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A Brief History of Indy’s Porching Phenomenon

April 19, 2023

What comes to mind when you hear the word Porching? Relaxing on rocking chairs? Is it sunny days spent with friends underneath the shade of a front porch? Even if one has never porched, the meaning can be easily surmised – porching is the act of gathering on porches with friends and neighbors to share food and drink in order to cultivate a sense of neighborhood community.

Porching may be a simple concept, but as a tradition, it has had a particular impact on Indianapolis. Take the Herron Morton neighborhood, whose neighborhood tagline is “Porching since 1875.” Although the concept of neighbors gathering around porches is anything but new, the term itself has taken off in the past two decades due, largely, to the work of the Harrison Center.

The Harrison Center has been spearheading yearly porching campaigns since 2014, when the nonprofit art gallery and studio center first encouraged urban residents to host their own “Porch Parties.” ??“We porch because we want neighbors to feel connected,” says Harrison Center director Joanna Taft. “When people are connected, they feel healthy. When people are connected within a neighborhood, the neighborhood feels healthy. When neighborhoods are connected to each other, the city feels healthy.” Taft herself began porching weekly with neighbors in 2007 and has continued that regular rhythm of coming together ever since.

In order to incentivize and encourage more moments spent porching and building community, the Harrison Center began a partnership with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Since 2016, the IMS has sponsored the Harrison Center-led campaign “Porch Party Indy,” and in the first year, more than 500 people signed up to host porch parties in over 52 Indiana counties to celebrate another Indianapolis tradition: the Indy 500.

Since then, a movement has emerged, and creative porch parties have taken place all over Indianapolis and beyond. During covid, diehards even invented “social distance porching.” The Indianapolis Motor Speedway continues to support porching in Indy, inviting residents to porch during the weekends leading up to the Indy 500: the world’s single largest sporting event. Porching, like the Indy 500, has quickly gained a reputation as a cultural fixture of Indianapolis.

Porching in particular has been a tool to promote neighborliness and, ideally, limit the effects of isolation that can come from modernization, like attached garages and privacy fences. With new construction and new residents, cultural erasure is also a genuine concern, and the stories of long-term neighbors can be overlooked. Porch parties can be an open invitation for neighbors, new and old, to connect and meet each other at the doorsteps of their own homes.

So, what are you waiting for? Host your own porch party this spring– the instructions are simple: pick a day and time, invite friends, family, and neighbors, prepare food and drinks, and connect– find common values and develop bonds. Don’t forget to wave at passersby—you never know when you’ll meet a new friend! Decorate your porch for the Indy 500, or you can choose to keep it simple, as there’s no wrong way to do it.

Porching is a continuous reminder that some traditions are worth keeping– especially if they help us know our neighbors and celebrate our city.

You can learn more about Porch Parties and the Indianapolis 500 at the special Kick-Off to May event on April 29 at the Indiana Historical Society.

Caleb John Smith is an Artist Fellow at the Harrison Center in Indianapolis.

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