Points Of Light–Indianapolis Edition

Remember the “Thousand Points of Light” that George H.W. Bush used to talk about? He was referencing the efforts of good people around the country (and for that matter, around the world) to make a difference in their communities. At the time, it reminded me of Voltaire’s famous admonition to cultivate our own gardens.

At times like these, when so many of us are disheartened daily by the displays of hatefulness, mendacity and unashamed bigotry being encouraged by a morally and intellectually deficient President, we need to remind ourselves that there are points of light being emitted in our own backyards and gardens.

Here in Indianapolis, we don’t have mountains or oceans or other geographical assets, but we have historically made up for those deficits with a population that “pitches in” (we have more not-for-profit organizations than any other city in the country). The other day, I had lunch with Bryan Fonseca, who is currently “pitching in” in a big way in four of Indianapolis’ least affluent, most diverse and most challenged neighborhoods. Those neighborhoods, adjacent to downtown and the campus where I teach, are on the West side of White River. They make up an area called (duh) River West.

Local folks know that Bryan founded the Phoenix Theater some 35+ years ago. For many years,  Phoenix’ plays scandalized a lot of locals:they were cutting-edge works that highlighted the barriers faced by LGBTQ, Latino and other minority citizens. Over the years, what was initially scandalous became much less so. The Phoenix succeeded brilliantly; it recently moved from a donated converted church into a ten million dollar building, and from bare-bones existence on the margins of the “respectable” art scene to status as a highly valued part of the mainstream.

While that move was underway, Bryan was working with the River West community under a Transformational Impact Fellowship grant from the Arts Council of Indianapolis. And now, after leaving the Phoenix, he has gone back to his scrappy, social justice roots by establishing The Fonseca Theater Company in the heart of River West.

My husband and I attended FTC’s first play, and it met the high standard Bryan had established at the Phoenix. It was powerful and well-acted. But Bryan’s plans for his new venture go well beyond offering professional theater.

The Near West community has long faced major economic, educational, and public safety challenges. However, as Bryan points out, the area is also home to one of the most vibrant and diverse communities in Indianapolis, and he and his team of dedicated and resourceful artists intend to work with and within the community to improve quality of life and create a variety of opportunities for residents. As he says, the new organization is “invested in the concept of in-reach, which encourages artists to move into and become part of the fabric of life in the community we serve.”

The arts are a time-honored way of raising awareness, but the ambitions of this new venture go well beyond the traditional role of theatrical performance.

Research confirms that the arts improve critical thinking and problem-solving skills. So in addition to a six-show season of plays and a Latinx concert series, the organization plans  community plays in which participants write, direct and act in their own stories; a teen acting program; and continuation of an existing children’s program consisting of 10-week classes filled with kids from the surrounding community. (The class is priced at $15 for the entire course, and parents of children who have taken the classes report improved grades and communication skills.)

In addition to plans to develop a soccer team and exercise programs, the theater is partnering with Indy Convergence, a neighborhood collaborative, to spearhead neighborhood events such as clean-ups, crime watches, neighborhood association meetings and eventually, a neighborhood festival, all designed to increase civic pride and neighborhood engagement. As he says, “We are more than just a theater. We are a community center designed to inspire civic engagement.”

This is an enormously ambitious undertaking. But Bryan and his longtime team have overcome daunting obstacles before, and as he says, he’s happiest when he has a cause.

In these dark days, we just have to remember that for every Trump wannabe, for every self-absorbed “it’s all about me” asshole, there’s a Bryan Fonseca working hard to cultivate a garden and make his community better for everyone who lives there.


  1. Sheila, you are a multi-faceted diamond. One will always be treated to a different way of looking through a prism of today’s issues early every morning. We can argue persuasively about our differences on policy, but the ‘W’ administration consistently encouraged a national dialogue on the efficacy of faith-based initiatives and platforms for everyday acts of kindness.

  2. Deep Thanks to Brian and Co for the inspiring contribution to making indpls a better place to live and love, and to you, Sheila, for your insightful spotlight.

  3. Yeh! Well! But Trump is President and neither you nor this guy are! So there! NA NA NI NA NA
    My father can beat up your father! All this compassion and empathy and willingness to give of yourself for the betterment of your community. You guys are losers! Trump likes winning!

  4. This is absolutely wonderful and I am so glad that Indy has a treasure like Bryan Fonseca. Thank you for sharing this good news story with us and thank you for the support that I am sure you have given to Bryan’s causes and for your future support.

  5. I loved that old run-down church that housed the Phoenix Theater and I loved the plays and the acts that I saw there. Where else in Indy could you go to see an Albee play? I’m glad to know that Bryan has a new home and a new cause. Remember that the area the old Phoenix was in wasn’t great when they first opened their doors, but today it is one of the most sought after areas of downtown Indy. I think he played a big part in that. Maybe he can do it again.

  6. Those “points of light” referencing the arts, in its many forms, are a plus. They are also often cost prohibitive to the general public; thereby leaving out many whose souls could use the enlightenment and “points of light” to feel “part of things” here in Indianapolis as well as raise their consciousness levels. Indianapolis has produced some of the finest jazz musicians in the country but little is known about them.

