop-Up Theater

Storytelling once brought our ancestors together around the campfire, but does it still have the same power to unite? That’s the question Phoenix Theatre producing director Bryan Fonseca is trying to answer with his new pop-up performance project in four westside neighborhoods. Last year, Fonseca received the first $100,000 Transformational Impact Fellowship grant from the Arts Council to spur civic engagement in Stringtown, We Care, Hawthorne, and Haughville, communities where arts organizations are scarce. Phase one involved gathering folktales from the area’s diverse cultures and weaving them into a play titled Leyenda, which was presented in abridged form at schools, libraries, and other neighborhood venues. In phase two, Fonseca organized Flow Fest, an arts festival last July on the grounds of Central State Hospital. The roster included more than 30 artists, such as magicians, mimes, classical musicians, and dance companies. Phase three: a series of $1 art classes to train the next generation of storytellers.

The immediate goal is “a permanent program where artists can gather and performances can happen,” Fonseca says. The most important measurable results, though, may be decades in the making. Meanwhile, the Arts Council will study the new fellowship’s pilot effort with the goal of accepting applications for more Transformational Impact grants in 2019. It seems like a long way off, but think of it as valuable rehearsal time to audition for some serious seed money.

COMMUNITY REHAB: Eastside Renaissance

John Hay likes a flashy new idea as much as anyone, but not at the expense of community buy-in. Case in point: a linear park that didn’t make it off the drawing board in St. Clair Place, the heart of redevelopment for the group Hay directs, Near Eastside Area Renewal. An inner-city revival sparked by a seven-person murder in 2007 has turned the area around, decreasing vacancies and crime. Remodeled homes are listing for close to $300,000, and NEAR will cut the ribbon on its 100th renovation this year (a third of those homes must be rented to low-income families to ensure a mixed-income community). At one point, NEAR had acquired houses and vacant lots that lined up with one another across several blocks, and the visionaries thought about replacing them with a long, linear park. But the neighborhood association objected because one of the houses was an 1860s home that residents valued. So NEAR scratched its idea. “When you’re not building for money,” Hay says, “you can be more gracious.”

Another innovative plan, though, is moving forward. NEAR, the city, and IPS are working together to turn a quiet but bombed-out block of North Rural Avenue into a “teacher’s village.” Renovated homes—the first of which is in the dusty-boots phase— will be marketed specifically to instructors with less than four years of experience. Affordable housing near a school is an incentive for teacher retention, and IPS currently loses 400 a year.

NEAR’s “one street at a time” philosophy works on a grassroots level, too. In Springdale, a near-east enclave north of 10th Street, a handful of longtime residents pooled their money for a down payment and flipped a house that attracted crime to their block. That was 18 years and 16 flips ago. Now called Treasured Homes, the group has whittled its half-vacant block to a single empty property, and along the way attracted homeowners impressed by the “Up with People atmosphere,” says member Nick Gehlhausen. The hardest part is keeping tabs on potential properties that aren’t owner-occupied by tracking them between investors cleaning up fines and liens, tax sales, and the city’s roster of houses slated for demolition. But now residents come to Treasured Homes with tips. “The rumor mill moves a lot quicker than paperwork,” Gehlhausen says.

ANIMALS: IndyFeral

You’ve seen them: outdoor cats with one clipped ear. IndyFeral, started by  regular-Joe animal lovers, introduced an alternative to euthanization: trap-neuter-release (kitties get one ear clipped after being neutered). Since its inception almost 20 years ago, IndyFeral (now FACE) has performed more than a quarter-million spay/neuter surgeries, reducing euthanasia of dogs and cats here by 91 percent, and opened a center on the near-east side to offer care and adoption services. Bob Barker would be so proud.

FASHION: The Gifted Gown

Fashion marketer (and mom of three girls) Julia Rutland plays matchmaker between teens and prom attire, providing more than 400 pieces of partywear so far to kids who can’t afford it. The effort depends on donated clothes and drycleaning—plus Indy’s ample goodwill. “People came out of nowhere just when we needed volunteers,” Rutland says of getting started. “Gowns and tuxedos would arrive in the mail just when we were getting low.” The Gifted Gown now provides dresses, suits, shoes, and accessories through an annual event (April 8) and by appointment year-round.

ENVIRONMENT: Climate Camp

Earth Charter Indiana’s executive director Jim Poyser initially met with bored, blank stares during the majority of his presentations to Indy schools. That’s when the idea of a weeklong, immersive Climate Camp came into play. Now he and parent chaperones load students onto an IndyGo bus or bikes to visit beehives, urban farms, and other places where they can see sustainability in action. The summer camp is about to enter its third year—with more than 100 kids wiser.

