The Thomas Taggart Memorial in Indianapolis’ Riverside Park must have been magnificent when it was dedicated in 1931: majestic columns and arches, a curved fountain in front, balustrades lining the monument to the Indianapolis mayor who had created the city’s park system 34 years earlier.
But in 2019, after decades of neglect, it’s a mess: cracking concrete, weeds and trees bursting through the mortar, balustrades collapsing on both sides.
That’s about to change.
In December, the Lilly Endowment Inc. awarded $9.24 million to a coalition of the Indianapolis Parks Foundation, Indiana Landmarks, the Indianapolis Shakespeare Company, and Indy Parks to restore the memorial. In summer 2020, the memorial will become the permanent home of the Indianapolis Shakespeare Company—also known as Indy Shakes—run by Butler University Theatre Department Chair Diane Timmerman.
“This is a really great moment in history for the Indianapolis Shakespeare Company,” she says, “because we are deepening and expanding our mission in ways that I don’t believe we fully understood when we wrote our mission statement—which is to share the joy of live theater in ways that appeal to diverse audiences.”
Timmerman says it’s also great for Butler Theatre and its students, who will have access to internships and performance opportunities with a professional, growing theater company. Butler Theatre has always had its sights set on transforming the landscape of theater, she says, and its students will be the artists who make the theater of tomorrow.
“When I was first asked to be Artistic Director of Indy Shakes, my first thought was that I would take the job because it would be great for my Butler Theatre students,” Timmerman says. “It’s been vital for me and other members of the theatre faculty and staff to be professionally connected in Indianapolis so that we can work in our own way to support and improve the arts landscape of Indy. Contributing to theater in Indy is never just about our own professional development, but is always tied to our students and their development as artists.”
Indy Shakes needed a new home. The company had been performing for several years at White River State Park, but between increasing competition from concerts at The Lawn next door, and the sun blinding patrons as it set, the time was right to move.
For a couple of years, Timmerman visited “nearly every green space or big concrete space or any space that would remotely work,” including many of the more than 200 locations in the Indy Parks system. She was looking for an amphitheater setup with sightlines that would work and space to build.
Then in January 2018, the Lilly Endowment announced Strengthening Indianapolis Through Arts and Cultural Initiatives, a program that offered $25 million to organizations working together to better Indianapolis.
At the time, Indy Parks had just completed a master plan for Riverside Park on the city’s near-westside that called for bringing arts programming to the park. Timmerman reached out to Butler graduate Marsh Davis ’80, the head of Indiana Landmarks, the organization that preserves historic places in Indiana, about converting the Taggart Memorial to an amphitheater.
Davis was behind the idea immediately.
“Indiana Landmarks has worked for over a decade to find a sustainable use for the Taggart Memorial, something that would make it relevant to the community,” he says. “We were working on a proposal to the Lilly Endowment to repurpose the memorial when Diane contacted me with her idea. It was brilliant, and thanks to the Lilly Endowment, it will be realized. The Taggart Memorial will be restored and serve a meaningful purpose in the Riverside neighborhood.”
Timmerman says what she saw from Davis is what she sees in other Butler people: a desire to give back to the community.
Representatives from Indy Shakes, Indiana Landmarks, Indy Parks, and Indianapolis Parks Foundation are now meeting every other week with Ratio Architects, and others, to discuss construction, repairs, design, sound, lighting, and other considerations.
“It’s going to be beautiful,” Timmerman says. “With its majestic backdrop, it’s so Shakespearean. It couldn’t be a better location. It’s perfect for Shakespeare.”
Last summer, Indy Shakes launched a traveling troupe, and did a one-hour version of Macbeth in a number of city parks, community centers, and libraries. This spring and summer, Indy Shakes will have two traveling troupes that will perform a 30-minute version of Much Ado About Nothing for elementary school-aged audiences, as well as a one-hour As You Like It for middle schools and high schools.
In addition, the company will perform Hamlet July 25-27 and August 1-3 on a temporary stage in Riverside Park.
The inscription on the Taggart Memorial reads:
To Thomas Taggart
Lover of mankind
whose foresight made
possible this park
Timmerman says the revitalization of his memorial will serve, “a very established, vibrant neighborhood that has a lot of other things going on,” for decades to come.
“And now it’s up to us,” she says, “to figure out how we fit into the fabric of the Riverside neighborhood and how we can connect with people in ways that support what is already there arts-wise and add to it.”