(Re)Defining Spaces with Public Art

The movers and shakers of Foundation East are embarking on a new push to bring public art to the east side of Indianapolis on the eve of the first anniversary of the organization.
Started last year with a flurry of signal box artworks placed strategically around Irvington by a variety of artists, the founders of the organization, Aaron Story and Vishant Shah have been delighted by the public response the pieces have attracted. Recently, other areas of Indianapolis have started their own signal box art projects, including Fletcher Place and the downtown area. In October, Foundation East will present BoxaBanza, a public art and place-making project to be held on Indy Do Day October 2-4. BoxaBanza will focus on five neighborhoods within the near eastside and provide matching funding to provide full color vinyl wraps for up to 15 traffic signal boxes. Foundation East will coordinate with area artists, the Indianapolis Department of Public Works, and other community organizations to bring more public art into the community. The final neighborhoods chosen for this project haven’t yet been announced.
Defining the “space” of various neighborhoods, their borders and unique characteristics, is part of the purpose of public art. Another purpose to help redefine the neighborhood for others through images of the community’s past and present. On a more practical level, studies have suggested that public art in strategic locations can help reduce crime by letting criminals know that neighbors care about their community.
As an example of art defining a space, artist Rita Spalding has started repainting the signal box at the corner of Emerson and East Washington Street that was badly damaged by vandals in January. Spalding is creating a homage to Hoosier artist William Forsythe, who lived near the corner she is painting on. Shah said that the artwork is also tied into an upcoming art exhibit, and that the work will bring a taste of local history to the “gateway” to Irvington. Another signal box that was damaged at the corner of Ritter and East Washington Street will be painted by local artist Laura Hildreth.
Shah said that he was surprised at the outpouring of support he witnessed to the vandalism of local artworks this winter. People organized to clean and repaint the boxes, and to take action to prevent further damage. “Look at the good that can come from the bad,” he said.
Breaking new ground for public art, Shah said that the group is very excited about taking on a “street tattoo” project. A street tattoo is artwork directly on the pavement itself. Artist Pamela Bliss created a Red Lion design to commemorate the Irvington Cycle Club, which was organized before World War I and came to prominence during the Great Depression. The organization’s five member competition team, according to research by Irvington Historical Society Executive Director Steve Barnett, was called the Red Lion Racing Team, and earned the group recognition for competing in 100-mile rides (“centuries”). The group disbanded due to World War II.
The Red Lion street tattoos would be placed on East Washington Street at Emerson, then in the middle of Irvington just east of Audubon, and another at Kitley. The project is supported by the Irvington Development Organization, Irvington Historical Society, the Historic Irvington Community Council, Irvington Terrace Crime Watch and Indy Cycle Specialist. The group continues to fundraise for this, and their many other projects.
Shah also noted that there are many more public art opportunities coming up, including a “City Selfie” project that will help people visualize what they want the city to look like in the future. “We want the east side to be the center for public art here in Indianapolis.”
To mark their one year anniversary, Foundation East will be holding a birthday party, of sorts, at Geneva Hair Salon, 5541 E. Washington St., on Sept. 5 from 7:30-10:00 p.m. The party is free; Rita Spalding will be offering an art class for $25, and a signed limited edition canvas for $75. Tickets can be purchased online at Brown Paper Tickets.