If you find former mayor Bill Hudnut sitting on a granite bench at the corner of Maryland Street and Capitol Avenue a few months from now, he won’t mind a bit if you sit down next to him. In fact, that’s what he would want.
Soon, the fountain park across from the convention center could be home to a bronze sculpture of Indy’s longest serving mayor.
"Bill really wanted to be seen as a bit more approachable, as I think he was when he was mayor," explains Bill Browne. "He’s going to be in a more comfortable pose, so that people can sit next to him and have photographs."
Browne is the founding principal of Ratio Architects and one of the leaders of “Friends of Hudnut,” an informal group that decided last year to commission a piece for the newly renamed “Hudnut Commons.”
The Arts Council put out the call for artists and a jury chose Koh Varilla, a Chicago-based husband/wife team with a knack for bringing their sculpture subjects to life.
"That's going to be important with Bill," says Browne. "Capturing his vivacious personality and his stature as a politician and as an individual."
The commons green-space was commissioned in the late 1980s under Hudnut’s leadership. He helped create and renovate many spaces that define Indianapolis like Union Station, Circle Center Mall, an expanded Monument Circle and construction of the Hoosier Dome ‒ a bold move that brought the Colts to Indy.
Public arts projects weren’t necessarily on his radar.
"I hadn't thought too much about it," says Hudnut. "When you say arts what I thought of was things like the orchestra, the Children's Museum, that's what I considered to be the arts at the time."
During his tenure, Indy gained fame as a sports town, not an arts town.
In the mid '80s, it was the largest city in the country without a local arts council. As Indianapolis prepared to host the Tenth Pan American Games, in 1987, local arts groups and schools planning cultural programs began reaching out to Hudnut. So he explored establishing a group that could help manage those arts initiatives .
"Practically every grade school in the county had a Pan Am orientation in their arts classes," remembers Hudnut. "It wasn't just a sporting event. It was an arts event, it was a celebration of Indianapolis kind of event, in a sense a breakthrough for the city."
And that breakthrough included the arts. That same year, 1987, the Arts Council of Indianapolis was formally incorporated.
Dave Lawrence, is the current president of the Arts Council. He says every year the arts in Indianapolis contribute $384 million of direct economic activity. But there’s an even bigger gain.
"People are seeing that the arts are so important to community development and vibrancy and attracting residents to actually call Indianapolis home," says Lawrence.
Art work in the landscape, Lawrence says, can capture the eye and mind of someone walking through, and it can encourage people to pay attention to their environment, to celebrate a city’s history and unique qualities.
But the value is also in the eye of the beholder. Lynn Boyce works in a downtown office building and takes her breaks in the Hudnut Commons.
"If you're talking about like when they put these sculptures out on the sidewalks, I don't see the value in it. I think that money is better spent someplace else," says Boyce.
Lawrence believes that places with engaging public art scenes are simply more attractive.
"When you think about creating public spaces and activating public spaces and making them true gathering points where people can make memories and have shared experiences," says Lawrence. "It's really what urban living is all about."
The Friends of Hudnut group is still raising money for the bronze sculpture. The space will be reconfigured and spruced up as part of a $5 million project headed by the Capital Improvement Board.
Hudnut plans to return to Indianapolis later this year for the unveiling, which will hopefully coincide with a Colts game, honoring his accomplishment of bringing the team to Indy.