It’s tough to miss the Indianapolis Artsgarden. This seven story tall glass dome sits suspended over the intersection of Illinois and Washington Streets, with traffic passing under it. The base is 118 ft. in diameter and the interior has about 12,500 square feet. The shape itself, and the multiple circles of lighting on the underside, echo nearby Monument Circle, the physical and spiritual center of the city.
Plans for what became Circle Centre Mall in downtown Indianapolis had been in development since 1979. As the plans started to mature in the early 90’s, one of the key elements of the mall was a “wintergarden” that would serve as both a skywalk and a venue for cultural events. The challenge was how to pay for it, since it would be a non-commercial space and the city was already investing heavily in the mall proper.
The city went ahead hired the New York architectural firm of Ehrenkrantz, Eckstut & Whitelaw to design the structure. They put together the plans for the suspended glass structure in 1993. Then the Lilly Endowment, a local foundation that was once the richest in the world, donated $12 million to build it. The structure was re-christened the “Artsgarden”, after a suggestion submitted by Mary Longstreth, who won a public naming contest. It opened in 1995 along with the mall.
Today the Artsgarden is owned and managed by the Arts Council of Indianapolis, which is a city agency. They are also the group behind most of the public art you’ll see downtown. The Artsgarden serves multiple purposes. It is skywalk linking the four corners of the intersection. It also serves as a visitor information center, so if you are a visitor you might want to pop inside and see what they have. And it is a venue for arts exhibits and performances – over 300 per year. It’s also rentable for private events.
The Artsgarden is open when the mall is, and provides great views down Washington and Illinois St. Since it is easily accessible from street level, a visit to the inside is definitely recommended.