Like most large cities, Indianapolis has a sizeable number of annual festivals focused on the arts and culture, food, sports, religion, ethnic heritage, and seasonal events and celebrations. These festivals occur throughout the year, with a significant number dating back several decades.

Members of Nupoor performance group in 2015 during the eighth annual Asian Festival at the Indiana State Museum.
Credit: Jenna Watson, IndyStar

Cultural Festivals

Asian Fest

Hosted by the Asian American Alliance, Inc., Asian Fest has been an annual event in Indianapolis since 2007. The festival was created to celebrate the diverse Asian cultures of central Indiana. Each year a different Asian country is highlighted with cultural displays. A variety of Asian cultures are showcased through performances, Asian foods, and Asian community booths.

Feast of Lanterns

From the early 1900s to the 1940s, the neighborhoods surrounding Spades Park would hold a festival each year where the park and nearby homes would be decorated with colorful paper lanterns. In honor of this lost tradition, neighborhoods of the near eastside of Indianapolis established the Feast of Lanterns. The first festival was held in the early 2000s and continued annually, highlighting local neighborhoods and community organizations while also featuring live music; artisans and vendors; food trucks; and, of course, colorful lanterns. The festival was hosted by the Near Eastside Community Organization for a decade. The Lanterns Foundation, Inc. has since taken over hosting the festival.

Fiesta Indianapolis

Chinelos, a traditional costumed dancer in the Mexican state of Morelos, performs at FIESTA Indianapolis, 2015
Credit: Doug McSchooler, IndyStar

La Plaza, an organization serving the Latinx community in Indianapolis, has hosted FIESTA Indianapolis since 1981. FIESTA is held every year in September during Hispanic Heritage Month to celebrate the Latinx community in Indiana. The celebration includes music, dancing, food, children’s activities, a health and wellness fair, and community service booths.

GermanFest

Wiener dogs race during German Fest at the historic Athenaeum building, 2019
Credit: Michelle Pemberton/IndyStar, Indianapolis Star via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Indianapolis has a strong German heritage which is highlighted through the annual GermanFest at the Athenaeum. The festival was established in 2008 to raise funds for the maintenance and care of the Athenaeum as well as provide a chance for Indianapolis residents to learn more about German culture. In addition to tours of the Athenaeum, the festival features German music, German food and beer, vendors, a strong man competition, and the much-loved wiener dog race.

Indy GreekFest

Volunteers help make Gyro's, fries, and baklava during a gyro night at Holy Trinity Orthodox Church, 2019 Carmel Greekfest
Credit: Grace Hollars/IndyStar via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Holy Trinity parish was founded by Greek immigrants almost a century ago. Starting in the early 1970s, the parish began hosting Indy GreekFest, a festival aimed at celebrating and sharing their Hellenic heritage and Orthodox Christian faith. The festival grew to become an annual weekend-long event featuring Greek food, music and dance, as well as children’s activities and cathedral tours.

Indy International Festival

The Indy International Festival was established in 1976 by the International Center Of Indianapolis. In 1988, the Nationalities Council took over running the annual festival. The three-day event, which coincides with International Education Week, provides an educational experience for attendees and provides a platform for Indiana’s cultural groups to showcase their contributions to the state.

Over 50 countries are represented at the festival through exhibits highlighting language, art, native dress, and geography, authentic foods, music and dance by local and national performing groups, culture booths, artisan demonstrations, an International Market, and the Parade of Nations. In addition, the festival includes a Naturalization Ceremony that presents citizenship certificates to several hundred new U.S. citizens each year.

Indy Irish Fest

The first Indianapolis Irish Festival was held in 1995 to showcase Irish culture as well as the contributions Irish immigrants made to Indianapolis. The next year an official organization, Indianapolis Irish Festival, was formed to continue hosting the event annually. The festival preserves, promotes, and nurtures Irish heritage through Irish dance and music performances, an Irish market, food and drink, and other cultural activities like border collie herding demonstrations. A Catholic mass also features as part of the festival.

Irish Fest, 2018
Credit: Michelle Pemberton, IndyStar

Indy Irish Fest has made fundraising for community organizations a part of its program. By 2020, the festival has raised over $250,000. In addition, the festival began a cultural scholarship program in 2003 to encourage continuing studies in Irish dance, music, art, and history.

Indy Pride

Indy Pride was born out of multiple Indiana-based gay and lesbian organizations that had been around since the early 1980s. It was in the 1990s that these organizations came together to hold the first large LGBTQ public event, Celebration on the Circle. The event was held annually in various locations around the city, growing each year in popularity.

