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SPARK park back in 2024!

SPARK park back in 2024!

We had a great season at Monument Circle in 2023! SPARK on the Circle is an ongoing partnership between Big Car Collaborative, Downtown Indy, City of Indianapolis Department of Metropolitan Development, the Capital Improvement Board, and the Indiana War Memorials Commission.

SPARK — returning from June until November in 2024 — brings a free, fun, playful, welcoming, and art-filled park to the heart of Indianapolis. Read the press announcement about the 2024 version here.

On Monument Circle, you’ll find comfortable places to sit in the shade, free games to play like ping pong and chess, a cafe serving food and drink, art experiences, and special offerings like live, local music. Big Car Collaborative approaches its aspects of SPARK on the Circle as a site and community specific public art project.

Find our report from 2023 here.

Check out our highlight video from 2023 by Ben Rose

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Walking Wednesdays: German Heritage Tour

Walking Wednesdays: German Heritage Tour

Explore Indianapolis German American History with architectural historian Bill Selm. You don’t need to be German to take the tour, but just interested in knowing more about this particular history of Indianapolis. 

Free and open to the public // Tour starts at Monument Circle and ends at Athenaeum (a half mile walk in each direction).

MEET at the trailer on the southwest quad of Monument Circle. We don’t walk if the weather is terrible. Check back here (or SPARK social media) for weather updates.

Cosponsored by IUPUI Interior Design TechnologyIndiana German Heritage Society.

About the tour guide: William L. Selm is an Indianapolis-based architectural historian and fifth-generation German-American. Selm is an instructor at IUPUI and former historian for the Indianapolis Historic Preservation Commission. He authored the National Historic Landmark nomination for Das Deutsche Haus-Athenaeum and co-authored the NHL nomination for the Indiana Soldiers’ & Sailors’ Monument. Selm has authored numerous National Register nominations for buildings and districts throughout central Indiana since 1980. He co-founded the IN German Heritage Society in 1984 and the Athenaeum Foundation in 1991 and authored the 2008 Wegweiser: A Self-guided Tour of German-American Sites in Indianapolis

PHOTO CREDIT: National Turnfest at Das Deutsche Haus (Athenaeum) Indianapolis, 1905. Credit: Indiana Historical Society. Das Deutsche Haus was constructed in two phases from 1893-1898 by the Socialer Turnverein Aktien Gesellschaft and was home to many German organizations over the years. In 1918 it became the Athenaeum because of the anti-German sentiment from WW I.

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Spark boosts Circle businesses

Spark boosts Circle businesses

By Chris Schumerth, Spark writer in residence 

Ever since seeing Spark “on the news,” Shawn Jones, a 19-year-old freshman at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, walks to Monument Circle almost every day to play ping-pong and meet new people.

“I love my city,” Jones said, enthusiastically, as he sat with four others he’d just met — one celebrating her 30th birthday. Part of Jones’ routine, he said, is to stop in at Rocket Fizz to choose from the stores array of eclectic sodas.

Jones isn’t the only Spark participant who is frequenting Monument Circle eateries.

The owner of Potbelly Sandwich Shop, Chuck Brewer, said that while there’s no way to for him to be completely certain of which traffic comes from Spark, his store’s sales have increased up to 20 percent per week since the program began August 1. The consistent boost in sales has allowed him to hire two new workers to cover shifts.

Brewer pointed in particular to the green outdoor seating that Spark has placed around the Circle. He said the new outdoor seating has provided more seating inside his restaurant because a lot of customers have chosen to sit outside. “It’s a simple math equation,” Brewer said.

Soupremacy is right around the corner from Potbelly. Store Manager Danielle Shipley, who has worked at the restauarant since it opened, confirmed that while sometimes her restaurant’s location on one of Monument Circle’s “spokes” leads to less food traffic, Supremacy has also have seen increased sales of up to 10 percent per week since Spark began. The weekends, she said, have been especially busy, and she has noticed Spark workers frequenting her shop for meals.

Shipley also noted that Spark has brought positive publicity to a place that too often only gets negative media attention. And that spreads the perceptions outward to the city as a whole.

Both Shipley and Ernesto Small, an associate at The South Bend Chocolate Company – located just a few feet from Spark’s welcome trailer – mentioned that they’ve noticed a difference in the kind of traffic at Monument Circle. The Circle, they said, tends to get a lot of business and motorcyclist traffic. But they have recently noticed more families, young people, and tourists spending time there. The credit for bringing that crowd in, Shipley and Small said, goes to Spark.

Small has worked at The South Bend Chocolate Company for more than a year. He he has played chess outside on one of the Spark tables and has learned the names of Spark staffers. He doesn’t have access to the exact numbers, but he knows The South Bend Chocolate Company has seen increases in sales as well.

