In the mid-1980s, Indianapolis was the largest city in the country without a local arts council. The city was hosting the Tenth Pan American Games and local arts groups were preparing a yearlong arts festival in conjunction with the games. Mayor Bill Hudnut asked local community leaders to explore re-establishing an arts council after a previous council had dissolved in 1977.
In 1986, the Mayoral-appointed task force of arts and civic leaders recommended that a new council be formed, but encouraged serious study to its potential mission, role, and activities. A community cultural plan was written, a board of directors organized, and an executive director was hired.
In October 1987, the Arts Council of Indianapolis was formally incorporated as the City’s local arts agency. The City of Indianapolis contracted with the Arts Council to grant $500,000 to local arts and cultural groups. As one of its core functions, the Arts Council continues to grant City funding through an independent, conflict-free peer panel review process each year.
In September 1995, the Arts Council opened the Indianapolis Artsgarden, an iconic glass building suspended over Illinois and Washington Streets in downtown Indianapolis. It is owned and operated by the Arts Council, and provides a space for more than 300 performances and exhibitions each year. The Indianapolis Artsgarden was funded through an extraordinary gift from Lilly Endowment Inc.
In 2004, the Arts Council formally created an Artist Services department which would serve professional artists in various ways including professional development workshops, communication tools, and networking opportunities.
In October 2010, following the closure of more than 80% of Indianapolis’ commercial and nonprofit gallery spaces, the Arts Council responded by opening Gallery 924, which provides a professional gallery experience for central Indiana contemporary artists and their patrons.
In 2015, the Arts Council worked with local arts educators and Indianapolis Public Schools to implement the Any Given Child program of The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts paving the way for a new and robust Arts Education Partnerships department.
In 2016, the Arts Council created an official Equity Statement and an internal Equity Task Force to address issues of equitable access to resources internally and within the arts community as a whole.
Since its inception, the Arts Council has provided programs and services to the citizens of central Indiana, and to hundreds of artists and arts organizations. It has also helped promote the cultural life of Indianapolis, continues to expand and sustain the arts economy, and bolster the cultural vitality and positive image of Indianapolis.