A Fishers theater director has for years been borrowing and renting rehearsal space in neighboring cities, parks and even living rooms.
The city’s music ensembles, at times, practice in the acoustically imperfect confines of a library basement.
And its visual artists tend to see their work on the walls of local businesses that are supportive of their creations but perhaps not savvy about property lighting.
Artists and supporters of the arts in this fast-growing Hamilton County city whose size rivals its neighbor Carmel, say it’s high time they had a dedicated space in their own backyard to rehearse, perform and showcase their work.
Nickel Plate District Amphitheater: 8 things to know about the revamped venue
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Instead, in a city that has Indiana’s only IKEA, a Top Golf and a modern outdoor amphitheater, they navigate a constantly changing array of rehearsal sites, go into their own pockets to put on shows and worry that this steady churn will keep them from growing an audience.
“There are a lot of artists who have to have their events and do things in other places,” said Shari Knox, president of the Fishers Arts Council. “This (venue) would give us a centralized place within Fishers to offer for the residents and the many Fishers artists we have.”
The idea of Fishers having its first performing and visual arts center is more than a pipe dream, but it’s also likely still far off in the future. City government isn’t ready to commit to the idea financially, but local supporters of the arts are working to make it a reality.
A big upcoming step involves the 20-year-old Fishers Arts Council’s goal to raise at least $500,000 by 2020 for the center and other related goals.
The need for a space
One artist who can relate to the need for a new space is Ashton Wolf, founder and director of the Fishers-based Nickel Plate Players theater company. He has staged productions in Carmel, at the Palladium and the smaller Cat Theatre.
Earlier this month, he put on a piece about a storied 19th-century brawl in Fishers called “The Battle of Mudsock.” The location? Outdoors, on the grounds of a historic venue called the Ambassador House and Heritage Gardens.
“Rehearsing has always been difficult, but we’ve partnered with the other theaters and we’ve made it happen,” Wolf said of the play, which was written by Fishers police officer Robert Bowling. “But I believe it’s imperative for our town to have a venue. Where there’s culture, there’s commerce, and when you have the two, the city will thrive.”
Benefits of a dedicated performance center
Much like Wolf, Marc Feeney and the Fishers Music Works opera, chorus, jazz and orchestra ensembles scramble every year to find places to rehearse and perform in Fishers.
This holiday season, the ensembles are performing at the Legacy Bible Church in Noblesville and at the Ji-Eun Lee Music Academy in Fishers.
“Preparing for a show has always been a challenge. We do have the help of local schools, music academies and churches,” said Feeney, president of Fishers Music Works. “But it’s never a set spot, and in an ideal situation we’d have an acoustic space and a venue that’s amenable for the sound.”
And renting out different spaces every year can get expensive, he said.
“It’s also hard to sell season tickets for our shows when people don’t know where they’re going to have to go to see the shows,” Feeney said.
‘We don’t want the Palladium’
One sign of progress for the proposed arts space: It’s literally on the drawing board. Students from Ball State University’s College of Art and Planning, last December presented seven designs to Mayor Scott Fadness, planning and zoning director Tony Bagato and other city officials.
Tom Rich, a Fishers Arts Council board member, said the council conveyed to students what they envisioned for such a building and selected a hypothetical location in the city’s downtown.
Rich said the ideal building would be about 15,000 to 20,000 square feet in size and have a stage, seating capacity of 150 to 200 people, backstage and dressing room space, a gallery space, cafe and reception area.
“We want a place for music, theater and visual arts. We are looking for something small,” Rich said. “We don’t want the Palladium, and we are not trying to compete with any other venues. This would be for the benefit of the citizens and the artists.”
He said seeing the designs from the architecture students last fall made a performing and visual arts venue seem more attainable.
“Now we have to get to work,” he said. “We’re going to be seeking funding from donors, sponsorships, and we’re working on organizing an annual gala,” Rich said.
What Fishers is doing to support the arts
Carmel has Center the for the Performing Arts, which includes the 1,600-seat Palladium. the Tarkington Theater and the Studio Theater. The two smaller venues house local theater companies, music and dance ensembles and are comparable in size to what Fishers artists envision for their own city.