According to Small, several tourists recently visited The South Bend Chocolate Company en route to Minneapolis from Cincinnati. They had never been to Indianapolis before, but they were impressed by how inviting the Spark program made the Circle as a whole. Small said the guests told him it made them want to come back to Indianapolis.

Along the way, Spark has been surveying hundreds of visitors — both tourists and locals — and gathering data about how people are using the Circle. Spark will also work with nearby businesses to gather numbers to support the positive stories.

With Spark programming nearing its end this week, this leads to the question: what can or should be next for Monument Circle, particularly as Indianapolis makes decisions about how to program and design the Monument Circle area?

Jones, Brewer, Shipley, and Small all seemed to agree: they want more of what Spark has started.

“Spark is such a new and innovative idea,” said Brewer, who noted he’d be glad to see Spark return next year. “This has caused people to think differently about how to use public spaces.”





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This week at Spark: Oct. 5 – 11

This week at Spark: Oct. 5 – 11

Here’s your Spark cheat sheet for the week:

Monday, October 5:

Join Mayor Ballard and learn about his efforts to reduce Indy’s carbon footprint in conjunction with Blue Indy and Freedom Fleet programs on Monday.

Tuesday, October 6:

Wednesday, October 7:

Work with us this Wednesday! We’ll provide the free wi-fi. Tell your boss you want to enjoy the last few days of beautiful, Indiana fall weather while working from the Circle. Get outside the cubicle and knock out your to do list with a view of the Monument.

Thursday, October 8:

After collaborating with musical heavyweights like Steve Reich and Philip Glass, Indy guitarist Derek Johnson undoubtedly maintains one of the most accomplished musical resumes to hail from the Hoosier state in recent years. Learn more about Johnson in this Sky Blue Window profile from last year, and join him and a dozen musicians for a collaborative, circular performance of celebrated composer Terry Riley’s In C.

Friday, October 9:

Artist Stuart Hyatt is more than just the goofy cassette guy. He’s an accomplished artist with a focus on placemaking, and engaging people in new and creative ways. To learn more about Hyatt’s work, check out NUVO‘s coverage of his Indy Sound Map project. On Wednesday, join Hyatt and fellow artist Ash Robinson for a discussion on placemaking in relation to Reconnecting Our Waterways prior to a brief walk around the Circle led by Big Car’s Jim Walker.

Saturday, October 10:

Sunday, October 11:

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Monumental Parades

Monumental Parades

Saturday, August 29: experience a sensory parade around the Monument, designed by artist Rebecca Pappas, profiled here (and pictured above).

by Rob Peoni, Spark writer in residence 

Conflict abounds in everyday life. We can find a reason to argue over just about anything. Despite this fact, in my thirty years on this planet, I have never heard anyone argue over or disparage parades. They are a universally beloved event.

“I feel interested in parades, because of the porousness between performers and audience,” says choreographer Rebecca Pappas. “When you watch a parade, you could be in the parade. Maybe you were in the parade before. There’s a sense of a really low threshold for participation.”

Pappas recently moved from her previous home of Los Angeles, CA to Indianapolis after accepting a job as a dance professor at Ball State. In LA, Pappas collaborated predominantly with professional dancers and in more traditional, theater settings. However, her interests began to shift in the last several years.

“Within the whole field of dance, there’s an increasing interest and a decreasing sort of wall between ‘that’s real dance and that’s this other thing,’” Pappas says. “There are a lot of galleries presenting dance, and there are a lot of artists – quote, unquote – making movement projects.”

Upon moving to Indianapolis, a friend connected Pappas to Anne Laker, Big Car’s Director of Cultural Programs. They discussed Pappas’ growing interest in public practice art, and her focus on parades. Soon thereafter, Laker approached Pappas with an opportunity to help design parades as part of Spark Monument Circle. “I felt really welcomed by Big Car, and the art-making community in Indianapolis,” Pappas says. “That’s part of what feels really exciting about being in a city that’s more accessible than a city like Los Angeles. … working with Big Car is my way of getting to know my new home and connect with it and bring what I do to this place.”

This Saturday, Spark Monument Circle will host the “five senses parade.” It will feature a series of sensory experiences that Pappas will lead participants through. “Some of them will be movement,” she says. Some of them will be about tasting things or smelling things. Some of them will be about looking at the space in a different way. We’ll all be walking together, but also having private experiences at the same time.”

The five senses parade will begin around 5pm on Saturday, August 29. However, those interested are encouraged to arrive at Monument Circle earlier in the afternoon. Pappas and the Spark crew will be leading participants in a series of smaller sensory experiences between 3 and 5pm. “We’ll be providing a bunch of them, because we know people will dropping in and out,” Pappas says. “We want to as many people as possible to experience the parade.”

