Eskenazi School of Art, Architecture + Design faculty and a new graduate of the school’s architecture master’s program will share recent creative placemaking initiatives in rural Indiana at this week’s Indiana University Rural Conference in French Lick, Indiana. Assistant Professor of Architecture Daniel Martinez will helm the panel, also featuring Britt Brewer, academic specialist and community outreach coordinator; Jess Novitski (M. Arch, ’22); and Judy Johnson, executive director of the Washington County Community Foundation.
The placemaking panel will complement presentations by other IU researchers, community leaders, residents, and professionals on such topics as public health, environmental change, and food insecurity in rural Indiana at the two-day conference. The IU Center for Rural Engagement conference takes place May 12 and 13 at the French Lick Springs Resort and registration is available from the CRE website.
Offered Friday, May 13 at 2:15 p.m., "Creative Placemaking in Rural Communities” will spotlight initiatives in two small Indiana cities that have activated their public spaces, including Heritage Park in Salem and the 6th Street Arts Alley in Columbus. The projects were supported by Regional Opportunity Initiatives (ROI), the Eskenazi School’s ServeDesign Center, and CRE. In both locations, Eskenazi faculty worked with local organizations and residents to revitalize spaces so that they serve as gathering places and community points of pride.
Restoring connections, creating destinations
Using wall and ground murals, both the Columbus and Salem projects pivot on “the idea that public art is uniquely positioned to repair urban fabric,” according to the Columbus project page. In both locales, large works of public art serve to restore or create physical and figurative connections between adjacent landmarks and turn thoroughfares or disused urban spaces into destinations, fostering walkability, social interaction, and business activity. Resident priorities gleaned through public information sessions, newspaper reader polls, and stakeholder surveys informed the projects’ development.
The 6th Street Arts Alley in downtown Columbus uses an abstract multi-block street painting, several building façade murals, modular seating, and movable planters to create an unofficial arts plaza serving and connecting the cultural organizations situated around it, including the Columbus Area Arts Council, Landmark Columbus, and the Columbus Visitors Center.
Quilting a city together with art
Heritage Park in Salem carved a pocket park and pedestrian corridor out of a parking lot, providing a gathering place and inspiring exploration of the city. The design creates an art trail between Salem’s Central Square and the John Hay Center, a five-acre campus with a historical museum and period buildings owned and operated by the Washington County Historical Society. A street mural evoking a barn quilt pattern connects the landmarks. In addition to its regional appropriateness, the quilt reference provided conceptual underpinnings for the project. “We imagined the project as a way of creating a linear stitch in the town’s urban fabric,” said Martinez, the lead designer for both the Salem and Columbus projects.
Additionally, the Heritage Park project installed a deck with public seating along the corridor, offering the view of a newly commissioned mural on a nearby building. Painted by Rafel Blanco, the mural honors six women who played key roles in Salem’s history, including Salem native Sarah Parke Morrison, who was IU’s first female graduate and subsequently its female faculty member.
The art that refreshes
According to ROI, the community foundation’s board of directors considered Heritage Park such a success that they sought out other opportunities for placemaking through public art. At Friday’s panel, the presenters will discuss a subsequent project led by Assistant Professor of Architecture Jeeyea Kim at Lake Salinda, also in Washington County. As part of a community effort to promote the former drinking water source as a recreation spot, the Eskenazi School faculty member led her students in Z602, Architectural Design Studio V, in a semester-long project to design a waterfront art installation. As a student in Kim’s class, panelist Jess Novitski co-designed one of the sculptures selected for construction and installation by a jury of community members and Eskenazi faculty. Novitski also worked on the Heritage Park and 6th Street Arts Alley projects.
Representing Kim, who is unable to attend the conference, panelist Brewer will describe the Lake Salinda project and discuss his efforts on behalf of the ServeDesign Center to serve as a liaison between communities and designers.
“The placemaking panel discussion at the conference will highlight many of the exciting collaborations happening in Southern Indiana between the Center for Rural Engagement and the Eskenazi School,” said Martinez, who is also a faculty associate at CRE. “The work being featured has opened up an important gateway for students and faculty to engage with communities that don’t regularly have access to forward-thinking art and design. Most importantly, the work has provided critical opportunities to focus on the value of people and place in relation to the creative process.”