The Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park: 100 Acres
Indianapolis, USA, 2010

Creative Organisation: Indianapolis Museum of Art and various artists/artist collaborations.

Funders / Commissioners: Indianapolis Museum of Art; Philanthropic grants from individuals, trusts and foundations; Varied donations from IMA members.

Cost: USD25,000,000

Cost Details: The project as a whole cost USD25,000,000. A USD15,000,000 grant was provided by the Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation in 2006. This endowment funded the first 8 commissioned works, which were budgeted at USD3,600,000, and continues to fund the operating budget of the park. The Ruth Lilly Visitors Pavilion cost USD2,300,000. The budget for the most recent installation, Chop Stick, was USD2,000,000, which derived partly from the museum's capital development funds and partly from a private donation. Only one of the commissioned works has been accessioned by the museum, with the remainder being on long-term loan, in keeping with their semi-permanent status.

Duration: The park is permanent. None of the currently installed works are permanent. They will have varying lifespans depending upon their materials and the impact of weather and visitor use.

Location Details: Free-entry public park located on the grounds of the Indianapolis Museum of Art, 4000 Michigan Road, Indianapolis, Indiana, USA.

Date of Delivery: Opened to the public in June 2010 after ten years of research, planning and development, with eight commissioned artworks in place. Two further works were installed in 2011 and 2012 and more artworks will be installed on an annual or biannual basis.

Medium: Various

Project Delivery Team: Maxwell Anderson (Director and CEO of Indianapolis Museum of Art); Lisa Freiman (Senior Curator and Chair of IMA Contemporary Art Department); Sarah Urist Green (Curator of Contemporary Art); Rebecca Uchill & Allison Unruh (IMA Contemporary Art Department colleagues); Dave Hunt (Project Manager–planning and construction); Scientists from the US Geological Survey (USGS); Edward L. Blake Jr. (Landscape Architect, The Landscape Studio); Marlon Blackwell (Architect).

Funding Sources: Foundation, Individual, Local Government

Themes: Energy, Renewal & Regeneration, Water

Author: Laura Fisher

A nature and sculpture park built on 100 acres of land that sits adjacent to the site of the Indianapolis Museum of Art and borders the White River. Ecological concerns are central to the curatorial and general management of the Park, which contains a 35-acre lake (the site of a former quarry), meadows, wetlands and woodlands. It was opened in June 2010 and currently contains 10 semi-permanent site-responsive art works and an architecturally designed Visitors Pavilion. Works were created by Atelier Van Lieshout, Kendall Buster, Jeppe Hein, Alfredo Jaar, Los Carpinteros, Tea Mäkipää, Type A, Andrea Zittel, Mary Miss and Visiondivision.

The Park management’s sensitivity to local environmental factors is a necessity, as it is situated upon an active floodplain. These environmental conditions have inspired a curatorial ethos of embracing processes of transformation and renewal across both the natural and artistic facets of the Park. This is reflected in the program of commissioning artworks that make use of materials that either deteriorate naturally or have no adverse impact upon their surrounding environment, and that have a limited lifespan that will see them be retired to make way for new works. The Indianapolis Museum of Art explains its approach:

The Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park presents art projects, exhibitions and discussions designed to strengthen the public’s understanding of the unique, reciprocal relationships between contemporary art and the natural world. The IMA’s Art and Nature Park team believes that the power of 100 Acres lies in its potential to create experiences in one arena that inform and stimulate appreciation in the other. For some visitors, contemporary art may be the attractor; for others the landscape itself or scientific interests may be the entry points. Projects in 100 Acres will accommodate and mix these agendas in surprising ways, in some cases suggesting that the categories are artificial. The Park offers diverse geographical sites for artists to create new works outside of the Museum. It provides educational programs that broaden audiences for contemporary art as well as initiate projects that involve partnerships with community groups, educational institutions, and arts, civic and environmental organizations.