By 1995, Indy Pride Inc. was officially formed to manage the event. The Pride Parade was added in the mid-2000s and quickly became a beloved tradition, helping draw tens of thousands of attendees. Each year the Pride Parade grew and evolved. It changed names several times, first to Circle City IN Pride Festival, then the Cadillac Barbie Pride Parade to honor past Indy Pride president Gary Brackett. By 2020, the event was known as the Indy Pride Parade and featured booths, vendors, and performances along with the parade.

Italian Street Festival

The first Italian Street Festival was held in 1934. The event was created as a way to celebrate Italian heritage as well as attract membership and raise funds for the Holy Rosary parish. Between the need to raise funds for the parish and a renewed interest in ethnic heritage by Indianapolis residents, the festival was brought back in 1984. The festival has since become an annual June event featuring over 25 food stands with Italian meats, pasta, salads, and desserts as well as performances and a carnival.

Italian Festival, 2015
Credit: Liz Biro, IndyStar

Spirit & Place Festival

The Spirit & Place Festival came out of the Polis Center’s Project on Religion and Urban Culture. The first festival was held in 1996 as a multi-day event, bringing together arts, cultural, and faith-based organizations. Each fall, the festival features multiple community-created events that all focus on a central theme, many of which continue throughout the year. Through exhibits, performances, workshops, and more, festival contributors aim to provide thought-provoking events that addressed difficult dialogues.

Film & Theatre Festivals

Heartland International Film Festival

Heartland Film Festival at Toby Theatre, 2015
Credit: Michelle Pemberton, IndyStar

The Heartland International Film Festival was introduced in 1991 as a way to support filmmakers from around the world and bring their work to the Midwest. The festival started as a three-day event but has since grown into an eleven-day experience held every October. Viewers can choose from over 200 independent films, including the winners from the Indy Shorts International Film Festival held in July. The festival also includes the Truly Moving Picture Award as well as cash prizes.

Indy Film Fest

The Indy Film Fest, originally named the Indianapolis International Film Festival, was founded in 2004. The festival began as a three-day event featuring films from around the world that provide challenging and new perspectives. It has since grown into a ten-day festival held every spring which features over 100 films in various genres. The films are presented in the theaters at Newfields where they compete for awards and cash prizes. In addition to the film screenings, the festival also includes after-parties, panel discussions, and previews of upcoming new films.

IndyFringe Theatre Festival

The first Indianapolis Theatre Fringe Festival, otherwise known as Indyfringe, was held in August 2005 thanks to funding presented by the Central Indiana Community Foundation. The 10-day festival was conceived to showcase both theatre and various performance arts from local, national, and international groups. Performances of 64 groups are presented at various venues in the Massachusetts Avenue Arts and Cultural District.

Food Festivals

St. Thomas Aquinas Sausagefest

St. Thomas Aquinas, the Catholic parish and school, have held their annual Sausagefest since 2004. The parish holds the two-day event every August to celebrate summer while bringing together the community. The festival features music, sausages as well as other foods and beverages from local vendors, a wine garden, kid’s activities, and a teen hangout space.

Volunteer Marquisha Bridgeman puts strawberries on a shortcake during the 55th annual Strawberry Festival, 2021
Credit: Christine Tannous/IndyStar via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Strawberry Festival

Every year since 1965, the Cathedral Women of Christ Church Cathedral have organized and held the Strawberry Festival. The festival was the idea of parishioner Pat Harding to have some fun while also fundraising. The women sold 100 homemade strawberry shortcakes during that first festival, selling out in just two hours.

The one-day event is held each year on the second Thursday of June where the Cathedral Women and their volunteers serve thousands (nearly 20,000 in 2018) of shortcakes with strawberries and ice cream. The funds that the Cathedral Women raise from the event are put into biannual grants that go to local and international not-for-profit charities.

Taste of Indy

Taste of Indy held its first food festival in 2012 where it highlighted Indianapolis’s culinary scene featuring nine Indianapolis area restaurants. The festival has since grown to feature between 30 and 40 local restaurants, food trucks, sweets shops, and caterers. Held on Monument Circle, this annual summer event also provides a beer and wine garden, chef demonstrations, live music, artists’ works, and other special events.

Music Festivals

Amerikkken performing at the fifth annual Chreece hip-hop festival, 2019
Credit: Robert Scheer, IndyStar

Chreece

Chreece, a combination of “cheers” and “peace,” was founded in 2015 by Oreo Jones, local hip-hop artist. This single-day festival was created to bring together and celebrate hip-hop artists from Indiana and the Midwest. The first festival proved successful with over 1,500 people attending. With this success, the event became annual, growing larger each year. In addition to the festival, Chreece Presents was formed in partnership with Live Nation to strengthen and promote the Midwest hip-hop scene year-round.

