Creativity Flows Along the White River

Since the retreat of the glaciers 10,000 years ago, the meandering flow of the White River has been carving the landscape of Central Indiana. The river’s timeless beauty is still at work today, offering ever-changing scenes throughout the seasons as it weaves through rural countryside and urban neighborhoods. The lands along its banks are also home to an incredible collection of art and creative experiences for people of all ages!

Let’s begin our adventure in the heart of Indianapolis at White River State Park. Affectionately known as “Indy’s backyard”, the huge park boasts of seven distinct attractions, a gorgeous view of the Indy skyline, and a delightful display of public art. Discover a new favorite in the magnificent, life-sized sculpture of the “American Bison” made from barbed wire, or the colorful column called “Prime Commonality”, inspired by the similarities in the chromosomes of humans and chimpanzees. 

Speaking of primates, pop into the world-class Indianapolis Zoo to meet animals including a dolphin, elephant, orangutan, penguin, or rhino. In a unique experience, these animals become the artists, painting a one-of-a-kind artwork (and memory) for you to take home. 

If Georgia O’Keefe or pottery are more your style, head to the Eiteljorg Museum which showcases Native American and Western art, culture, and history. The museum’s partnership with the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) ensures that new traveling exhibits regularly augment visitors’ experience of the beauty and diversity of Native American art, and it’s got one of the best collections anywhere of contemporary work.

Last but not least, while you’re still at White River State Park, check out the Indiana State Museum. The exterior of the building itself is a work of art, featuring 92 unique sculptures, one to represent each of the counties in Indiana.  

Moving north, there are several amazing art opportunities at Newfields. This 152-acre campus includes the world-class Indianapolis Museum of Art, historic mansions and gardens, and the Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park. While visiting the Indianapolis Museum of Art and the attached gardens requires a ticket, roaming the 100 acres of the Art and Nature Park is free. The park features permanent pieces such as the beloved “Funky Bones” by Atelier Van Lieshout which can be seen as you fly into Indy. New installations are added over the years, including an interactive series called “Home Again”.

A bit further up the river, you’ll find another art hub in Broad Ripple Village. At the Indy Arts Center you can learn anything from drawing to glass blowing to woodworking in classes taught by local experts, or explore the rotating exhibits in the galleries. On the grounds you’ll find the charming ARTSPARK. This 9.5-acre sculpture garden opened in 2005 and features White River overlooks, wildlife, and of course, more than 27 interactive sculptures.

In Hamilton County, Conner Prairie stretches along more than 3 miles of the White River, making it a great place to explore the beauty and diversity of our river-side ecosystems. The new Trails at Conner Prairie offer two ways to explore the White River oxbow. Your first option is to immerse yourself in the local flora and fauna on the rugged gravel trail of the R.B. Annis Vista Trail. If you’re looking for a more accessible option, how about a roll or stroll along the paved path through the prairie? You can pause and admire the White River Art Canoes along the path. These vibrant canoes were commissioned by the White River Alliance and painted by diverse, local artists to connect people to the White River.

While you’re at Conner Prairie, also be sure to check out the artwork of Habitat, a Smithsonian-affiliated exhibit, scattered throughout the grounds. The multi-media art installations include depictions of birds, bees and Earth’s interwoven biomes, inviting visitors to examine their own impacts on the natural world that we inhabit. If you’re interested in making art yourself, you could join in one of their historic skills classes, ranging from horn carving to yarn dying to soap making.

Noblesville Creates is a hub for art in Hamilton County. The historic Stephenson House is home to artists’ studios and rotating exhibits in the gallery downstairs. The first Friday of the month is a great time to stop by, as Noblesville Creates throws a party to kick off the new month, often including sweet treats or live music. After you view or buy some local artwork, explore the rest of quaint downtown Noblesville, including the Bridge of Flowers and the riverwalk. If crowds aren’t your style, try one of their inspiring art classes for adults or kids.

Architecture is certainly a form of art, and beautiful Potter’s Bridge is a classic example. The picturesque covered bridge was finished in 1871 and has been diligently preserved and restored ever since. Now part of Potter’s Bridge Park, you can walk or bike across the bridge as part of your exploration of the White River Greenway. While the bridge is fun to walk across, it’s even more beautiful from the water! Consider launching your kayak from the nearby access point and then paddling down river for a better view.

We’ll end our tour in the northern stretches of Hamilton County by another Art Canoe, this time at Strawtown Koteewi Park. In the Miami-Peoria language, Koteewi (pronounced ko-TAY-wee) means “fire” and possibly also “prairie”. This park is the site of archeological excavations of Native American settlements on the river, so it is fitting that a local art teacher and her students painted the White River Art Canoe with bright colors and images to honor the past and present of the area. Step into the Taylor Center of Natural History to learn more about the plants, creatures and peoples who have all called the banks of the White River home.

All of these artistic venues are part of 2024’s free Discover White River Rewards Pass, allowing you to get out, check in, and earn rewards just for visiting the parks and attractions along the river.