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Looking with New Eyes

Last night I took a group of students in my Cultural Heritage Tourism class on a walking tour of the Mass Avenue Cultural District in Indianapolis. It's an opportunity to get out of the classroom and explore. What do cultural heritage assets really look like? What does a cultural district feel like? How much is intentional or naturally occurring? We walked, we talked, we questioned, we completed worksheets that foster understanding of what we study through the course.

Each semester, I teach a course in Cultural Heritage Tourism at IUPUI. When I share this course with others, the response is usually, "That sounds interesting, what is it?" By now I have the definition down to an elevator speech. "Culture is contemporary, who we are together today. Heritage asks if we have any form of shared history, a past. Tourism, is the dimension that determines if our cultural heritage assets, tangible or intangible, have touristic value. (Does any traveler care enough to come and see it?)"

We started at the brand new Bottleworks Hotel, the site of the former Coca-Cola Bottling Company Plant. After we all gathered, a hotel bellhop took a group picture on the front steps as we had seen many other visitors do.

Up and down the Avenue we walked, searching for the cultural elements of the district. For example, restaurants, local, regional, national chains; businesses for residents and/or visitors; performing arts venues; public art installations; wayfinding tools; new or renovated housing; and repurposed historic structures. We discussed the role of the Indy Cultural Trail - A Legacy of Gene and Marilyn Glick in connecting cultural districts throughout downtown Indianapolis. We did go into one shop, Homespun: Modern Handmade, to peruse the collection of products for sale celebrating artists and artisans and their connection to us. I love this statement from its website, "Homespun: Modern Handmade cultivates relationships with makers who obsess about materials and invest time and care in the design and construction of their goods. We know them, their motivations, their aspirations." Lots of Indiana items inside. I'll be back for another visit.

Students were feverishly filling in blanks on the worksheet as we walked about, but my real goal was to get them to see with new eyes. To be mindful of one's place and our presence, we must be curious and notice more. This I recently heard in an interview with Ellen Langer, a long-time researcher on the importance and practice of mindfulness. As if to put a punctuation mark on the conversation, the developing sunset provided another lesson in being mindful and noticing. I stopped the group and got several pictures over a few minutes of the sunset. They joked that I might still be watching later into the evening, but the brief moments when the sunset or sunrise is just right is all about stopping and taking it in. Here's what we saw.

While it would have been more impressive on the prairie, I love the sun's rays. We walked back and then over to the The Garage Food Hall, another part of the Coca-Cola complex, now housing a collection of local restaurants and bars. Locals were gathered around tables playing trivia. Class was over and everyone went their own ways, back home or back to campus. I stayed around and grabbed dinner at Azúcar Morena, a Venezuelan eatery, serving " Arepas, a traditional Venezuelan breakfast, that provide a healthy and gluten-free option made with all-natural ingredients." I ordered the signature Reina Pepeada Arepa, made with shredded chicken, fresh avocado, housemade sauce, and greens. It was delicious and a great way to end an evening exploring cultural heritage tourism.

I enjoy sharing my love of wandering with students and this group is a wonderful collection of Hoosiers, Americans, and international students. If we can be more curious about the different places we visit, we can be more curious about the different people we encounter. And, in the end, relationships are all that matter. I am so glad to have shared this evening with my class and them with each other.


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