Cultural/Aesthetic: The project undertook to build a nature/sculpture park that could be part of the rejuvenation of the IMA’s contemporary art profile and dispel the belief that Indianapolis/the Midwest is a cultural backwater. It aimed to serve the local community’s hunger for contemporary art and attract international art audiences, to create a 21st century sculpture park that challenges the way people think about public art, and to commission an international roster of experimental, innovative and socially engaged artists to create site-specific works.

Innovation/Risk: 100 Acres radicalised the sculpture park tradition by bringing contemporary, site-specific and transient works into the space of a permanent sculpture park. The project embraced the idea that the museum can commission works that have a limited lifespan, which permits a greater variety of materials and forms than a conventional sculpture park. This involved establishing a programme of retiring works when they are worn out, so that the park is constantly evolving.

This project involved building a sculpture park that can withstand occasional, but potentially widespread flooding (for example, only 2/3 of an acre within the Park was regarded to be suitable for building the Visitors Pavilion).

Audience Engagement: 100 Acres commissioned tactile works that are accessible to all Park visitors (including children) and that invite audience participation in some way.


Social Inclusion, Social Activation/Debate: The aim was to create a park populated by iconic artworks of which all members of the Indianapolis community can take ownership. Curator Lisa Freiman was concerned about what real “community engagement means… wondering if there is a sincere way to incorporate people of all backgrounds and experiences. And people have doubted the sincerity. The art world is a small, elite group.” The project also introduced a greater variety of people to the artistic and learning experiences that the Indianapolis Museum of Art can offer. As Freiman states, “One of our idealistic hopes was that the park would be a bridge for people who had never been to the museum before. It would give them a place to enter, make them feel comfortable, and encourage them to come over to the museum itself.”

Health and Wellbeing: 100 Acres took shape as a new recreational space within the city in which people can engage creatively with the natural environment. While the site had formerly been open to the public, it was only used by a small number of hikers and fishers.


Attitude Change/Education: 100 Acres encourages audiences to reflect upon their natural surroundings. As Lisa Freiman has stated, it “strives to present art, architecture, and design that provoke a reexamination of humanity’s multifaceted relationship with the environment.” The project adapts to the unique geology and hydrology of the site and uses this as a means to inform the public about their environment.

Habitat Provision and Restoration: 100 Acres enhances ecosystems that exist within this site with respect to native animal and plant species and wetlands. It ensures that the Visitor’s Pavilion sits in an unobtrusive way within the landscape.

Water Management: The project improved hydrology of the Park site and surrounding area by enabling the movement of floodwaters through the lake and wetlands, which can potentially relieve the pressure of floodwaters on surrounding properties.

Climate Change Adaptation: The project makes efficient use of energy in the Visitor’s Pavilion, consistent with the IMA’s broader goal of minimising its carbon footprint. It also facilitates carbon sequestration by maintaining forests on site.


Methods of Evaluation

The museum employed the software analysis tool I-Tree, designed by the United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service, which allowed them to measure such factors as the carbon sequestered by the trees within the park (approximately 64 acres of the park are wooded). As stated on the Indianapolis Museum of Art website: “In evaluating the entire IMA campus, including 100 Acres and the Oldfields estate, we found that an estimated total of 750 tons of carbon is sequestered annually by our tree cover, and over 10 tons of pollutants are removed from the air.”

The Visitors’ Pavilion received the US Green Building Council’s LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification, which verifies that energy efficiency principles and sensitivity to the environment were integral to both the design and construction of the facility. The Pavilion has energy efficient lighting, water-saving fixtures, makes use of on-site well water and has a geothermal heating and cooling system.

According to news articles and internal reports, the Park’s popularity with the public has exceeded expectations. It increased attendance at the Museum itself by 67% in the summer months in the first year it opened.


The park has attracted a great deal of interest within the USA. The selection of curator Lisa Freiman to oversee the USA Pavilion at the 2011 Venice Biennale is in part attributable to the park’s reputation.

