Executive Director of the International Marketplace Coalition
A lifelong resident of Indianapolis, Mary Clark brings vibrancy and global dining options to Indy’s Lafayette Square neighborhood.
Mary Clark’s story is rooted in the crossroads of 38th Street and Lafayette Road—right in the heart of Indianapolis. From her first job at L.S. Ayres to her role as Founder of the International Marketplace Coalition, Mary has dedicated decades of her time and talent to giving back to her northwest neighborhood. But her impact goes far beyond Lafayette Square, as she uplifts the joy and culture of Indy’s international community.
During her time in retail, Mary Clark noticed a concerning change in the Lafayette Square neighborhood she knew and loved. Many of the big-box stores in the Lafayette Square Mall were leaving the area, moving to newer developments elsewhere in the city.
Mary was determined to support the community’s remaining retailers, so she partnered with State Representative Jeb Bardon to create the Lafayette Square Area Coalition. But their mission quickly evolved from preserving the past to embracing the future.
“We opened our eyes one day and realized the area was transforming right before us,” said Mary. “It was transforming from a traditional retail district to an amazing, culturally-rich, internationally-diverse district. So, we thought—why are we trying to save the old? Let’s embrace the new!”
In 2010, they rebranded as the International Marketplace Coalition—a nonprofit dedicated to transforming Lafayette Square into a vibrant and prosperous international community. A mixture of business, residential, and community leaders quickly joined the organization to help support the neighborhood’s transformation.
Thanks to their efforts, the State of Indiana named Lafayette Square an official Community Revitalization and Enhancement District. That recognition came with additional funding for public art, better sidewalks, and small mom-and-pop shops in the area. Practically overnight, Lafayette Square became a diverse hub of ethnic restaurants, where Hoosiers could experience cultures and flavors from around the world.
“We went from one block with a Red Lobster and an Olive Garden to waking up and having Peruvian, Cuban, Ethiopian and Mexican, Salvadorian and Greek and Japanese all within a block of each other,” said Mary. The 2 ½ mile area is now home to over 100 ethnic restaurants, 40 markets and well over 900 ethnic businesses. “This is what we should be working for. How can you not say, ‘Wow!’”
Now, Mary continues to lead the International Marketplace Coalition as they expand its operations with a new, global welcome center. The Global Village Welcome Center opened in 2021 with 46,000 square feet of space for local immigrants and ethnic groups to “celebrate, educate and explore other cultures.”
Home to an ever-growing collection of artifacts from Indiana’s international community, the Welcome Center also partners with cultural organizations throughout the state to host events like the Polish Immersive Exhibit, African Unity Fest, Caribbean Experience Concert and more.
While Mary’s career centered around one intersection, her impact has helped transform Indianapolis from the Crossroads of America to the crossroads of the world. In her own words: “Now, you can eat your way across the world [in Lafayette Square]—and you can learn about others while you’re doing it!”