Joanna Taft wants healthy, beautiful community

INDIANAPOLIS - On a typical day, you'll find Joanna Taft at the Harrison Center for the Arts doing what she does best: building her community.

Whether it's teaching her interns how to create an art show or helping artists expand their reach into the local arts scene, she's always looking to improve her neighborhood.

"I want a healthy neighborhood," Taft said. "I want beauty. I see brokenness around me and I know we could have something more."

Taft and her husband moved to the Herron-Morton neighborhood more than 20 years ago. She realized the neighborhood lacked a good school, so she was one of the founding families of the Oaks Academy.

"I mean, the fact she was a founding member of a school that was probably in the most blighted area of Indianapolis, that she was willing to be a pioneer over there and put her kids in that school and help start that school is definitely one way that I've seen Joanna give back," said Lynn House.

Years later, Taft became the founding board member of Herron High School, a charter school that started with 55 students and now boasts an enrollment of 745.

"Joanna truly is a visionary," said Janet H. McNeal, head of Herron High School. "She saw these empty buildings, she was completely dedicated to her neighborhood, and she really wanted something that would grow and thrive."

After working to get two schools up and running, Joanna turned to the arts. She is now executive director of the Harrison Center for the Arts, and has turned it into a neighborhood and city treasure.

If you ask the resident artists, they'll tell you it's the best studio in town.

"I am very, personally grateful to Joanna for making all of this possible," said artist Josh Rush. "This is a working model of what I think most all studios should be."

Clearly, Taft enjoys taking on a challenge.

"To be able to start an arts center here, something that our community needed and wanted, was really exciting," she said. "The hard part about this is: I didn't have any art background. So, I tell people I kind of like to start things I don't know anything about. It's a lot more interesting that way."

All three of Taft's children attended the schools she worked so hard to build. And, even though they've graduated, she continues to focus on building a brighter future for everyone she touches.

For all of her hard work and commitment to her community, Joanna Taft was named October's recipient of the Jefferson Award.

"I feel like I'm part of a team and I'm working with other people to accomplish these things," Taft said. "It's been amazing to have people come alongside of me and to want to partner and want to help, and I like doing things with others. It's pretty great."

Click here to nominate someone for a Jefferson Award.

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