The Ruth Lilly Visitor’s Pavilion has been recognised as a landmark piece of architecture, being awarded several architectural honours within the USA. Inspired by the appearance and structure of a fallen leaf, it has very much been designed to be embedded structurally and aesthetically within its natural surroundings, and contributes to the overall artistic and cultural integrity of the Park.


Social Inclusion: It is evident that members of the Indianapolis community have embraced many of the commissioned works. For instance the work Free Basket, by Cuban collective Los Carpinteros, which honours the importance of basketball in Indianapolis, has been very popular.

The work Team Building (Align) by the group Type A, which consists of two large metal rings suspended above a small clearing whose shadows align at the summer solstice, has led to solstice celebrations being staged at the Park. This work was also created in collaboration with staff members from across the Museum to explore the theme of team building. The Museum stages a ‘Saturdays at the Park’ public program, involving activities for children and guided tours explaining the local animal life.

Health and Wellbeing: The park can be navigated by landscape-architect designed gravel walking trails and a causeway which allows people to walk the perimeter of the lake. A 2012 Indianapolis Museum of Art report claims that the park has become a popular spot in the city for jogging, fishing, hiking, picnicking, bird-watching, art crawls, family outings and school trips.


100 Acres is pioneering an environmentally sensitive approach to public art that extends the Indianapolis Museum of Art’s commitment to reducing its carbon footprint. This is demonstrated by the fact that the strategies for the development of the park were underpinned by substantial research into the environmental and geological features of the site and its relationship to the White River on its border. These research activities include:

            • - A geological survey undertaken by scientists from the US Geological Survey.
              - A geomorphic and hydrologic assessment.
              - A riverbank stabilisation survey.
              - A wetland delineation report.
              - A biotic survey of the animal species on the site.
              - A floristic survey of the plant life on the site.
              - A vegetation survey to identify the number and types of native and non-native species in the park.

Information derived from these surveys underpins the planning and management of the site. In addition, the Museum has created informative webpages on the ecology of the site. This means that the park is a vehicle for informing the public about their local environment and assists them to understand the agricultural and urban activities that impact upon the White River. Invasive species are being progressively removed and replaced with native species. 70 native plant species have been introduced to the site.

The Park aims to exemplify the Association of Flood Plain Managers (AFSM) ‘No adverse impact’ concept:  “A no adverse impact floodplain is one in which the action of one property owner or community does not adversely affect the flood risks for other properties or communities as measured by increased flood stages, increased flood velocity, increased flows, or the increased potential for erosion and sedimentation.” The Visitors Pavilion was specifically designed so that floodwaters can flow freely under and around it.

With respect to the public art works themselves, several of the commissioned works deal directly with issues of sustainability and ecological concerns. For instance the work Chop Stick, by Visiondivision, comprises a kiosk, swings and seating area constructed entirely from a single hardwood tree, offering a template for how to harness the use value of a natural material in a resourceful and respectful way. Mary Miss’ work FLOW: Can You See the River? is dispersed along six miles of the White River, including sections that border the Park. This work offers viewers a variety of ways to engage with the many facets of the River system (including the watershed, wetlands, floodplains, sewerage and pollution) that are central to the life of the city of Indianapolis.

In sum, the very susceptibility of the site to potentially destructive natural forces has proven to be a catalyst for the innovative, ecologically sensitive design of the park. The necessary architectural and infrastructural adaptations to the floodplain conditions have been matched by a curatorial ethos that explicitly addresses problems around natural resource management, climate change and sustainability. The destructive and regenerative forces of nature find an echo in the curatorial management of the impermanence of the site-specific works.


Economic/Urban Regeneration: The park has inspired a commissioned project for a new ‘Art Hotel’, The Alexander, in Indianapolis. This hotel will feature 25 artists selected by Lisa Freiman and another curator within its indoor and outdoor spaces. This development involves transforming unused city space and a parking lot into multi-use urban and green space. Thus the sculpture park has paved the way for further forays into socially engaged public art in the city.


