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That's the spirit: Festival to focus on rethinking risks

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The work of visual artist Stephanie Lewis Robertson, will be featured in a program ''Risk of Pursuing Your Passion,'' scheduled for Nov. 7 at First Mennonite Church in Indianapolis. / Submitted photo
The work of visual artist Stephanie Lewis Robertson, will be featured in a program ''Risk of Pursuing Your Passion,'' scheduled for Nov. 7 at First Mennonite Church in Indianapolis. / Submitted photo

Artwork by Jedediah Johnson in his ''Making Out'' series is part of the ''Touchy Subjects: Art, Sex and Humor'' program on Wednesday during the Spirit & Place Festival. / Submitted photo
Artwork by Jedediah Johnson in his ''Making Out'' series is part of the ''Touchy Subjects: Art, Sex and Humor'' program on Wednesday during the Spirit & Place Festival. / Submitted photo

Taking a risk doesn’t have to mean bungee jumping, jaywalking across a busy road or swimming without a lifeguard.

Sometimes, risk can be good. It can stimulate personal growth, lead to understanding of another culture and move a community to a better place.

Organizers of the Spirit & Place Festival are challenging participants to rethink what they consider to be risks in their lives. The series of 28 presentations, activities and performances approach the subject from different perspectives.

People can sign up for a specially tailored adventure through Indianapolis involving people, places and activities they’ve never tried before. They can see cutting-edge art. They can explore their faith and what comes with walking away from it.

“Risks aren’t always terrible; sometimes risks open you up to new experiences and ideas,” said Gail Thomas Strong, vice president of community engagement for WFYI, which is hosting one of the events. “In this, people have the opportunity is to open themselves up to intellectual risk and emotional risk and some physical risk. But it’s not a bad thing.”

During the past 18 years, the Spirit & Place Festival has brought together churches, community groups, businesses and arts organizations to figure out ways to improve. Organizers try to blend the arts, humanities and religion in thought-provoking ways. Past festivals have focused on subjects such as growing up, living generously and the nature of play.

With this year’s festival, running Friday to Nov. 10, the hope was to get people thinking about how taking risks can help move a community forward.

“The programs look at risks through a lot of different eyes — that of women and teens, veterans, artists, dancers, the visually impaired,” said Pam Blevins-Hinkle, executive director of the festival. “It’s disparate ideas, people and organizations coming together to think of risk.”

The featured programs think about risk in myriad ways.

People can hear how New York Times crossword editor Will Shortz decided against a career in law to make up his own college degree — enigmatology, or the study of puzzles.

In “The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail,” presented by the Oaklandon Civic Theatre, they can learn how author Henry Thoreau sacrificed his freedom instead of supporting what he felt was an unjust cause.

Religious leaders will ask if attending the service of another denomination or belief system means risking your own faith during a gathering at the Indiana Interfaith Center.

Many of the activities will ask participants to get out and discover the community around them.

One called “Choose Your Adventure, Map Your Risk” invites people to take a short survey online. Depending on their answers, they’ll receive an assignment that asks them to take a low, medium or high-level risk.

Those challenges could be going to a new restaurant and trying a dish they never had or spending an afternoon panhandling. After finishing the assignment, participants are asked to come together and share what they experienced.

Another similar activity is called “Spirited Chase.” People will again be given a set of directions taking them all over town, where they’ll find specially designed activities at each one.

“They have a chance to visit secret locations all over town. They won’t know where they’re going at all,” Blevins-Hinkle said. “Sites will explore different dimensions of risk, and they’ll get to take some risks of their own.”

The festival will end the way it always has, with the annual Public Conversation.

Four nationally recognized leaders will discuss how risk has affected them and how it can impact the people around you.

This year’s conversation will feature ChaCha co-founder Scott Jones, IndyCar racer and owner Sarah Fisher, Quaker writer Phillip Gulley and noted jazz musician and professor of music at Indiana University David Baker.

The hope is to put a cap on the theme of the overall festival, tying together all of the disparate activities into one learning experience.

“Spirit & Place is really about understanding your community better and the diversity of what makes Indy interesting,” said Anne Laker, program director at Big Car, an arts organization taking part in the festival. “How do we grow? How do we learn? how do we gain new perspective? I think it always involves some form of risk.”