Cat Head Press

ARTS: Cat Head Press

When Herron grad Dominic Senibaldi didn’t see a community print shop in Indy like those where he grew up, on the West Coast, he and a couple of classmates started their own in the Englewood neighborhood. One of their school advisors connected them with the Englewood Community Development Corporation (CDCs are a great starting point for such projects), and the Efroymson Family Fund paid for the build-out and more, with additional funds coming from the Indianapolis Foundation. Now artists have affordable access to a communal space and tools.

KIDS’ HEALTH: Nine13sports

Former elite-level cyclist Tom Hanley nearly died in a horrific car accident when he was 23, forever changing the course of his life. No longer able to race, Hanley’s competitive spirit led him to create Nine13sports, which teaches area students the value of cycling and physical fitness by bringing stationary bikes into schools, serving more than 30,000 kids in the last five years. One secret to his success? By hanging out with the techie crowd in coworking spaces like The Speak Easy, Hanley has learned to approach his nonprofit like a startup. His advice: Fail early and fail often, a philosophy embraced by the risk-taking startup scene. “Our original business model was absolutely flawed,” says Hanley. “We had to burn it to the ground and start from the bottom to be successful.”

RECYCLING: The Can Lady

Sometimes the best thing you can do is toss your idea in the trash. Mary Stumpp, aka The Can Lady, has cashed in enough cans and scrap metal so far to raise more than $60,000 for IPS schools. It all started one day nearly eight years ago, when Stumpp began collecting cans from ditches and dumpsters around Butler University. She also helps organize youth-led metal drives and teaches students about recycling. The best way to get a program like hers into schools? Sniff out a passionate teacher who will champion your cause, or show up at a school’s community meeting to present your idea, says Stumpp. She doesn’t seek out funding for her project, so as not to dilute the messages that recycling is important and one person really can make a difference.

BASIC NEEDS: Project Purse

Chelsea Marburger took the idea of a Tupperware party and turned it on its head. Through so-called “reverse purse” parties, her nonprofit gathers groups of friends to pack their own gently used handbags with toiletries, feminine-hygiene products, and other basic necessities for women. Each purse also contains a handwritten note of encouragement. Marburger’s connections to those in need began through her work with the Original Farmers Market at City Market’s SNAP program (formerly food stamps). To date, 1,000 purses have been distributed through Horizon House, CHIP, and Outreach Inc., with plans to expand to other cities. Talk about shouldering the burden.

IMMIGRATION: Indiana Undocumented Youth Alliance

 

Dara Marquez graduated from Concord High School in Elkhart in 2011 with a portfolio of merit-based scholarships. But that spring, the Indiana General Assembly passed House Bill 1402, “prohibiting resident tuition for illegal aliens.” And that included Marquez, whose family emigrated illegally when she was 3 years old. Her yearly tuition spiked from $2,000 to $15,000. “I didn’t think it was fair that I couldn’t benefit from the aid I had earned,” she says. “But my situation was not unique.” All across Indiana, undocumented students who were used to avoiding attention decided they needed a voice, and the Indiana Undocumented Youth Alliance was born. “It’s unfortunate that our legislators aren’t truly aware of the scope of what we’re contributing,” says Marquez, who is now working on a master’s degree in chemical engineering at Purdue. In the past five years, the IUYA has coordinated “know your rights” trainings, cosponsored immigration rallies, and devised plans for a legal fund. Last year, the organization gave away its first batch of scholarships, totaling $7,000. Two-thirds of that money was raised by various student groups at Goshen College and Indiana University. (Pro tip: Campus organizations are a good resource for anyone who needs help fundraising. They’re often looking for causes to support.) Fitting, because IUYA is still run by students, who—now more than ever—increase their vulnerability just by participating.

EQUALITY: Showing Up for Racial Justice

Remember the way Adele famously broke her Grammy Award in half to honor Beyoncé? She set the template for white women all over the world on what it looks like to stand up for their counterparts of color. Showing Up for Racial Justice wants to continue that conversation in Indy with workshops, panel discussions, and community events. Social workers Ali Tabb and Sara Nowlin started the Indy chapter after the highly publicized shooting deaths of black men Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. “How to Be a White Ally” is just one in a series of racial equality workshops SURJ recently offered, and interest was so high (with more than 800 applicants), the free event sold out in minutes.

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