Beginning tomorrow, Oct. 28, and running through Nov. 15, one of the northside Indianpolis's quieter neighborhoods gets a bit busier -- and buzzier -- than normal. Presented by the Indianapolis Jewish Community Center, the 16th annual Ann Katz Festival of Books & Arts packs some of the nation's top literary works and visual presentations into three event-filled weeks.
Jewish Community Center Director of Arts and Education Lev Rothenberg says events range from authors discussing their works, art presented by its creators, and film screenings that often include Skype sessions with their directors. Performing arts will include a Phoenix Theatre production and one by Dance Kaleidoscope.
"We've brought a lot of social significance, but we're also going to have a lot of fun," Rothenberg says. "So much of our audience comes to multiple events, because they really get hooked on the festival ... this is a very hopping part of town during those three weeks."
Held in the JCC Laikin Auditorium, the festival averages four events a week. Books by featured writers and local authors will be sold in the lobby, where the art gallery is also located. No secret to the area nor to the community of bibliophiles and arts enthusiasts in Indy, the event is well attended, bringing in around 2,000 people each year.
"I absolutely love coming to the festival every year and have enjoyed the eclectic array of speakers, authors and various activities that go on at the festival," says Gary Koppel, a regular attendee. "One of the highlights for me was when Steve Roberts, one of the big journalists and formerly of the New York Times, came to the festival. There weren't a lot of people there, so I [practically] had Steve Roberts there to myself; it was as though I was having a fireside chat with Steve Roberts! It was just a wonderful opportunity to get to know someone I've listened to on NPR and read on the New York Times."
Some events are free, while others include a small fee (typically $8 for public and $5 for members, with full festival passes available as well) that helps cover the costs associated to booking the presenters.
"In late May or early June, Program Coordinator Lisa Freeman and I go to New York City, and in a period of three days, we will hear and/or speak to upwards of 230 authors," Rothenberg says, explaining the visiting speaker selection process. He says their goal, of course, is to sell their books and get known by the public. His and Freeman's goal is to learn more about them and their work and to bring that information back to the JCC's well-read committee, who will then choose who comes."
Rothenberg says the purpose is to "build community through literature and arts." Institutions for other religions receive press releases regarding the event, and the festival's book sales of works from local authors support Indianapolis growth.
"I'm hoping [people] gather from it -- be they Jewish or non-Jewish -- that learning and teaching is a foundation of Jewish culture," Koppel says. "This Ann Katz Book Festival is one of those vehicles for not only making learning and teaching available to the general community, but as an example of how the Jewish culture makes learning such a valuable part of our culture and makes it available to other people regardless of their background."
More Than Books
The festival, which was named for Ann Katz after generous financial contributions from her family, began as a simple book sale. But it has since evolved into a literature festival, complete with author presentations and the inclusion of musical theatrical performances and visual arts.
A first for the festival, the Phoenix Theatre will stage a performance of their current production Old Jews Telling Jokes at the JCC Laikin Auditorium (in addition to the theater's regular productions at 749 N. Park Ave.). The show, by Peter Gethers and Daniel Okrent, is based off of an online research project featuring filmed relatives telling stories and jokes.
"They were looking for a framing device for all of these jokes, and they came up with a way of tracking humor in different points in our lives," Phoenix Theatre Producing Director Bryan Fonseca says. "It looks at birth, childhood, adolescence, young love, middle age and old age ... it works really well. It's culturally specific, but there is also something universal about the show, because we all go through these stages of life."
Fitting with the theme of the festival, Fonseca started the Phoenix Theatre more than 30 years ago with the dream of bringing current social issues to life in a personalized approach and interactive venue. He believes Phoenix Theatre productions to teach lessons in a professional yet entertaining medium.
"[The festival] has been very academic in its approach, so it's exciting to have this different art form to celebrate the arts and performance aspects," says Fonseca. "It's wonderful to hear from authors, but to see a play and take away your own impressions without necessarily being told what to take away, it makes the festival more rich."
Sales Director Ryan O'Shea says Old Jews Telling Jokes illustrates the need for humor as a means to handle stress, citing a specific part in the show in which a dying old man, jokes with his son up until the very end. This scene, O'Shea says, specifically points to the importance of finding joy even in moments of sorrow.
The production at the JCC will be on Nov. 1, and it will run at the Phoenix Theatre now through Nov. 23rd.
A Display of Dialogue
A visual arts exhibit for the festival this year drives home the concept of open-mindedness threaded together by art appreciation. Collaborators and Karen Baldner and Bjorn Krondorfer portray this through their Jewish/German Dialogue Project.
What might seem an unlikely pairing, Baldner and Krondorfer grew up in Germany in the post-Holocaust era with very different experiences, according to Baldner.
Her family was persecuted by Nazi Germany, and she had difficulties comprehending the Holocaust and after-effects from it.
"I read a lot, talked to people and took courses, and I began to see the world out there that tries to discuss the Holocaust is way too neatly organized and, in a sense, trying to finish the story for something that was so traumatic and deeply changing of our human constellation," Baldner says. "There was something uncomfortable to me about presenting it that way. I felt if I had gotten there as a visual artist, I could contribute something less neatly wrapped up."
Having met Krondorfer at St. Mary's College of Maryland in 1992 when they were both professors, Baldner says Krondorfer approached her then about doing a joint project about the Holocaust. Baldner says he felt a "sense of guilt and responsibility typical of this generation" for his parent's and family's actions and lack thereof during the war.
She was not emotionally prepared at the time to embark on the project, but contacted him years later to get started. In what Baldner describes as a challenging and uncomfortable experience, the two spent hours upon hours openly and honestly discussing the differences between how they were raised and what happened to each otherÕs families.
"We're doing something that is very difficult, but we are doing it through art É we are doing work that shows traces of having talked," Baldner says. "It is a personal thing, but at the same time it is bringing our very personal conversation, that is also historic in a sense, to the public."
Baldner intends to use this project to provide peace and encouragement for divided cultures.
"We hope we can be an inspiration for other groups that are divided," she says. "We are Germans, and people would think we get along just being from the same culture, but that is not at all the case; we're not naturally comfortable with each other, and there are other cultures that have these kinds of divides. My collaborator is working on a project with Palestinians and Israelis ... he has been called by a group who facilitates these dialogues."
Many of the pieces, which are a combination of abstract artwork and written documentation, will be presented outside the Laikin Auditorium.
With artists flying in from all over the country and bringing rich and diverse cultural experiences, the festival looks to be an exciting event. Rothenberg is happy with how the festival has grown over the years and looks forward to continuous improvements to draw more people.
"At this point, we want to do what we're doing, but do it better," he says. "... as long as we keep our focus, which is building community through literature and the arts."
Additional events include:
For additional information about the events listed above or for online visit the JCC Website.