by Ben Shine
Tis the season for gift giving, and if you’re like me at all, you’re probably panicking about it being so close to go-time with so little to show for it. Before you go the short-cut gift-card route or splurge on express shipping in a panic, I’ve got some advice for you. Our town’s cultural community, with the world’s largest tree in the center of it all, has everything you need for your creative and meaningful gift giving this year.
Art is a great idea for gift giving because it’s like a little window into someone’s perspective on the world. It leaves a lasting impression on the giftees’ heart and walls. Indianapolis is chock full of painters, printmakers, photographers and sculptors, and if you email or call any of them, they’ll likely welcome you into their studio and help you find the perfect piece for your friend or loved one. Or you can have a special piece commissioned. This very publication, for example, is full of stories about hundreds of local artists! If you love any of the work by artists you’ve read about here, call them. Prints are an affordable way to give art, and places like Silver in the City, Homespun and online at Etsy are perfect to find pieces to give. Shameless self promotion: right now, my workplace, the Indianapolis Art Center, has an exhibition full of local artists with affordable work for sale by the likes of Nat Russell, Erin Drew, Eric Stine and Emily Gable, as well as regional artists Amelia Toelke and Katie Hudnall.
Throughout December, any time someone asks me what I want for Christmas, I freeze up and say, “I don’t need anything. Oh, records. Just get me some records.” If you skipped my Black Friday Record Store Day picks, you probably missed out on the most sought-after special releases, but every local record purveyor will have something for the music geek in your life. For the past few years, I’ve loved getting and giving really great holiday albums on vinyl, because seasonal tunes are a consistently under-represented element that any collector can appreciate. The Vince Guaraldi Trio’s A Charlie Brown Christmas, A Christmas Gift For You From Phil Spector, Les Paul and Mary Ford’s Christmas Cheer and Low’s Christmas make great gifts for vinyl lovers. Sufjan Stevens shares his own takes on standard Christmas tunes, but he also writes his own holiday originals.
I love unwrapping books from friends, because it’s a great way to engage each other in common interests and have something fun to talk about together. When choosing a book for someone else, I find it’s best to give a book I love and have read over and over, or a book I can’t wait to read myself. This year Indianapolis has produced two books on my want list, Indy Writes Books and Mythic Indy. Indy Writes Books is full of short stories, poems, essays and puzzles written by some of Indy’s literary superstars like Dan Wakefield and John Green, alongside a whole assemblage of local luminaries and storytellers. Plus, all sales of the anthology benefit Indy Reads and Indy Reads Books. Mythic Indy, much like the aforementioned anthology, is packed with stories by local authors and wordsmiths, but with a focus on telling mythical, funny, scary and all together made-up tales about Indy history. Sales of this collection also benefit a great local organization that helps young people discover their voice and develop their character through writing, Second Story.
For friends and family who have more than enough things or those who adhere to a minimalist lifestyle, experiences are an ideal gift. A membership to a local cultural institution, such as the IMA, Eiteljorg or State Museum gives a whole year of free admission to a great cultural space. While you don’t need a membership to visit organizations such as the Vonnegut Library or iMOCA, many offer member-like benefits for those who appreciate distinctive local institutions. Who wouldn’t love tickets to see our amazing Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra in action, or a play at Asante Children’s Theatre, or the dozens of performing arts organizations that are creating world-class programs right here in our town? You can also finance hands-on creative experiences, perfect for the people on your list who like to work with their hands. Art Classes at Get Dirty Ceramics, Fountain Square Clay Center and the Indianapolis Art Center are ideal spots for friends who like to flex their creative muscles.
For me, a good gift is one that creates a bridge between myself and the recipient. It’s not just about stuff. We all have enough stuff. Don’t know what book to give? Give someone the book that changed your life. Have a music fan on the list? A nice copy of your favorite album is a great way to create a connection. Did you and your dearest go to a museum in your early dating days? Purchase a membership to that spot -- and maybe a great dinner after your first visit. It’s about the personal connection, after all. And, personally, I’d be happy with some records.