Eagle Creek Folk Music Festival

The Central Indiana Folk Music and Mountain Dulcimer Society began in 1971 with the mission to promote and support traditional American music. As part of this mission, the society organized a free two-day folk music festival held on the grounds of Eagle Creek Park. The Eagle Creek Folk Music Festival has since become an annual event held every June featuring music performances, workshops, jam sessions, and a singer-songwriter contest. In addition, there are art, craft, and instrument vendors as well as an instrument “petting zoo,” where festivalgoers can try out different instruments. The society celebrated its 45th festival in 2019.

Early Music Festival

Indianapolis Early Music, formerly Festival Music Society, was established in 1966 to promote early classical music through educational opportunities as well as performances. A year after its creation, the organization held its first festival, the Early Music Festival. The festival featured six concerts performed over the course of one month. It has since become an annual event held each summer that features vocal and instrumental music as well as dance performances from both national and international artists.

Indy Jazz Fest

Indy Jazz Fest was first held in June 1999 to celebrate the strong jazz legacy of Indianapolis. Presented by the Indianapolis Jazz Foundation, this 10-day, city-wide cultural event has featured performances from local, national, and international musicians. Musicians perform at venues throughout Indianapolis including places like Jazz Kitchen, Phoenix Theatre, and Central Library. In addition to performances, the festival includes classes, panel discussions, and other events.

Seasonal Festivals

Historic Irvington Halloween Festival

Witches from the Irvington Black Hat Society dance during the 2016 Historic Irvington Halloween Festival. Historic Irvington Halloween Festival
Credit: Jenna Watson/IndyStar, Indianapolis Star via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Irvington held its first Halloween festival on October 31, 1927, celebrating the holiday with a costume parade and contest, decorated streets and storefronts, and a street dance. Recognizing the festival’s success, the Irvington Commercial & Welfare Association that hosted it decided to bring it back the next year. By the 1930s, the festival stopped being held and was not revived again until 1946 when the Irvington Businessmen’s Association brought it back.

Through the 1950s, the Halloween festival grew into a multi-day event and added new features such as the talent show, music festival, and poster contest. Through the 1960s, however, the festival shrunk, being confined to a single day of activities. It was renewed once more in the 1970s, revived through the cooperation of multiple Irvington community organizations.

The Irvington Community Council took over the responsibility for the festival in 1974. It has since continued to grow, including a week of various events and activities (performances, movies, contests, a masquerade ball, and more) that culminates into a street fair with vendors, live music, and a costume parade.

Indy LaborFest

Born out of Indianapolis’s Labor Day parade and festivities, the Indy LaborFest was established in 2012 by the Central Indiana AFL-CIO. The free street festival provides both entertainment and education on various trades. Live music, food, and beverages, family-friendly activities span three blocks in downtown Indianapolis. In addition, Indiana tradespeople run booths where attendees can learn about different careers and watch demonstrations. In 2019, the Indy LaborFest Cornhole Tournament was added to the festivities.

St. Christopher Mid-Summer Festival

The St. Christopher Mid-Summer Festival is one of the oldest festivals in Indiana. The festival was founded in 1937 and has been held annually since. Thousands of people attend the three-day event year, partaking in free music, the many food and beer options, a carnival, a raffle, and the Festival Casino.

Sports Festivals

Isis Winston, right, and 500 Festival Princess, Krisen Layman pose for a photo on Monument Circle during the 500 Festival Kids' Day, 2019 011 Finalsforprint
Credit: Michelle Pemberton/IndyStar

500 Festival

The 500 Festival was created in 1957 as a month of programs and events to celebrate the Indianapolis 500-Mile Race. It has since become one of the largest festivals in the United States with many community events including youth programs, college programs, a golf tournament, the Aes Indiana 500 Festival Parade, and the One America Mini-Marathon. The 500 Festival not only provides the city with entertainment but has had a greater impact on the city through the jobs it has created and the amount of money it has brought into the city.

Circle City Classic

The first Circle City Classic was held in Indianapolis at the Hoosier Dome in 1984 and has since become an annual tradition. The event was created by Charles Williams, the president of the Indiana Black Expo with the goal of bringing two football teams from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) to play in the Midwest.

The weekend-long Circle City Classic features many events such as the Circle City Classic NCAA Coaches Luncheon, the Circle City Classic Parade, a pep rally, musical performances, an education day, and of course, the football game. In addition to all the activities associated with the classic, it also provides educational opportunities encouraging Black youths to attend college as well as millions of dollars in college scholarships.

Indy Criterium Bicycle Festival

The Indy Criterium Bicycle Festival was founded in 2010 by Jennifer Cvar and Wayde Klein. The event was created to showcase bicycling as well as health and fitness. The festival is structured around three components: free rides around Indianapolis for recreational cyclists, a full day of racing for competitive cyclists, and an all-ages festival. It brings thousands of people to downtown Indianapolis every year and has generated nearly $200,000 that was donated to local not-for-profits.

Revised July 2021
 

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