David Hoppe

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:: 20 years: A beautiful friendship  

By David Hoppe

So NUVO's been around for 20 years.

That's older than Circle Centre Mall. Or the Eiteljorg Museum. Conseco Fieldhouse. The new Indiana State Museum.

Since NUVO started publishing, we've been through two mayors - Goldsmith and Peterson. We've added a quarterback named Manning and seen our basketball franchise go from heroes to zeroes.

When NUVO took off, nobody was going to Fountain Square for arts events. Michael Graves had yet to design the Indianapolis Arts Center. Borders had a bookstore in Castleton.

Indianapolis was touted as a town where national chains and franchises liked to try out new concepts and products.

Maybe it still is.

But I'd like to think that NUVO's arrival on the scene was a sign that a new sense of place was emerging here. NUVO was about finding those voices that aimed to discover what was most distinctive about this city, what made it unique.

That's been a tall order.

They didn't call this "No-place" for nothing. You could argue that several generations here worked like crazy to make this town as nondescript as possible. Historic buildings were torn down so there'd be plenty of parking Downtown. An ordinance was passed outlawing street performers. There was virtually no public sculpture, to speak of. And the city's African-American community, the heart of Indy's - and a significant part of America's -- jazz culture, was demolished to make way for IUPUI, at the time, a commuter campus that saw its students arrive in the morning and leave at sunset.

What's more, the community was more controlled than governed by a Republican political machine that was empowered by UniGov, the consolidation of city and county government engineered by Richard Lugar in the late '60s.

Yes, this was the same outfit that came up with the famous sports strategy, built the Hoosier Dome (since imploded) and Market Square Arena (also demolished) and developed Union Station (does anyone still care?), White River State Park and Circle Centre Mall - undoubtedly saving Downtown in the process.

Twenty years ago, Downtown Indianapolis felt eerily like a movie set. It hadn't quite grown into its new additions yet.

But bricks and mortar didn't begin to address what the city really needed, which was dialogue, argument, and a smart-ass wisecrack or two.

The Pulliam-owned Star and News represented the downside of local ownership, a monopoly on print news that was dedicated to portraying Indianapolis as an even more conservative, god-fearing place than it already was. The Pulliam papers inhibited the city's cultural growth by only covering what they deemed "good" for us.

Enter NUVO. The "new voice" was truly an alternative. Or, maybe, outlet comes closer to the mark. With barely a fraction of the resources available to the Star/News, NUVO was a homegrown, handmade effort to try and figure out where Indianapolis actually lived. Or, at least, that part of Indianapolis that wanted to be urban, independent and connected to the world-at-large.

NUVO was the place for people who believed in Indianapolis' potential, not just as a landing strip for national franchises, but as a community where the challenges of creating a livable urban environment in the 21 st century could be acknowledged and met in ways true to our American Midwestern geography and values - whatever they were.

It happened that as NUVO set about this task, the very nature of journalism, media and communications was about to undergo a massive identity crisis. New technologies, generational changes, cultural and institutional breakdown all contributed to the end of established business models, patterns of consumption and communal forms.

At one point, we printed t-shirts that said "keep Indy weird." But that was a given. Indy, and everywhere else, was going to get very weird, with or without NUVO. The question was what kind of weird would we be?

As I write this, I doubt that anyone can really know. One thing, though, seems clear. That the need for voices, live and unfiltered by corporate/political powers-that-be, is more acute than ever. At the same time that the Web and Internet atomize us into countless niches, mass media, through an ever-increasing array of formats, insists on framing the terms of civic understanding, not to mention debate.

NUVO has always been about community building. Whether we do this in print or via the Web is really secondary to the task itself. That task is to find the words and pictures that give this place an identity people will want to stand up for and pass along to those who come after.

The great Indiana writer Scott Russell Sanders has pointed out that our sense of place is made from the stories we share with each other about the people and events, myths and legends where we live. Those stories make a stake, they constitute character. They give us a way of understanding what's important and what needs to be preserved.

For 20 years NUVO has tried to tell these stories. And you have responded. It's been a beautiful friendship.