Road-Trip Your Way to a Winter Wonderland

All the Hoosiers in up Indy like Christmas lights a lot. But the Grinch, who lives on the East Coast and writes scathing arts criticism, did not.

Nevertheless, last year the Grinch’s bellyaching about the Indianapolis Museum of Art’s newest endeavor was drowned out by legions of gleeful fans. And so Winterlights is back.

Winterlights is the grand outdoor light show at Newfields, the new name for the Indianapolis Museum of Art and its 152-acre campus of gardens, outdoor sculpture, and nature. In its inaugural year, Winterlights drew 70,000 visitors to IMA to stroll the grounds, Instagram like crazy, and bask in the glow of holiday lights—1.5 million of them this year—that wrap towering trees and undulate along the landscape. It’s family-friendly, with hot chocolate, firepits, and s’mores. But it isn’t the kind of holiday display where figures of toy soldiers march along the path. The vivid interactive designs take advantage of the museum’s unique setting—the former Eli Lilly estate, with its horticultural treasures. During Winterlights, even the dormant branches come alive with electric blooms.

The museum launched the event last year, when it re-branded itself as Newfields. The name is a nod to the Lilly estate, which was called Oldfields, and the change is part of IMA’s efforts to redefine itself as a place where art and nature meet. Last summer there was a mini-golf installation that featured holes designed by local artists, a blockbuster indoor/outdoor exhibit of giant plastic animal sculptures by Cracking Art (that’s the Italian artist collective that designed the 21 C Hotel penguins), and—to lure millennials—an outdoor beer garden where the taps were filled with local brews.

Somewhat obviously, the goal is to attract new audiences, engage younger visitors, build a more diverse membership, and generate dollars. And the “art and nature” mashup isn’t an overreach: The IMA campus includes a huge outdoor art park (Bored teen? Check out “Funky Bones,” the giant skeleton sculpture made famous by the weepy YP novel/movie The Fault in Our Stars). But to some serious art critics, a holiday light show is a bridge too far. Writing in CityLab—a sister website of The Atlantic—Washington D.C. critic Kriston Capps crabbed that the museum’s efforts were the “greatest travesty in the art world in 2017.”

Granted, if you make the drive to Indianapolis it would be a travesty not to experience the museum’s actual collection. The Modern, Contemporary, and Asian holdings are especially well-regarded. Unfortunately, during Winterlights, the galleries close at 4 p.m. Plan accordingly.

For more info about Winterlights at Newfields, visit discovernewfields.org

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