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Rain sets the backdrop for a unique Spark performance

Rain sets the backdrop for a unique Spark performance

By Rob Peoni, Spark writer in residence 

My routine of walking from my home in Fletcher Place to Monument Circle for Listen Hear’s ambient, experimental, Mellow Monday set was interrupted due to weather this week. A late afternoon rain was showering downtown Indy. Despite the weather, the performance by local multi-instrumentalist Rob Funkhouser was scheduled to proceed – rain or shine. With walking out the window, I called an Uber rather than attempt to negotiate parking.

“Look at that mural!” my driver chuckled as we emerged from beneath the parking garage on Virginia Ave. She was pointing at the image of a man on a ladder, supporting an impossibly large scroll. Franklin, TN muralist Michael Cooper, designed the piece, entitled “Indy – Always On A Roll!” My driver admits she has never noticed the mural.


Rain falls steadily as we roll onto the circle from Market Street. Upon exiting my ride, I see Big Car’s Spark crew arranging chairs beneath the marquee in front of Hilbert Circle Theatre. On a folding table in front of the chairs, Funkhouser is assembling his rig: a MINIBRUTE SE analog synthesizer, a MacBook Air, a composition notebook and a cluster of cords connecting the devices.

Droves of umbrella-headed business suits pass by abandoning their day’s work at their desks. By the time the bells toll at Christ Church Cathedral signaling the six o’clock hour and the start of Funkhouser’s performance, the rain is reduced to a drizzle and the large cabanas arranged to protect the crowd and Funkhouser’s gear are deemed unnecessary, folded, and set aside. The sun peeks through the clouds, baking the soaked bricks of the circle.

Funkhouser kicks off with spacey, ambient notes that seem to sparkle and burst like globs of hydrogen in the cosmos. The music becomes more full, with Funkhouser adding swaths of sound by playing chords on the keys of his synthesizer. It grows darker and more ominous, with the occasional wave of calm. A pattern of distortion cuts through the atmosphere adding a backbeat to the ambience. A teenage couple looks on while silently sipping fluorescent sodas before ambling onward.

Big Car executive director Jim walker captures photos or video footage from a tall tripod across the street. He’s standing just beneath a statue of Oliver P. Morton. The 14th governor of Indiana stands with his hand extended, waist high, palm held upward as if inviting the cacophony at his feet. Walker is wearing a Big Car mechanic’s shirt, cargo shorts, and teal blue socks. He’s smiling. He looks like an urban safari guide. Most days, that description isn’t too far off.

A trio of skateboarding teens rolls by. On the other side of the marquee, a leather-clad guy who looks alarmingly like Julian from Trailer Park Boys revs up his Harley Davidson. Befuddled, quizzical smiles from passers-by walk on the sidewalk behind Funkhouser.

I can’t help but chuckle at my surroundings, pinching myself at how lucky I am to witness this experimental performance on the doorstep of Indy’s most hallowed musical institution, Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. This isn’t something that happens with regularity across the country. Experimental musicians are rarely offered this type of platform, and the unique nature of the performance isn’t lost on the crowd.

John Flannelly, the curator for Listen Hear’s contribution to Spark is seated in the front row. He’s wearing a jean jacket, white paints, purple sunglasses, black dress shoes and is sporting a fresh haircut. For the previous two performances, Flannelly has been on top of the time, reminding performers: 30, 15, 5 minutes left. Today, he lets Funkhouser roll. He’s right to do so, as Funkhouser closes the set promptly at 7 p.m. Flannelly is on stage himself on Monday Aug. 24 at 6 p.m. as this week’s Listen Hear artist.

With Funkhouser’s performance and rainfall in the rearview, I decide to walk home along the Cultural Trail to digest what I’ve just heard and seen. This fall, Funkhouser will return to school to study musical composition at Butler University. I can’t help but wonder whether one day the symphony held inside the doors in front of which he just performed will be celebrating and rearranging his works.

Rob’s pick for this week’s Spark programming:

At 6:30 p.m on Wednesday Aug. 26, Indianapolis artist Kipp Normand will lead a themed walk that begins at Spark’s welcome trailer parked in front South Bend Chocolate Company on Monument Circle. As an artist, Normand uses found and repurposed materials as the building blocks for his celebrated installations. For a primer, check out Jennifer Delgadillo’s recent profile on Normand via Sky Blue Window. As one who specializes in found art, Normand’s view of his surroundings likely differs from the rest of ours substantially. With that in mind, I’m anxious to hear his interpretation of “Indy Oddities.” RSVP for the walk via Facebook.