And although Fishers — a city of about 90,000 residents — has the recently revamped Nickel Plate District Amphitheater and the stage at Conner Prairie, both of these are outdoor venues and cannot be used year-round.
Even in the warmer months,performing and visual artists in Fishers have found it difficult to book these stages, which often feature larger shows.
An indoor performing arts facility could address these problems, but Fadness told IndyStar that a publicly funded performing and visual arts center isn’t a city priority right now.
“There has not been a concerted effort on the city’s part at this point to look to build or fund an arts facility in the city of Fishers,” Fadness said. “But that does not mean we would not continue to have dialogue or work with the folks that are passionate about those types of projects.
“Things like a facility of this nature, it’s not just the brick and mortar that comes along with it but it’s also the operational expenses to do it,” he said.
However, the city supports the arts and artists in other ways.
Fishers spent about $6 million on renovating the amphitheater, which features a bigger stage, an elevated lawn with better seating and stage view and a new pavilion that includes bathrooms and a meeting room.
The city also has funded art initiatives around downtown, such as commissioning artists to create murals on the sides of businesses and illustrations on electrical boxes, and has encouraged area businesses to display local art around the Nickel Plate District.
There are also events such as Spark! Fishers, an annual community festival that includes an artisan market and performances by local musicians, and the Fishers Arts Council’s Arts Crawl, a walking tour of the Nickel Plate District dotted with local and regional artwork at participating businesses.
Less tangible but still important, arts supporters say, the city of Fishers in August applied to name the Nickel Plate District a statewide cultural district with the Indiana Arts Commission.
The Carmel Arts and Design District and the Noblesville Arts District already have this designation. The new designations will be announced by the end of the year.
Here’s one way Fishers might get it done
The Fishers Arts Council sought advice from a financially stable Indianapolis arts nonprofit that went through its own nomadic journey before finding a place to call home.
The American Cabaret Theatre was founded in 1988, when it created and put on shows in the Basile Theatre at the Athenaeum, on Michigan Street near Massachusetts Avenue. In 2006 the organization found itself in debt and the Athenaeum too costly to rent for shows that weren’t filling enough seats.
Debt and other issues that came along forced the organization to change course.
The group rebranded in late 2008 as the Cabaret and added cabaret education to its mission. In 2009, it borrowed performance space from both Chef Joseph’s at the Connoisseur Room and the Columbia Club on Monument Circle. That’s when the organization gained popularity and the need for its own venue grew, said Shannon Forsell, now the Cabaret’s artistic director and CEO.
And just this year, the Indy nonprofit found a permanent space in the Metzger Building, at 9th and Pennsylvania streets. At that location, the Cabaret shares a gallery and office space with the Arts Council of Indianapolis.
The key to the group’s success was the partnerships it built with artists, arts organizations and foundations.
“We now rent out our space and partner with other arts organizations and artists who need a place to perform,” said Forsell.
And the Cabaret has a space similar to what is being sought in Fishers. It is about 9,000 square feet, has a stage, backstage and dressing rooms, a gallery, office space, a catering kitchen, a bar, storage space, and it holds about 190 people, Forsell said.
“(These venues) add a huge amount of vibrancy to an area. Fishers has that uniqueness of being just far enough from downtown Indy, and sometimes people don’t want to travel that far to experience the arts, they want to stay in their community,” she said. “Proximity is a great thing. But another great thing the arts do is they created added vibrancy in an area and spur other economic development to the area.”
Upcoming performances by Fishers artists
Fishers Music Works
Shop Fishers, Nov. 24
Noon to 5 p.m. at Fishers City Hall
Winter Wonderland, Dec. 1
2-8 p.m. at the Nickel Plate District Amphitheater
Winter Wonderland art reception is from 6-8 p.m. Dec. 1 in conjunction with the City of Fishers Winter Wonderland event at Fishers City Hall.
How to help
The Fishers Arts Council is accepting donations for its performing and visual arts center project online at https://www.facebook.com/FishersArt/ and by check, to Fishers Arts Council, 1 Municipal Drive Fishers, IN 46038
More information: 317-537-1670 or email@example.com
IndyStar reporter Natalia Contreras writes about things to do in Hamilton County. She can be reached at 317-444-6187 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter, @NataliaECG
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