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Summer Treasures: Six museum must-sees

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We think a lot of our local museums, but noted not long ago we're in a particularly rich period when it comes to current exhibits — from the IMA's Thornton Dial exhibit to the Eiteljorg's Red/Black: Related Through History show to the Indiana History Center's You are There exhibit. Now, with the unveiling of the immersive Civil War experience at Conner Prairie, and the just-opened Treasures of the Earth exhibit at The Children's Museum, we're downright boggled by all the riches. We've broken these great choices into three features. In addition to this story, don't miss Summer Treasures: Children's Museum and Summer: Treasures: Conner Prairie


Thornton Dial, Stars of Everything (detail)
  • Thornton Dial, Stars of Everything (detail)

Hard Truths: The Art of Thornton Dial
Indianapolis Museum of Art
Through Sept. 18
If you live in Indianapolis, hopefully you've already been to the IMA. If you haven't, now's the time. There's so much to do here. Go on a nice day and explore 100 Acres — art outdoors. Walk through the gardens and along the river. Take a break for lunch at Nourish Café and then check out the indoor exhibits. It feels good to be in this place; the museum clean and light, inside and out, and not at all overwhelming. The special exhibition of Thornton Dial is worth the trip. These are large paintings, drawings and found-object sculptures that speak to heavy issues in contemporary American culture. As the artist says, "All truth is hard truth." It's a belief that comes across in his work. He's helping us all come to resolution about some pretty hard realities, revealing an awful lot about the world we live in. Dial's work forces the observer to really think about all the things that are out there to get caught up in. These pieces will undoubtedly reveal something different to each person who views them. That's the whole point. Dial clearly understands so many different mediums and techniques, but this exhibit demonstrates that more than that, he understands humanity.

Red/Black: Related Through History
Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art
Through Aug. 7
Entering the Eiteljorg feels like an epic journey, like a museum should. It's large and quiet and full of incredible artifacts, the kinds of things you probably haven't seen and maybe didn't know existed. The Red/Black: Related Through History exhibit leads you through one wing of the building to reflect on the ways in which we're all related and tied to these histories. Artifacts explore the interconnected histories of African Americans and Native Americans. These pieces are from the collections of both the Eiteljorg and the Smithsonian. They've remained hidden in a way, just like the histories behind them. It's remarkable that parallels aren't drawn between marginalized groups more often. It seems more common to put ourselves into individual boxes by tracing things back down a single path. This exhibit finds the connections between stories, merging them into a single narrative, perhaps for the first time. The images here challenge the way we think. They lay our assumptions and ignorance on the table for us to examine. The exhibit teaches you something whether you know a lot or very little about this history. Seeing the paintings, photographs, and artifacts, and hearing their narratives sheds light on where our country has been, and where we might be headed.

You Are There 1968: Robert F. Kennedy Speaks
Indiana History Center
Through April 15, 2012
The only way to know where we're going is to know where we've been. This is why we have history museums at all. Reenactments and actors have been used for years in order to depict what may have gone on during crucial moments of history; but now we have the benefit of technology to enhance the experience. The You Are There installations infuse live actors with holograms and fog screens. These additions take the exhibits well beyond the traditional museum experience; all of the sudden, you are very literally there. The actors, especially those involved with the current Robert F. Kennedy exhibit, have described visitors frequently being moved to tears. Each installation is sparked by a photo within the museum's archives; that moment is then expanded upon, and literally comes to life. On April 4, 1968, Sen. Robert F. Kennedy spoke to Indianapolis. In his address, he announced the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and managed to keep the audience calm. This is like no other way of looking at history. The actors — each depicting an actual person who was in attendance that day. The experience forces visitors to really think about the emotion of the scene, the reality of it. You are right there in so many ways: in Indianapolis, in the scene, in the history, right in the middle of the things that made us who are all are today, and continue to prepare us for where we're going tomorrow.

Notes on Nursing and Doctoring in the American Civil War
Indiana Medical History Museum
Through Oct. 8
We recommend you go here as soon as possible. Everything about this place is creepy and cool, including brains in jars, ancient bottles of chemicals and century-old skeletons (yes, in a closet). But the building itself might be the most impressive artifact on the premises. The campus originally served as the Indianapolis Insane Asylum (formerly known as Central State Hospital) — with that comes a decently disturbing history. But the architecture and the seeming simple innovations, like strategically placed skylights, make the main building something of a puzzle. The current exhibit on nursing and doctoring during the Civil War proves that war is good for medicine. We didn't even understand bacteria at the time, or infection, or how disease spread. More deaths were the result of disease than injury. The techniques and tools that were used might make your stomach quiver, but they'll also make you appreciate everyone involved. Poke around in all of the rooms and immerse yourself in the haunting feel. The autopsy room, the teaching amphitheater, the pathologist's private office — it's all a little eerie. What's been preserved here is remarkable. Don't give up if you can't find this place on your first try; it's a bit hidden. When you do finally make it, try to get in on a tour. You might find yourself staying longer than you intended.

Published! She Wrote!
Central Library
Through December
You really shouldn't need an excuse to visit the Indianapolis Public Library. This place is gorgeous: six heavily windowed floors, each with incredible views of the entire city. The annual Eugene and Marilyn Glick Indiana Authors Award Dinner is held in the library because it is such an impressive space. It'll make you think like you're in a much bigger city. You might even start to feel like sticking around, reading another newspaper, checking out (gasp!) a book or two, popping into the Special Collections Room at the very top. Right now the Special Collections Room features Published! She Wrote! This exhibit is small, but still just as impressive as its venue. Indianapolis is fond of boasting about its male authors (Riley, Nicholson, Tarkington, Vonnegut), but demonstrated pride in our (several) female authors is long overdue. There are books for all ages and from all genres represented in the collection. Maybe you didn't know that Ruth Stone spent her formative years in Indianapolis. Maybe, somehow, you have yet to pick up a copy of one of Susan Neville's books. Certainly you'll discover someone here who interests you — someone you didn't know had a connection with our city. No matter what, you'll undoubtedly take time to sit down and enjoy this place.

And don't miss the Rhythm! Discovery Center
Is there anyone in the world who doesn't desperately want to play a drum? It's absolute instinct, a part of most cultures in the world. And really, the more you think about it — and you'll think about it a lot at the Rhythm! Discovery Center — percussion is a huge part of life in general. Music, obviously, but also theater, cinema, culture, religion, ritual, celebration, mourning — all are deeply reliant on percussion. Rhythm! Discovery Center encourages everyone to play all kinds of instruments. To really enjoy the opportunity, the best thing to do is let go of inhibition. This center is great for kids, mainly because they don't have much inhibition in the first place. But it's fun for adults, too. Maybe you won't be able to rock out on the drum kit (well), but everyone can try their hand on the 1926 Paramount Theatre Organ, or the enormous Remo drum. And why not? It's a chance to feel the beat throughout your body. One wall in the center quotes BabatundeOlatunji: "Rhythm is the soul of life." Each corner of the world is represented, through videos, photos, artifacts and things to try. You might lose yourself in the center of the city, just underneath the Weber Grill, but you might never want to be found. When you do return to the traffic and the normalcy, you'll certainly be more in touch with the beat, the rhythm of life. - Micah Ling

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