What was once a crumbling monument engulfed by the sprawling Riverside Regional Park is now the centerpiece of the city’s new scene. The Taggart Memorial Mainstage Amphitheater launches its first season Thursday, bringing to fruition a project that cost more than $ 9 million.
Given its cutting edge technology and central location, the amphitheater is poised to be a favorite venue for live music, theater, poetry readings, dancing, and more. It will be the residence of the Indianapolis Shakespeare Co. and a place that emphasizes its connection to the surrounding neighborhood while attracting visitors from other areas of the city. To this end, Indy Parks has partnered with a cultural development company Ganggang to strengthen equity in its list of artists.
“The voice of the neighborhood is very important,” said Ganggang co-founder Alan Bacon. “We want to make sure that we are recruiting talent that has synergistic elements with what the neighborhood wants to hear and see outside of the amphitheater.”
For its first season, the Taggart will host a limited number of concerts and events, with plans to expand in the future. After two weekends of Indy Shakes performances, the public will be invited to a Thursday evening series that will begin on August 5 and open on August 12.
Taggart amphitheater season
The action will take place under the five majestic arches of the Taggart Memorial, which holds nearly a century of history. Built in 1931, the neoclassical monument itself pays homage to the ancient Mayor Thomas Taggart, which helped pave the way for the city’s park system. Over the decades, it has fallen into disrepair, earning it a place on more than one of Indiana Landmarks’ 10 Most Endangered Lists.
Now the limestone sparkles above the amphitheater basin. The bowl, which can seat 650 people, is on the west side of the monument. Behind the audience, the White River winds through the park, providing permanent accompaniment to those on stage. In the larger area of the amphitheater, up to 2,000 can fit, although Jenny Cash, vice president of The Parks Alliance of Indianapolis, said organizers were not anticipating such a large draw for the premiere. season.
To create grassy tiered seats, Cash said crews dumped 50,000 tons of earth fill. A wooden scene floats in front and is accentuated by rocky river walls that echo the architecture of the houses in the neighborhood.
On the sides are two small buildings which house toilets, storage, changing rooms and space for mechanical and electrical operations. Eye holes for hanging drapes and lights are installed around the pillars, providing endless staging options. Sam Osborn, assistant director of production arts for Indy Parks, said the Taggart is the only Indy Parks installation with sound and light installed.
“We can just put a few things on stage, set up mics, flip switches and we’re good to go,” Osborn said. “It’s really plug and play, and these are just incredibly high quality parts.”
“It’s this opportunity for artists all over the city,” said Nigel Long, program and community outreach manager for Ganggang. “This (venue) is really intimate, and it doesn’t have to be full for it to feel like a good stage or for your crowd, your audience, to be there with you.”
For the first season, the shows include a host of Indianapolis favorites. Concerts will be free, but registration is required for the August 12 performance. For Indy Parks concerts, visit parks-alliance.org/projects/riverside-parks. Visit indyshakes.com to reserve free tickets for its performances.
- July 22-24 and 29-31: “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” produced by Indy Shakes
- 5 August : Clint Breeze & The Groove
- August 12: Grand opening with Native Sun
- August 19: Movie night at the Taggart
- August 26: “The Voodoo of the Half-Acre of Hell”
- September 2: Off the vine in the park
- September 9: Long live! A celebration of Latin culture
- September 16: Bashiri Asad and the Lady
- September 23: Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra
- September 30: Season Closing Festival with Huckleberry Funk
Involve the neighborhood
The Taggart amphitheater is the first major project to come out of the Riverside Regional Park Master Plan, which is full of ideas to transform the park into a major destination in the coming decades. Neighbors had advocated for years to restore the memorial, and in 2018 the Lilly Endowment awarded the amphitheater and restoration project $ 9.24 million – the largest share of a total of $ 48.8 million he gave in his “Strengthening Indianapolis through the Arts and Cultural Innovation” initiative.
Indy Parks, which operates the amphitheater, chose to work with Ganggang because the two organizations felt the same about fairness, providing high-quality entertainment and supporting artists, Osborn said.
Ganggang, launched in November 2020, connects artists from across the creative economy with projects that can be enriched by their talents. The agency’s equity and inclusion work is enshrined in its name, which takes up a word that was used to criminalize black men and recovers the original meaning of “gang” – a group that moves forward together, said Bacon.
“We’re just trying to continue to nurture our cultural strengths that we have within Indy, which in turn does a fair job,” Bacon said. “We give opportunities to artists and creatives and just help negotiate those engagements where… you find a lot of people of color” who are artists.
With enthusiasm for the future of Riverside Park, Long said he wanted to make sure the surrounding neighborhoods feel connected to the entertainment. According to 2019 statistics on IndyVitals.org, the three largest groups in the area near northwest Riverside are blacks (64%), whites (about 22%) and Hispanics (about 7%). As a DJ and someone who has worked with residents of the area northwest of downtown, Long said he wanted the people who live there to feel comfortable with the addition.
“I would love to just see people walking down the street to the Taggart to watch the concert,” Long said.
Tony Johnson, regional manager for Riverside Park, said an internal Taggart committee regularly meets with neighbors to find out what they would like to see.
“They know exactly what we are trying to do on site, so they have a say and their input is also always welcome for all of our equipment that we are putting up in Riverside Regional Park,” Johnson said.
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The amphitheater design and construction team includes Ratio Architects, Threshold Acoustics, Schuler Shook Theater Lighting Planning and Design, Christopher B. Burke Engineering, The Engineering Collaborative, and Smock Fansler Corporation. The Indianapolis Garden Club has awarded a 90th anniversary grant of $ 100,000 to The Parks Alliance for landscaping.
In the coming seasons, the organizers of Taggart plan to expand its film series and its various art forms, creating evenings of poetry and dance. Rentals and special events are also possibilities, and requests will go through a special committee, Johnson said.
“We’re looking to put money and resources directly into the hands of local creators and artists, which is important,” Bacon said. “We are looking to make sure that the community also gets what they want from this project.”