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Next Window Please

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Sometimes a story is better if you tell the ending first.

Consider Sunset Boulevard with William Holden floating dead in the swimming pool, his Marlboro-heavy voiceover narrating the opening scene and, in an all too-knowing way, introducing us to the bizarre world of Gloria Swanson’s Norma Desmond and Eric Von Stroheim’s, um, Eric Von Stroheim.

Better writers than me likely know why that is. All I know is that the ending, if presented first, can help make sense of the rest of the story and how it became a story to begin with.

So here’s the end. Literally.

Like the classic film noir Sunset Boulevard, Mike Knight's narrative about Sky Blue Window begins at the publication's end.
  • Like the classic film noir Sunset Boulevard, Mike Knight's narrative about Sky Blue Window begins at the publication's end.

After six years of research and meetings (and then even more meetings), Sky Blue Window, a website devoted to telling compelling stories about the arts in Central Indiana, launched on March 11, 2013. Made possible by Central Indiana Community Foundation and its generous donors, we were given three years of funding to see what we could make happen and then develop a more sustainable source of funding.

But we couldn’t. And by March 11th, 2016, the Sky Blue Window most readers have come to know will be pretty much done. However, it will remain live through June 1st and will have occasional new posts during that time.

So just what was Sky Blue Window about, really? Money. And creativity. Bear with me, this gets a little math-y.

In 2007, Americans for the Arts released an economic impact study that reported the arts in Central Indiana generated $468 million in economic impact and the equivalent of roughly 15,000 full time jobs, plus nearly $52 million in tax revenue to the City of Indianapolis and State of Indiana.

Plus, research showed that participation in the arts led to higher academic achievement and that “Learning experiences in the arts contribute to the development of academic skills, including those in the areas of reading, language development, and mathematics.”

At the time, the City of Indianapolis and the Capital Improvement Board was providing $1.5 million annually of public (tax) money in support of the arts community, but it was a real struggle to get the City County Council (which oversaw that funding) to approve it each year.

Creator of Sky Blue Window, Mike Knight was pleased at the 2015 Society of Professional Journalists  banquet, where SBW  was recognized with multiple awards.
  • Creator of Sky Blue Window, Mike Knight was pleased at the 2015 Society of Professional Journalists banquet, where SBW was recognized with multiple awards.

Back then I was working as the public relations manager for the Arts Council of Indianapolis, but I had written for a variety of magazines and newspapers over the years as a freelance journalist. While I thought the information in the report was very powerful, I thought it would be even more so if there were a meaningful measuring stick that could show how those numbers stacked up against other forms of entertainment. And then I found a PriceWaterhouseCoopers feasibility study for Lucas Oil Stadium, the new home of the Indianapolis Colts that was under construction at the time.

The Colts were expected to generate about $190 million in direct spending in the new stadium, which would produce about 1,500 jobs and total tax revenue of $8.5 million for the City and the State.

The $720 million stadium would be made possible with $620 million of public money. If my math was correct, the money we spent on the stadium was the equivalent of more than four centuries of arts funding.

It made my head hurt.

Winning the Emmy (above) with WFYI inspired Knight to pursue his creative dreams and to shine the spotlight on local artists as part of the process.
  • Winning the Emmy (above) with WFYI inspired Knight to pursue his creative dreams and to shine the spotlight on local artists as part of the process.

At roughly that same time I earned an Emmy with WFYI for this video. A “behind the scenes” look at a public art installation, the video was a short, three-minute look at a provocative project and a great chance to understand what the artist, Jodie Hardy, was trying to convey through her work. Knowing more about the project helped me understand it better and as a result, I appreciated it more and it had more value to me.

And then it all became clear-ish: after decades of cutting art (and art education) from public education, maybe we, as a broader community, didn’t have enough knowledge about the arts to value them (at least not enough to provide some type of public support for them).

While there was significant private support for the arts in Central Indiana, the lack of perceived value for the “product” had resulted in decreased demand. If that was the case, then all of the investment decisions made better sense. After all, sports (including professional football) were readily found on TV, the paper, Internet, everywhere. Their value to the community was barely ever questioned and rationalized as necessary to position Indianapolis as a "big city" image.

Coverage for the arts? According to the National Arts Journalism Program, Columbia University, published in 2004, “Arts sections have maintained their relative positions of prominence at metropolitan newspapers, gaining ground slightly vis-à-vis hard-news sections and losing ground to sports sections. Newspapers as a whole are shrinking. So a stable position in a declining environment translates to less coverage than it did five years ago.” And TV? “The nightly newscasts continue to pay minimal attention to arts news. The morning programs have doubled their interest in the past five years, focusing more than ever on celebrity culture and mass entertainment.”

Sky Blue Window, then, was created as a new-media approach whose mission was to increase demand for the arts by telling compelling stories about people in the arts, ala Don Hewitt, the late producer of TV’s 60 Minutes who passed away in 2009. Hewitt said the secret of 60 Minutes’ long-running success was simple. “Tell me a story,” Hewitt said, noting that we’re all suckers for well-told yarns about other people. If our readers became more familiar with the arts through great stories, then perhaps they’d become interested enough to want to learn more, and over time, either become consumers of the arts, or at a minimum, more readily support public funding in a more sustainable way.

Did it work? At times, absolutely. While we had our share of glitches and clunkers, we had plenty of charming stories and a loyal readership, and in that way, Sky Blue was successful.

As we begin to wind the site down, people ask me if I’m sad about it. So many people tried so hard to get the site off the ground and to make it successful, and to each of them I am extraordinarily grateful. But for better or worse, it was largely my baby.

I was born in 1960 and raised in Kokomo, Indiana. Many years ago I wanted to get a graduate degree in film study from UCLA and become a director, but my parents worried that I wouldn’t be able to make a living following that career path. Plus, we really couldn’t afford the tuition. So I didn’t go to UCLA. And I didn’t study film and I didn’t become a director.

Then I told my folks I wanted to become a writer. They worried I wouldn’t be able to make a living doing that either. And at first, I couldn’t. After a dozen years trying to conform to corporate jobs in sales and marketing, I landed an assignment with Indianapolis Monthly magazine. Over time I parlayed that into more assignments with more magazines and then began to make a living as a writer.

As a teen growing up in Kokomo, Indiana, Knight worked on school publications.
  • As a teen growing up in Kokomo, Indiana, Knight worked on school publications.

I think we are all born with some instinct in our souls for how we want to spend our lives and what gives them meaning. I knew in my soul that I had to have some type of creativity in my life and my job, and I wanted to tell stories. It’s what feeds me.

But when I was growing up, Central Indiana was a place where safe bets and steady jobs replaced dreams and aspiration, especially those that had a focus on creativity. Sky Blue was my attempt to nurture and cultivate greater respect for creativity in Central Indiana, to show how other people in our community followed their dreams and were reaping the rewards for having done so.

I was a good student in school and sometimes maybe a great one, but I was also prone to daydreaming. Looking out the classroom windows on beautiful sunny days made me think that something really wonderful was out there waiting for me. And that gave me hope. Central Indiana is steadily becoming a home to the creative class and maybe Sky Blue played some small role in helping that happen. Either way, here’s to looking out windows and daydreaming. And here’s to hope.

Thank you for reading this piece, thank you for visiting Sky Blue and thank you for being a part of the only sort of project I’m aware of that tried to do what we tried – and very often – did. We’ll miss you.


Editor’s note: Sky Blue Window will continue operations through March 11th and remain live until the first of June. In the meantime, please don’t leave without saying goodbye. Share your thoughts on our FaceBook page. It’ll make us all feel better! And again, many thanks for your support.

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