imgres-1Those of us who live in Indianapolis didn’t find it too surprising a couple of weeks ago when Business Insider ran a piece that said our city was second in the nation in “best cities for cultural attractions.” (Only Seattle beat us.) The list came from Property Shark, where they took the population of major American cities and divided by the number of “cultural attractions.” Turns out Indy has one cultural attraction for every 705 people.

Whether or not you think that’s the right way to rate cities for culture, it’s hard to deny that Indianapolis has grown up a lot in the last handful of years. It wasn’t long ago that Fountain Square was a lineup of empty storefronts, and Downtown closed at 6:15. There was no Indy Fringe, no Indy Eleven, no Indy Film Fest, no Indy Reads Books. No WARMFest or Tonic Ball or First Friday. Today, if you’re bored in Indianapolis, it’s your own fault.

It took a lot of people working diligently for a lot of years to make Indy the cultural hotbed it is today. And no one’s worked harder that the folks who’ve put on the Spirit & Place Festival, now in its 19th year. (In the interest of full disclosure: I am, this year, one of those folks.) It’s a little astonishing to me that more people don’t know about it.

Spirit & Place is an annual series of programs built around a central theme that brings together thought leaders, writers, theologians, activists, scholars, and hundreds of people from around our community to share ideas about the arts, humanities, religion, and social issues. “Think TED lecture–but interactive and on steroids,” is what the website says, and it’s a pretty good description.

Over the years, Spirit & Place has gone were no other local programming would dare to tread; for example, last year’s festival featured A Competition About Race, which awarded a $20,000 prize for an idea connected to race in Indianapolis. Name a provocative or controversial topic, and there’s a good chance Spirit & Place has tackled it.

Every year, the annual Public Conversation is a major highlight. You never know who’s going to show up: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, bell hooks, Wendell Berry, Cornel West, et. al. Then there was the year that featured Kurt Vonnegut, John Updike, and Dan Wakefield.

The festival proper starts in November. This year’s theme is Journey, and you will definitely find at least a handful of programs you can’t afford to miss.

And–lucky you!–you can get a preview of all the programs this coming Friday, September 5, from 6 – 9 p.m. at our Announcement Party at Well Done Marketing. It’s a chance to check out all 38 of the programs, walk through a labyrinth of canned goods (to be donated to the Fletcher Place Food Pantry), and enjoy the band Rising Gravity. You can also belt out a little karaoke, thanks to our friends at Big Car. Journey songs, of course.

Plus, it’s First Friday in Fountain Square–so you can bet it’s going to be hopping. It’s a fitting place to kick of this year’s festival. It’s been a great 19-year journey–and Spirit & Place should feel right at home in the middle of the cultural scene it helped create.