Exploring the Indiana Avenue Cultural District

Indianapolis skyline

Indianapolis has designated six cultural districts with having ‘cultural and historical significance’ to the city. One of these districts is Indiana Avenue (it’s not just a place on the Monopoly board game). Read on to learn a little about what makes Indiana Avenue special.

Located west of downtown, Indiana Avenue was an early black settlement that was developed in the late 1800’s and was a part of the Underground Railroad. Jazz music became a culturally significant part of the district and in its heyday, the area was home to 33 jazz clubs and the likes of Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald were preforming regularly.  The area was most famous for the Madam C.J. Walker Theater that opened on 617 Indiana Avenue in 1927. The theater was popular with locals and local businesses and put on many plays and concerts until the 1950’s.

When segregation laws changed, many of the areas residents eventually moved to other parts of the city and the state and Indiana Avenue and the Madam C.J. Walker Theater headed into a down period and the area became neglected.

In recent years however, it was decided that the area should try and be brought back to life and improvements were made by the city. Many of the old original homes that had become dilapidated have been renovated by the Indiana Historic Landmark Society and are now being enjoyed by new owners in the community. The Madam C.J. Walker has also been restored and is now listed on the register of National Historic Landmarks. The theater has once again become a big part of the community. Every year the theater puts on tons of events from plays to concerts, movies, dances and more.  The theater works closely with the nearby Indiana University – Purdue University Campus to engage students in the district.

Jazz music is still a big part of Indiana Avenue and today you can catch jazz shows at the Chatterbox, The Jazz Kitchen, and dozens of other bars and music venues. Every September the area puts on the Indy Jazz Festival where the best of the best in the genre preform. This event is attended by thousands of people annually.

The next time you visit Indianapolis, make sure you spend some time on Indiana Avenue.