District Theatre plans to bolster Black talent and creativity in Indy

The District Theatre has been awarded a three-year $350,000 grant from Andrew W. Mellon Foundation that will help create a professional training and development hub for Black theater artists and technicians: and support the production of six plays by Black Indiana playwrights, themed around Indianapolis’ historic Indiana Avenue.

The District Theatre’s mission is to enrich and strengthen our community by presenting, supporting, and amplifying the voices of performing artists, particularly those who represent the diversity of the human experience.

“This is a watershed moment. The Mellon Foundation’s support will allow us to execute our mission like never before and it moves us one step closer to our goal of incubating the first professional resident Black theatre company in Indianapolis that all Black theatre professionals can call home.”  —Patrick Jessee, theatre board chair

The concept for programming focused on Black theater professionals followed convenings with Indianapolis Black theater founders and artists. Participants spoke frankly about the dearth of local theater opportunities and professional training and development. District Theatre programming for Black theater professionals will amplify the voices, talents and offerings of Black-led troupes, such as Asante Institute, Freetown Village, Africana Repertory Theatre IUPUI and Indiana Performing Arts Theatre and more. The Theatre aims to hire a Director of Professional Training and Development in 2023 to teach;, oversee the training program, lead collaborations and relationships and engage teachers from the local community and across the country to contribute to the training program.

The program will support Black theater professionals by:

  • Providing pathways by commissioning new work
  • Providing sustainability for mid-career and beyond by providing financial incentives and opportunities
  • Preventing burnout for smaller theatre companies employing mostly all Black practitioners by providing resources, and a pool of trained actors and technical support
  • Providing an opportunity to build skills and pathways to employment in stage management and production roles, through specific training and/or a mentoring program
  • Opening up partnerships with local colleges and high schools Celebrating and acknowledging the achievements of emerging artists, trailblazers and leading lights at all stages of career development

In 2017, CICF took the lead in reviving the former home of Theatre on the Square in the middle of the thriving Massachusetts Cultural and Theatre District adjacent to downtown Indianapolis. CICF created a new not-for-profit and assumed ownership of the building—in a bid to preserve arts and culture in one of Indianapolis’ most important cultural districts. In 2018, The newly named District Theatre opened and has offered a steady diet of diverse creative offerings, including recently, a one-man performance following the legendary Black activist and performer Paul Robeson; “ENIGMA an exploration of gender through dance”, and a musical performance of the GenX classic “Heathers.”

“To truly thrive, creative communities must include art that reflects the full richness of the human experience,” says Brian Payne, president and CEO of CICF and president of The Indianapolis Foundation. “This grant from the Mellon Foundation will help The District Theatre contribute to an exciting, robust and thriving theater community in Indianapolis.”


The District Theatre, a supporting organization of Central Indiana Community Foundation, has a mission to enrich and strengthen our community by presenting, supporting, and amplifying the voices of performing artists, particularly those who represent the diversity of the human experience.  The District Theatre believes in the power of expressive performance to educate and foster shared appreciation for the experiences and the humanity of all people; the importance of supporting and nurturing artists who are finding and refining their voices, particularly those exploring the experiences of diverse and under-represented communities; and that vibrant and welcoming performing arts venues are essential to thriving communities.

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