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Harrison Center for the Arts

Artist William Denton Ray addresses guests at the Harrison Center. 

Indianapolis is a year-round mecca for arts organizations. Naturally, not everyone agrees with me on that point, but here’s my rebuttal: if it weren’t true, then why am I so often torn by all the local options to be transported by music, dance, theatre and visual arts? (Photo credit: Joanna Beatty Taft.)

If you’re an arts junkie too, then here’s an Indianapolis experience you shouldn’t miss. Why? Because it combines multiple art forms in a single event.

Gathering around art and food

Art Dish is the brainchild of Joanna Beatty Taft, executive director at the Harrison Center, one of the city’s catalysts for using the arts to build a stronger community—and here I’m speaking of something much deeper than just beautification. More on that in another post. 

As home to 26 artist studios, gallery space and numerous community-building programs that make a difference in our city, the Harrison Center is a lively place to get an art education, to support local artists and to meet new people. (I had the honor of writing about them in the October issue of Pattern Magazine and came away impressed by the breadth of their impact. Watch for Pattern on news stands or in your mail. This issue is all about visual art and artists.

Taft is a big proponent of gathering people around food and engaging them with art in approachable and fun ways. The concept for Art Dish came after a renovation that removed a dropped ceiling in the main gallery of the Harrison Center, revealing four extra feet of vertical space.

With the dropped ceiling gone, the space was filled with unnecessary framing lumber. “Everyone assumed we would throw it away,” Taft says. Instead, they commissioned an artist to build a table using the discarded lumber.

Photo credit: Polina Osherov

While the 24-seat table was in progress, Taft was peppered with questions about where it would be stored. One day she looked up at the gallery’s raised ceiling and thought, “We have lots of room to store it.” The Harrison Center hired a rigging company to devise a system that nests the table in the ceiling. It’s now the center of really great conversation at each monthly Art Dish.

What to expect

Art Dish begins with a casual hour for guests and a featured artist to mingle over libations and hors d’oeuvres. When dinner is ready, a beautifully-set table descends to the floor of the main gallery from its resting place in the ceiling—a ceremony choreographed by local dancers and set to original music composed for the occasion. (Watch the video above and you’ll see one of the dancers avert a near calamity after the table lands gently on the floor.)

A celebrity chef caters each Art Dish, a dinner of several courses paired with wine. (At the September dinner I attended, one guest generously added a bonus magnum of Bordeaux to share. He had blended himself!) At the September dinner, Chris Eley of Goose the Market was the featured chef.

If you’re one of those people who doesn’t like small talk (guilty), but thrives on a few meaningful conversations that take you further than all other conversations combined, then this dinner is for you. (It was all very down-to-earth, substantive and fun. I only say that because I’m staunchly against anything that’s “high-brow,” pretentious or smug. Forgive me. It’s a personal problem—and I’m working on it—but it’s not JUST a personal problem. It’s also a problem that is killing support for the arts.)

From a dinner earlier this summer. Photo credit: Polina Osherov

Sparkling conversation with an artist

Between courses everyone has a chance to ask the artist questions and discuss the art as a group. We talked candidly about everything from the entrepreneurial ways of successful artists to self-taught art and the natural creativity every human being has.

I had the good fortune to be seated next to September’s featured artist, William Denton Ray. (A visit to his site doesn’t do him justice and I’ll explain why later.) It was an unfair advantage for learning more about his work, and I took it. In my next post, I’ll share some of the highlights of our conversation and show you some of Ray’s work.

I hope you’ll take this post as a nudge to explore the local art scene through this multi-sensory experience. Start watching the Harrison Center now for 2019 Art Dish dates. They’re already sold out for 2018, so you’ll need to register well in advance for 2019 dinners. 

Would anyone like to join me at a 2019 Art Dish? It was so fun that I’d do it all over again. It was nothing short of life-changing for me, largely because of the people I met. Sometime, I’ll tell you about that.

Life is short. Wear the good stuff.