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The Rebirth of Cool Parks

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For longtime Indianapolis residents, the Indy Parks summer concert series probably means two things: classical performances and jazz standards. Those are both lovely ways to spend a sunny evening, but Ben Roe, Indy Parks' Senior Manager of Arts and Events, is looking to bring a wider range of programs to the city's parks. The recently launched Listen Local series and bike-in movie nights at Garfield Park are bringing 20- and 30-somethings into the Indy Parks' cultural fold.

To figure out how all these new, cool happenings were, well, happening, we chatted with Ben about key collaborators, a community-created vision for programs and his efforts to reshape arts and events in Indianapolis' arboreal assets.

Indy Parks' new Senior Manager of Arts and Events Ben Roe is making parks cool again this summer. - POLINA OSHEROV
  • Polina Osherov
  • Indy Parks' new Senior Manager of Arts and Events Ben Roe is making parks cool again this summer.

How did you get this gig?

Ben: For the past 10 years, I've worked as a designer and creative director. In that role, I did lead design for the state's website a few years ago and was the lead designer and creative director for the city's website, as well. When Indy Parks was changing formats, I was working as a creative director with a firm on the north side. They offered me the position to come in and help to oversee some of the cultural direction with the parks with arts and music. When this came up, I didn't necessarily know that it was what I wanted to do, but now I can't imagine doing anything else.

What's your own background with Indy Parks?

Ben: I live in Midtown, so I'm familiar with Broad Ripple Park and the dog park, especially. I grew up by Ellenberger Park, so spent a lot of my younger days over there. Ellenberger was a great place to be when I was young. But when I moved with my parents up to the suburban north side, to the Fishers area, we didn't have that kind of public park. It was a big difference not having those community parks that the city has - and the parks have even more today than when I was little.

What's your vision for cultural programming with Indy Parks?

Ben: I don't see it as my vision - what I've been trying to do with all of our events is to reach out to all the different folks here in town, whether it's IndyMOCA or Musical Family Tree - and really sit down with them and listen to what they have to say. Then, just utilizing their experience and the parks availability to work with them, it's really taken off. If anything, my personal vision is to open up the availability of the cultural part of the parks, to make it just as open and community-involved as our sport facilities traditionally have been. We do 75 different concerts and events in the summer - we want to make those inclusive and exciting for more people.

What are some of the new programs?

Ben: Well, we have the Listen Local series at Broad Ripple Park - and the first event had an amazing response. We expected 500 and had about 2,000 people come. The purpose of that series is to promote the local music scene - to get back to community. We're doing a show on June 29th called Ladies' Night, which is all about celebrating women in Hoosier music at the McCalister Ampitheatre at Garfield Park. We're also having an art series celebrating Hoosier women in art. And we're also bringing groups that focus on women's health and wellness.

Margot and the Nuclear So and So's finishing drafting the set list at the kid-friendly Listen Local Series in Broad Ripple Park. - MUSICAL FAMILY TREE
  • Musical Family Tree
  • Margot and the Nuclear So and So's finishing drafting the set list at the kid-friendly Listen Local Series in Broad Ripple Park.

On August 10th, we're doing a Science Fiction gallery opening, we invited the Bloodfin Garrison of the 501st Legion - the guys who dress up in the storm trooper costumes - to raise awareness for the Parks Foundation.  One of our other new programs is the Bike in Movie Nights, we're encouraging people to come out and ride their bicycles to the Garfield Park Arts Center - they're on the first Fridays.

Is this the rebirth of cultural programming in Indy Parks?

Ben: There have been programs like this in the past - that maybe went away because of interest or just a change in programming. So, looking just at movies, it had been done, but just not for a while. We have the equipment and space to show movies, but it just hadn't been done so much in the last 10 years or so. Now, we're starting it up with a new imagining of it, and partnering with Indy Film Fest showing movies all over the city this summer as part of their initiative to bring new films to the city, which they got a 5x5 Arts Innovation prize for.

Our programming isn't changing so much as we're just building upon it and spending more time listening to the community. So, we're always open to hear from folks and especially see back about what they like and don't like.

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