    I will ask if “…Bryan Fonseca, who is currently “pitching in” in a big way in four of Indianapolis’ least affluent, most diverse and most challenged neighborhoods.” includes gentrification of those River West neighborhoods and if so; is anyone assisting those who will be removed for gentrification? Yes; I am harping on an issue I have harped on before. I will also ask if the “Transformational Impact Fellowship grant from the Arts Council of Indianapolis.” only refers transforming, or bringing the Arts to those River West areas? Are any of those “many not-for-profit organizations” helping those evicted from homes and businesses in gentrification neighborhoods? I have found none. The transformation, or gentrification, of “Indianapolis’ least affluent, most diverse and most challenged neighborhoods.” can be found throughout Indianapolis and Marion County and generally mean tax incentives for those who are transforming the areas. Kudos to Mr. Fonseca for his years of contribution to the arts here in Indianapolis; may his new pursuits be successful in River West. But I will continue seeking help for those soon to be evicted from their own “least affluent, most diverse and most challenged neighborhoods”…222 South Downy Avenue in Irvingtion is at the top of my list.

    I don’t mean to rain on anyone’s parade but…those being sacrificed for gentrification or transformation of these “most challenged neighborhoods” most need help finding homes and assistance moving as they are low-income, senior and disabled, their “point of light” is survival.


  7. GREAT piece by & about two old, old (OK, OK maybe not THAT old) friends: You and Bryan. Loved the latest updates on him, the memories and it also brought to mind something I told someone in my now home of Portland, Maine, last week. This is a city in which we citizens try hard to pull our weight way, way beyond our small population (the city has under 70,000). We all volunteer, work for everyone’s benefit and almost any project known to man or woman and while a hate crime can happen anywhere and we have a governor who is a jerk (but is done in January!), we try hard to not just say diverse, but be it while donating time, money and effort. We have a wonderful ocean, lighthouses and more, but as you say, there’s people to consider, not just the views and parks. Anyway, someone I know well asked did I miss Indianapolis and I was quick to tell them this: The city? Not one bit! Way too red for me… way too conservative in Indiana and I’m glad I finally moved. The friends, the opportunities, the volunteers on things like Pride and equality and the community I left there: I miss you every day. Sheila, keep on keeping on, and tell those friends (including Bryan) I said hello. Oh, and come see us… Ivan & I will buy the first lobsters for you, then we’ll show you some awesome coastlines and lighthouses.

  8. Great piece, Professor!
    JoAnn, thank you for the reminder that, sometimes, the “thousand points of light” don’t shine equally on everyone.

  9. Sheila’s piece today is certainly a much needed point of light in this darkening age, and one that deserves public funding as well as funding from afar for Bryan’s expansion of civilized ideas. I think it also points up the mistake in overfunding STEM studies at the expense of the humanities.

  10. You don’t need to form a non profit in order to cast a shinning light. You can be that light yourself: in you own family, in your neighborhood, in your community with every person you meet.

  11. Indeed. Thanks for the good anecdote about someone with fortitude and perseverance that made something worthwhile to enlighten the human condition.

    On the other hand, the only points of light the Jews in Pittsburgh saw yesterday, were the muzzle flashes of yet another idiot able to get his hands on guns. Terrible offset to goodness, isn’t it?

  12. It seems that even more of human progress than I’ve traditionally thought is about the mixture of two world views that are inculcated into culture; competitiveness vs collaboration. Of course some of each are incorporated into each of us but one view predominates more within some and less within others. Those who are strongly collaborative are the ones that, at least in these times, lead us home.

    All art is a means of education, again more for some and less for others. We regard it often as sensory pleasure {eye candy} which much is but theater stands out in my mind as, first of all, one of the most profound examples of collaboration as well as often a rude awakening to the senses rather than a mere stroking of them.

    We recently attended the first production of a play and it was accompanied by a group of those involved revealing to an audience the process that moves plays from a thought to a fully realized production and the time and number of people who contribute to the final product. The number of contributors is significant and we were among them that night for that play. Our reaction to each scene and line was carefully monitored and used to redirect everything from the words to the expression to the timing to the backgrounds, virtually every dramatic element was the product of a team as the production was of a team of teams.

    Switching gears. Almost every day we get exposed for thankfully just a few seconds to athletic coaches explaining how they won or how they lost and how they plan to change the losses into future wins by developing. What I’ve noticed is that nobody talks about individual skills anymore but playing together, everyone doing their part but in the context of a team effort to support the whole team.

    My conclusion is that our culture has become a dichotomy. One part are people who are coached by people like Sheila’s West End hero integrating a whole community into productions that the whole community learns from. The other part are people whose “coaches” are TV entertainment eye candy about individual performance and imaginary lone heroes.

    Clearly our politics have disintegrated before our eyes as all collaboration in governance has ceased and what’s in it for me alone has risen to power. We are what we were born into.

  13. Thanks Sheila for sharing something and someone who is a wonderful example of how we can bring light, peace, hope, and love to our community!

  14. 10/28/2018 765 89W34N– Those 1,000 points of gas field lights still guide the plane navigators everywhere in the still NO FLY zone for those TOLL CALLS to the Indianapolis Government OFFICES surrounded now by the 765 from 1996-95 909 GTE missed CONNECTIONs at Fort Wayne Fort Wayne (both sides of the Ramada Remuda). Meanwhile, Work and Purchase Orders TO SIGN and thoseROUTING SLIPS for government contractors’ CHECK BOOKs do not work retroactively but on the BOOKs here NOW: The Federal Register free daily newsletter because 1775 is the first Order of Business.
    Executive Orders
    The President of the United States manages the operations of the Executive branch of Government through Executive orders. After the President signs an Executive order, the White House sends it to the Office of the Federal Register (OFR).
    Donald Trump 85 Barack Obama 295 George W. Bush 294 William J. Clinton 290
    Others may feel burning in those assholes from the FACEBOOK posts as RECEIPTs, but most get RED in the FACE.

    P.S. Your media consultants need to update their credentials because GMAIL never MATCHES email of the PAST at the 1-800- levels.

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