The site was cleared and used for agricultural land in the early 1900s. A construction company had bought the land for the purposes of building a nearby project and had excavated the gravel pit. It was this process that created the 35 acre lake. The company donated the land to the museum in 1972, however it was only in 1996 that the idea of a sculpture park took shape during the development of a strategic plan for the Museum as a whole. The research, planning and construction process for the park took ten years, starting in 2000 when an initial master plan for the park was created by a landscape architecture firm. In 2004 landscape architect Edward Blake and architect Marlon Blackwell were selected following a two-year national search, to design and oversee the creation of the park. The firm Marlon Blackwell Architect was also responsible for the design and construction of the Ruth Lilly Visitors Pavilion within the park. The concept of commissioning site-responsive public art pieces was strongly advocated by Lisa Freiman, who joined the museum in 2002.

The successful realisation of the project was dependent on the participants’ thorough understanding of the implications of the fact that the land is an active floodplain, susceptible to almost comprehensive flooding, and has a river bordering two-thirds of its perimeter. The risk of flooding is such that only two-thirds of an acre of land was deemed appropriate for the construction of the Ruth Lilley Visitors Pavilion. The Pavilion sits 30 inches above the ground on columns, concealed behind figured beams that were designed as a podium upon which the Pavilion could appear to sit. In recent decades the area has flooded approximately once every five years. The IMA undertook detailed research into the history of the site with respect to flooding, the health of the riverbanks and the existence of wetlands within the park (a pedestrian bridge has been created in the wetland areas to ensure that there is minimal impact to it). Some of this research is leading to the planning of routes for flooding waters to travel through the park in a manner that might improve the water quality of ponds and wetlands within the site. The lake now acts as a reservoir and reduces the impact of flooding downstream.

The inaugural eight commissions were all completed in 2010, by which time the many geological, ecological and hydrological surveys had been undertaken. In bringing these art projects to fruition, Project Manager Dave Hunt notes that it was vital that the artists and curators were thoroughly informed about the engineering and construction requirements of each part of their respective projects, and likewise, that the engineers and those contracted to undertake construction understood the aesthetic principles and artistic aspirations that underpinned each project.


Curator Sarah Urist Green has stated that:

Each of the eight sculptural works installed throughout the Park was created using materials that will either deteriorate naturally or have no adverse effects on the surrounding land and waterways. Future installations—a new work will be added to the Park every year or two—will adhere to the same standards.


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“Built to Site.” American Builders Quarterly vol. 6, no. 44 (2012): 93-96.  (accessed February 15, 2013).

Dolce Hotels and Resorts. “Indianapolis Museum of Art Selects 14 Artists to Create Commissioned Works for New Downtown Art Hotel Being Developed by Buckingham Companies.” The Alexander Hotel website. Press release document. (accessed February 15, 2013).

Indianapolis Museum of Art. “About 100 Acres.” IMA: The Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park: 100 Acres. (accessed February 15, 2013).

Indianapolis Museum of Art. “Carbon Sequestering.” IMA: Environmental Research. (accessed February 18, 2013).

Indianapolis Museum of Art. “Flooding.” IMA: Environmental Research. (accessed February 16, 2013).

Loos, Ted. “A Curator With a Penchant for the Collective.” The New York Times, March 16, 2011. (accessed February 15, 2013).

Russeth, Andrew. “Avant-Garde Gardening: A Q&A with IMA Curator Lisa Freiman.” Blouin ARTINFO, entry posted July 19, 2010. (accessed February 15, 2013).

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Urist Green, Sarah. Interview by author, February 14-March 24, 2013.

“Visiondivision to Create Extraordinary Concession Stand for 100 Acres: The Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park.”, entry posted May 8, 2011. (accessed February 16, 2013).

This database is developed by the National Institute for Experimental Arts (NIEA) at COFA, UNSW in association with the City of Sydney and Carbon Arts as part of the Australian Research Council ARC linkage project Curating Cities.