Spirited Chase

When 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Nov. 9

Where WFYI, 1630 N. Meridian St., Indianapolis

What A mysterious game that ferries people throughout Indianapolis to closely guarded secret locations

Cost $25 per carload

Restrictions Not appropriate for children younger than 14; comfortable clothing and athletic attire is required; not all venues are handicap-accessible

Four Things to Know

From Gail Thomas Strong, vice president of community engagement for WFYI

Prepare for the unexpected

“Our desire with this event is to ignite some sparks in people, by taking them to either undiscovered gems in the city or gems that are hidden in plain sight.”

Inspiration to act

“This event is an opportunity for us to provide people with a sampling of the wonderful assets in the community. We hope they’ll be inspired to go back and visit, hope they’ll tell their friends about it, hope they’ll volunteer.”

Top secret

“The key to the day is the secrecy. Even our CEO won’t know until the morning of the event. I’ve chosen a really wide range of places. Many of these places will be unknown to our guests. One is hidden in plain sight, but I’d venture they’ve never been in the door.”

Challenging the norm

“I think as Americans, we’re pretty tied to our calendars, pretty tied to our maps, a pretty self-determining people. We’re asking you to trust us and trust in the partners who will put together these unique experiences.”

Leaving My Religion

When 7 to 9 p.m. Nov. 7

Where Athenaeum Theatre, 401 E. Michigan St., Indianapolis

What A presentation by author and former pastor James Mulholland about his faith transition from evangelical to progressive Christian to nonreligious. A panel discussion with representatives of four other faiths will be included.

Cost Free, but registration required at


Four Things to Know

From James Mulholland

More people becoming nonreligious

“According to the Pew Research Center, in the last three years, 2 million adults every year decide to not identify with a religious affiliation. There’s a seismic shift in our culture. I don’t think that it’s people not believing in God, or not believing in spirituality, but they are certainly not relating to a specific religion.”

Speaking from experience

“I grew up very conservative and became more and more progressive and liberal as a Christian. I began to think I could live out my values in the world in a more satisfying way outside a religious context than inside. The religion began to inhibit my happiness rather than enhance that.”

Becoming nonreligious doesn’t happen quickly

“Religion stopped working for me. When something stops working, it takes a while to figure that out. You do the same things, and it takes sometimes years to figure out. The whole journey took me five years.”

Struggling to understand

“One of the biggest risks is having to recreate yourself. For many of us, religion is something we’ve had from the cradle. To suddenly decide to live without that framework is daunting. There are a lot of people out there struggling with this question, and they’d want to hear about it.”

New Native Speak

When 1 to 3 p.m. Nov. 9

Where Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art, 500 W. Washington St., Indianapolis

What A performance by the 1491s, a Native American improv comedy troupe.

Cost $10 for adults, $9 for seniors 65 and older, $6 for children ages 5 to 17 and students with valid ID, and free for children 4 and younger.

Four Things to Know

With Ashley Holland, assistant curator of contemporary art at the Eiteljorg

Finding humor in difficult topics

The 1491s are our featured performers this year. They originally did YouTube videos that were very satirical of the issues facing Native people, really poking fun at the misconceptions of Native people.

First-time performers

‘(The 1491s) are really popular in the Native community. They show a lot at tribal colleges and native institutions, but we’ve never had them here. It was a great opportuntiy to bring them here for people who might not have ever heard of them or seen them online.”

Haven’t gone anywhere

“Our goal as an institution is to convey this idea that Native people are contemporary, they’re still here, all the problems that have faced them in the past are things they still face. It’s a chance to talk about the deeper meanings of that.”

Good to get it out

“Sometimes it can be a little uncomfortable to be faced with a realization that something people do, like playing Indian when they were small, can be an act of appropriation that can really bother a Native person.”



“$20K: A Competition About Race”: 7 to 9 p.m., Indianapolis Museum of Art, 4000 N. Michigan Road, Indianapolis; a competition between four local innovators vying for a $20,000 award to approach race in central Indiana; $10


“Reach OUT”: 7 to 8:30 p.m., First Congregational Church-United Church of Christ, 7171 N. Pennsylvania St., Indianapolis; a storytelling, music, dance and literature event looking at the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people; free

“The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail”: 8 to 10:30 p.m., Oaklandon Civic Theatre, 6450 Oaklandon Road, Indianapolis; a performance exploring author Henry Thoreau’s civil disobedience; $12


“Embracing Risk to Sustain a Neighborhood”: 1 to 3 p.m., IUPUI Campus Center Theater, 420 University Blvd., Indianapolis; a panel discussion on how historic buildings have survived over the years; free

“The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail”: 2 to 4:30 p.m., Oaklandon Civic Theatre; a performance exploring author Henry Thoreau’s civil disobedience; $12

