by Thomas P. Healy
The art of placemaking recognizes that any given location is much more than its GPS coordinates. According to Partnership for Public Spaces, a New York-based nonprofit organization, “A great public space cannot be measured by its physical attributes alone; it must also serve people as a vital community resource.”
Dependable public transit is one such vital resource. Thanks to a grant from Transportation for America (T4America), funded by the Kresge Foundation, the Red Line bus corridor will benefit from cultural and artistic projects by a group of local artists. According to T4America, the artists’ efforts are designed to “positively transform public transit spaces, build social capital, support local businesses, and highlight communities’ unique characteristics.”
A NEW CULTURE OF PUBLIC TRANSIT
In 2017, T4America, a Washington, D.C.-based transit advocacy alliance of business, elected officials, and civic leaders, added Indianapolis to its Cultural Corridor Consortium (3C), along with Los Angeles and Dothan, Alabama. Each city received a $50,000 creative placemaking grant to enhance their respective transit projects.
Transit Drives Indy (TDI), a coalition of local transit advocates for implementation of the Marion County Transit Plan, partnered with the Indy Chamber and the Arts Council of Indianapolis on the grant submission. Called 3C Indy, the partnership seeks to use the arts to help create a new culture of public transit in Indianapolis.
Ben Stone, T4America’s director of arts and culture, said it was a highly competitive grant. “We received 134 applications from 45 states.” What made this year’s selection of three cities attractive was the mix of large, medium, and small metro areas. “We thought it would be interesting to spread things around,” he said.
Stone added that T4America was familiar with Indy’s successful ballot initiative to provide ongoing funding for transit, and that met his organization’s aspiration to work with tangible projects. “We’re interested in supporting places where residents, citizens, and property owners are committed to supporting transit.”
“It’s a huge opportunity to bring together communities—that’s what transit corridors do,” said Lacey Everett, of TDI-member Metropolitan Indianapolis Board of Realtors (MIBOR). “Creative placemaking is necessary for the success of the Marion County Transit Plan going forward.”
ADVOCACY WITH ART
Everett and the TDI partners issued a call for artists last autumn. After evaluating all submissions, five artists were selected in January to engage with the community along the Red Line:
Additionally, w/purpose, the design studio of Wil D. Marquez, was selected as the Purple Line Artist in Residence.
Julia Moore, director of public art at the Arts Council of Indianapolis, said the selection of artists from a variety of disciplines was intentional. “We wanted to pick a bunch of artists who not only do projects on their own but also have people to collaborate with.” Some of those selected have a lot of experience with collaborative activities and some are newer to collaboration, Moore said. “This is one of the great things about this group of people. Developing potential synergies was one of the things we were thinking about.”
Asked about the inclusion of a theatrical group, she replied, “Interpreting community in a theatrical way is what Sapphire is all about. The idea of helping people to envision what could be is very much a theatrical type process. It’s not just working with something visual like a painting, but getting people to imagine themselves in another headspace, which is what acting is about.”
The terms of the grant require finalized projects by the end of July, which seems like a tight timeframe, but organizers are already on top it. “We’re hitting the ground running and holding weekly meetings,” Moore said. “The project actually goes until the end of the year, so things will be happening throughout the year, but something has to be produced and on the ground by the end of July.”
IT’S ALL ABOUT PLACE
While the Red Line construction plans already include placemaking elements like curbs, sidewalks, landscaping, lighting, and signage, the artists will have an opportunity to highlight other aspects of the entire 13.5-mile corridor. “People all up and down the line will see something but the nature of what they see might be different,” Moore said. “Needs and desires and character are different all along the line. We are looking at the unique cultures and communities that exist and the artists are thinking of things that are more targeted to those communities.”
“Our idea is that transit is all about place,” Moore added. “In transit, you get on somewhere and get off somewhere. People form identities in place and have an emotional attachment to place. We’re looking to reflect that through the arts.”
MIBOR’s Everett said that while TDI partners are aware of the short-term deadline, the goal is to continue the placemaking process throughout the implementation of the Marion County Transit Plan. “The reason we formed the Indy Cultural Corridor Consortium was to make it a long-term initiative,” she said. “This grant covers the start to it. It’s really important to get ahead during the process of construction. We want to keep the artists engaged so it’s something they take ownership in.”
Ben Stone said his organization recognizes that the deadline is rather fast. “For us, it’s about experimentation,” he said. “We don’t expect large-scale works of permanent art. Our funding is relatively modest so we hope it jump-starts the process and gets people excited.”