Ellen Quigley is the Vice President of Programs at the Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation

An interview with Jonathan Wright, The Ruth Lilly Deputy Director for Horticulture and Natural Resources, Newfields


Newfields, a place for nature and the arts, is a cultural campus that is home to The Indianapolis Museum of Art, the historic Lilly House, The Garden and The Virginia B. Fairbanks Art and Nature Park. In Fairbanks Park, guests can experience woodlands, meadows, and the shoreline of a 35-acre lake as well as site-responsive artworks, all on 100 acres.

The Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation has awarded grants to the Virginia B. Fairbanks Art And Nature Park at Newfields totaling $25 million since 2001. The park is named in honor of Richard M. Fairbanks’ second wife, Virginia, who was an avid gardener.

Jonathan, what motivated Newfields to create the Virginia B. Fairbanks Art and Nature Park experience?

As early as the 1990’s a dedicated group of Indianapolis Museum of Art supporters and board members began exploring options for an Art and Nature Park on the abandoned quarry site below the museum. This land located between the central canal and the White River has a long history. In the mid to late 1800’s it was cleared for agricultural purposes. When the Lilly family lived onsite, their view would have been across a vast grain field out to the banks of the river. In the 1960’s, the farmer sold the field to a construction company who quarried the site for gravel to construct the highways around the city.

Gifted to the museum after the highway construction was complete, the site was in poor condition and the old quarry pit was filled with water from the river to create the 35-acre lake we now enjoy. Transforming this abused property to a vibrant, public, green space for the community in the heart of Indianapolis became a priority for leadership and community members in the late 1990’s.  Momentum began to pick up in the early 2000’s when we were grateful to receive support from the Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation which enabled the opening of The Virginia B. Fairbanks Art and Nature Park in 2010.

Please share an example of how the Park is having an impact on Indianapolis families.

Fairbanks Park serves as an open door to our campus.  Through this lush, green space we are able to welcome the community 365 days a year. We have found that a more diverse audience visits Fairbanks Park compared to other parts of our campus. We have learned (and countless studies have proven) that access to high quality public green space is integral to a healthier, more active lifestyle, as well as an overall higher quality of life for residents.

Additionally, thousands of school children visit Fairbanks Park every year through organized programming.  On a recent park visit, nearly 300 students from area schools attended programs led by Newfields staff and Park guides. While taking in the natural beauty of the Park and up-close encounters with wildlife and plants, they also learned of the importance of pollinators and the vital role they play within our natural systems.

What are a few of the lessons learned since the Park opened in 2010?

  • People crave access to nature and the White River. We estimate approximately 125,000 guests visit Fairbanks Park annually, which translates to more than a million people over the first decade of the park.
  • The Park allows guests to truly experience a natural landscape in an urban setting and to witness wildlife, plants, natural systems and better understand their role in nature.
  • It is possible to restore balance to damaged sites. Our restoration efforts of this previously degraded site included removal of more than 30 acres of invasive species of plants from the park. We are beginning to achieve a native plant equilibrium in the restored areas throughout the park. Sightings of native pollinators, birds and other wildlife are more frequent than ever for our guests.

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