“The Puzzling History of Will Shortz”: 3 to 4:30 p.m, Indianapolis Public Library, 40 E. St. Clair St.; a discussion by Will Shortz, New York Times crossword editor; free

“Welcoming the Stranger: What’s the Risk?”: 3:30 to 5:30 p.m., First Baptist Church of Indianapolis, 8600 N. College Ave.; a program to introduce you to new people and learn how to minimize anxiety of being welcoming; free


“The Hungry Games”: 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., Athenaeum Theatre, 401 E. Michigan St., Indianapolis; based on the popular “Hunger Games” books, teams compete in a series of games to benefit the community; $10


“The Risk of Knowing Health Risks”: 4 to 6 p.m., Phoenix Theatre, 749 N. Park Ave., Indianapolis; a debate of the benefits and risks of genetic and other medical screening tests; free

“What Glass Ceiling?”: 7:30 to 9 p.m., Indiana History Center, 450 W. Ohio St., Indianapolis; a chance to hear about some of Indiana’s leading women; free

“Growing Older, Taking Risks”: 9:30 a.m. to noon; Pike YMCA, 7114 Lakeview Parkway West, Indianapolis; a look at the risks older adults face as they age; free


“Risky Conversations: Faith, HIV/AIDS and Community”: 11:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Christian Theological Seminary, 1000 W. 42nd St., Indianapolis; a service and discussion around faith communities and those with HIV/AIDS; donations requested

“Risky Business”: 6 to 8:30 p.m., St. Luke’s United Methodist Church, 100 W. 86th St., Indianapolis; support and learn about microfinancing and how it helps lift women out of poverty; free

“Moving Vision”: 7 to 8:30 p.m., Athenaeum Theatre; an evening of storytelling, dance and discussion exploring the true stories of blind and visually impaired people; donations requested

Nov. 7

“Scientific Heroism: The Risks of Biological Research”: 6 to 8 p.m., Indiana Medical History Museum, 3045 W. Vermont St., Indianapolis; a panel discussion about how risk in medical laboratories lead to breakthroughs and cures; donations requested

“Climate Risks: Envisioning a Clean Energy Future for Indianapolis”: 7 to 9 p.m., Epworth United Methodist Church, 6450 Allisonville Road, Indianapolis; an interactive game exploring the dangers of climate change; free

“Risk of Pursuing Your Passion”: 7 to 9 p.m., First Mennonite Church, 4601 Knollton Road, Indianapolis; a discussion of the struggles and triumphs Hoosier residents have encountered following their dreams; free

“The Spiritual Life: A High Risk Venture”: 7 to 9 p.m., JCC-Indianapolis, 6701 Hoover Road; Rabbi Arthur Green addresses spiritual risk and reimagining one’s own faith tradition; $8 for public or $5 for JCC members

Nov. 8

“Public Safety: What’s at Risk”: 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Butler University Atherton Union, 4600 Sunset Ave., Indianapolis; explore public safety issues with the A.C.T. Out Ensemble; free

“Risky Waters: Indiana’s Flood History and Future”: 5:30 to 8 p.m., Indiana History Center; see the premier of the documentary “When Every River Turned Against Us: Lessons from the Great 1913 Flood,” and explore the past and future flood implications; free

“The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail”: 8 to 10:30 p.m., Oaklandon Civic Theatre; a performance exploring author Henry Thoreau’s civil disobedience; $12

Nov. 9

“Get Rubbed the Right Way”: 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., National Institute for Fitness and Sport, 250 University Blvd., Indianapolis; a discussion and demonstration of massage therapy; free

“Art+Faith+Risk”: 2 to 4 p.m., Indiana Interchurch Center, 1100 W. 42nd St., Suite 125, Indianapolis; an exhibit, poetry event and forum on art, faith and risk; free

“Veterans Reclaim Armistice Day”: 2 to 3:30 p.m., Herron School of Art & Design auditorium, 735 W. New York St., Indianapolis; a veteran-led discussion about the risks of joining the military and what happens when they come home; free

“The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail”: 8 to 10:30 p.m., Oaklandon Civic Theatre; a performance exploring author Henry Thoreau’s civil disobedience; $12

“Public Conversation: RISK”: 5:30 to 7 p.m., Indianapolis Public Library; a conversation between Scott Jones, founder of ChaCha; race car driver and owner Sarah Fisher; jazz musician David Baker; and Quaker pastor and author Phil Gulley, about risk; free

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