Historically, public art was meant to educate and inform citizens in political, religious or community matters, as well as depicting important events. Today, art in public spaces is symbolic of a community’s unique culture and the collaborative effort between cities, local and national artists, and the public. Public art not only provides aesthetic value to a location, it fosters creativity, it tells stories, and evokes community pride. It also honors those who have made great strides in making our communities and the world a better place and inspires the pioneers of the future. With so many choices of mediums available today, public art can be interactive, thought provoking and can sometimes be controversial.
In recent years public art has become an essential part of city planning. Whether public art is made to enhance a growing city or help revive a declining neighborhood, it has become increasing important across the US.
The creation of trails has also become an important part of infrastructure planning. More than ever, people are considering alternative modes of transportation for many reasons. Walking and bicycling are quickly becoming a popular non-polluting alternative for commuting and recreation. Therefore, public art should play a role in the development of trails as it might with the planning of traditional transportation systems. In fact, several trail organizations throughout Indiana have implemented public art installations along their trails.
The B-Line Trail in Bloomington, IN features several public art installations which include “Bloomington Banquet” by Dale Enochs, which is a limestone sculpture of a giant table and chair with intricate carvings accessorized with table setting pieces made of steel, stainless steel and anodized aluminum. A great example of public art connecting with community is a bright, whimsical collection
called “Animal Island” made of new and recycled steel created by Joe LaMantia & Stone Belt. Stone Belt is a non-profit organization that provides education and support to persons with disabilities. Through their art program they bring their clients together with local artists so they may realize their own talents while connecting with the community. These quirky animals topped with weather vanes associate them with the fish at the top of the Bloomington court house to represent the ongoing relationship between the city and Stone Belt. Other works of art include “Dancing Spirit” by Mark Wallis, an abstract sculpture depicting Musician Evan Farrell holding his guitar. “Figured Base” by Mike VanVooren, a self taught artist, and a community pixel mural of a butterfly made from over 3500 wine corks.
One of the largest public art collections along a trail is on the Indianapolis Cultural Trail: A Legacy of Gene & Marilyn Glick. One of the first installations is a four panel LED motion image of a female called “Ann Dancing” by international artist, Julian Opie. “Care, Don’t Care”, by local artist Jamie Pawlue, is a model of a pedestrian signal that indicates “Care” or “Don’t Care instead of “Walk’ or Don’t Walk”. Soon to be completed is a “must see” installation titled “Swarm Street” by Vito Acconci. Tiny LED lights flicker and fly around anyone passing through like hundreds of fireflies. Most recently, it was announced that ArtPlace, awarded the trail $250,000 for “Swarm Street” which is the first public art project to receive such funding. Located at the Virginia Ave. parking garage tunnel, “Swarm Street” is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2011. Perhaps the most notable and inspiring work on the trail is the “Glick Peace Walk”.
Stunning sculpture gardens along Walnut Street that commemorates the life’s work of twelve extraordinary individuals who devoted their lives to the greater good. Susan B. Anthony, Albert Einstein, and Booker T. Washington, just to name a few, will live on through those who are inspired by them.
The Monon Trail, one of the nation’s busiest urban greenways, has a splendid exhibition, known as the “Urban Art Wall Project” themed “Discovering Nature in Indianapolis”. Forty murals painted on the back of a storage facility just south of Broad Ripple spans between 52nd and 54th Sts. These stunning murals can only be seen from the Monon. Many other works of art can also be found along the Monon. You may even catch a glimpse of some functional art, such as benches, fountains, recycling containers, etc. that have been designed to compliment the surrounding area. Information and way-finding signs are also a great resource for public art. Many rail trail signs are reminiscent of the original rail road logos which most have a distinct nuvo or art deco flare. Although every style of public art may not be for everyone, from the massive in-your-face works to the more subtle but creative pieces, public art can enrich the lives of many.
By Norma Jean Snyder