Carmel, IN


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Celebrating art is not merely a pastime in Carmel, Indiana, a town of 80,000 residents 13 miles north of downtown Indianapolis. Making and understanding art is a passion for residents, which may be one reason this idyllic community earned the top spot on CNN-Money’s 2012 list of the best places to live among America’s small cities.

Naturally, one of the best things to do in Carmel is attend the two-day Carmel International Arts Festival. This free arts party brings together the work of more than 100 artists in an eclectic mix of styles and media. The juried show features watercolor and oil paintings as well as photographs, sculptures, pottery and jewelry. Two festival stages also offer creative entertainment that runs the gamut from Egyptian belly dancing to Irish céilí dancing and Caribbean rock. Event attendance tops out at 30,000.

Visitors who miss the annual festival can head to the Carmel Arts & Design District in Old Town. Among the 100 businesses concentrated in this district—widely considered the top art-and-design destination in the Midwest—are art galleries, interior designers, antique stores and specialty shops. For budding artists, one of the most satisfying things to do in Carmel is to take a class in mosaics, figure drawing or painting, among other art forms.

Acting is also revered in creative Carmel. The Center for the Performing Arts, which officially opened in January 2011, spotlights a mix of local talent and some of the best performers in the world. The center’s three venues include the Palladium, a 1,600-seat concert hall; the Tarkington, a 500-seat proscenium-style theater; and the Studio Theater, a more intimate and flexible setting that allows for a variety of configurations. Performances range from live dramatic productions to music concerts, and from dance to stand-up comedy.

A rather quirky, must-see point of interest on any Carmel sightseeing jaunt is the Museum of Miniature Houses & Other Collections. Dollhouses are the mainstay of this eccentric display of miniatures established by three Indiana artists in 1993. A few of the exhibits are tiny antiques, including the 1861 dollhouse crafted by Englishman Thomas Russell for his niece. The level of detail in this house, which sports lace curtains, is a testament to the artist’s patience and skill.

On the made-to-order days of Indiana’s summer, bolder tourists often indulge in Carmel sightseeing from the basket of a hot-air balloon. The local Above and Beyond Balloon Company transports as many as six passengers on hour-long flights over the forests and fields of Hamilton County. Crew members encourage passengers to round out their experience and understanding of balloon flight by helping set up before takeoff.

A big draw for golfers visiting Carmel is the Prairie View Golf Club. Legendary links architect Robert Trent Jones, Jr., designed its course, which draws players from as far away as Chicago and St. Louis. The club also provides personalized instruction based on a 20-point analysis of a student’s swing—to some, another art form immortalized in Carmel.