Transformation of both the look and feel of one downtown Indianapolis neighborhood hinges partly on a collaboration of civic organizers, residents, educators, corporate and government leaders, and visionaries of all ages and walks of life.
Martha Henn came to Near West Indianapolis in July of 2015 when hired as convener for the River West Great Place, one of the city’s chosen areas for an intensive community development effort known as Great Places 2020. She immediately discovered, “This is a community that is really family centered and enthusiastic about long-overdue change.”
Part of that transformation from the urban grind décor will be the River West Multi-Generational Art Park, under development at 518 N. Pershing Avenue. Henn said it is envisioned to be a place where youth and the young at heart gather to observe and appreciate public art and engage in interactive activities that stimulate their minds.
The Art Park is an opportunity for people who have an understanding of life and recognition of the importance of art, creativity, and reflection to create a space for the public to benefit from a better grasp of both.
The space features a vibrant wall art on the adjacent building, native plantings, attractive lighting fixtures and furnishings that inspire conversations and social interaction. The mural was designed with input and inspiration from neighbors of all ages as a reflection of the community and its shared values.
While the mural is an eye-catching focus of the art park, it will include myriad elements such as:
- A pergola (flower or plant-covered archway) for shade and respite
- Variety of seating options
- Tables with built-in outdoor game boards for chess or checkers
- Paving stones that feature poems or quotes
- Hopscotch or 4 square courts
The native plantings and lighting will add to the aesthetic of the area. This park will serve as a gathering space, an environmental asset and a retreat for residents from the daily hustle and bustle of life in the city. “We want to bring people out of their homes to claim the street – make the street more pedestrian friendly, with music, theater, visual art, dance, poetry, games and other “people” activities to draw them out,” noted Henn.
The collective impact model focuses on building from the ground up, explains Henn who added that the Great Places 2020 LOVE Framework provides the template for operations. LOVE stands for Livability, Opportunity, Vitality and Education.
- Livability includes arts and culture, pedestrian and bicycle access, green spaces, public safety, health improvements and access to healthy foods.
- Opportunity is the business development aspect, including entrepreneurial develop, and helping individual achieve better wages through new local jobs and access to workforce development and training.
- Vitality is the housing piece – improving and rebuilding existing housing stock, and keeping current residents while also adding new neighbors through diversifying residential options.
- Education concerns span cradle to career – promoting lifetime learning with foci on early childhood programs, K-12, improved graduation rates, and strengthened adult education opportunities.
Emblematic of the collaborative spirit of Great Places 2020 is the commitment of the Indianapolis Arts Council’s Transformational Impact Fellowship, awarded to Bryan Fonseca of Phoenix Theatre, to bring live theatre and other forms of performance and visual arts to the community. In addition, an arts organization, Indy Convergence, has purchased property in the River West Great Space; they are redesigning their building to include a performance space. They’ll mount their own productions and invite shared use of the space, having invited a Haughville-based youth theatre troop, Messages Untold, to perform and conduct community outreach from their building at 2611 W. Michigan St.