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Statue honoring Nobel Prize winner Elinor Ostrom to be dedicated on Bloomington campus

Nov 10, 2020

Elinor Ostrom is once again about to make history.

A statue honoring the late Nobel Prize-winning distinguished professor will be unveiled during a dedication ceremony Nov. 12 behind Woodburn Hall. It will be the first statue of a woman on the IU Bloomington campus.

A sketch of the Elinor Ostrom statue
A sketch of the Elinor Ostrom statue was displayed during the dedication of a historical marker in her honor at a ceremony on Oct. 7, 2019.Photo by Chris Meyer, Indiana University

Ostrom is known worldwide for another first: being the first woman to receive the Nobel Prize in economics. She was a pioneering social scientist and one of the world’s preeminent scholars on the management of common pool resources, and she spent years working and teaching on the IU Bloomington campus. She and her husband, Vincent, founded what is now known as the Ostrom Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis, a multidisciplinary research hub focused on how local, national and global governance processes can be designed to enhance human well-being, while also promoting democratic principles and sustainable resource management.

IU commissioned a statue of Ostrom as part of its Bicentennial Bridging the Visibility Gap project, which aims to tell the unknown or underappreciated stories of women and underrepresented minorities who’ve helped build and strengthen the university. The statue will join a historical marker that was placed outside Woodburn Hall in October 2019. The area will be dedicated as the Ostrom Commons.

“One of the main objectives of the IU Bicentennial Bridging the Visibility Gap project was to diversify our historical storytelling and to diversify the physical landscape of individuals recognized on IU campuses,” said Kelly Kish, director of the Office of the Bicentennial and deputy chief of staff for IU President Michael A. McRobbie. “It is entirely fitting that the first statue of a woman on the Bloomington campus honors pioneering scholar Elinor Ostrom. Her presence in the newly named Ostrom Commons will serve as a visible inspiration for students, faculty, staff and visitors to this beautiful part of campus.”

Lauren MacLean, the Arthur F. Bentley Chair of Political Science at IU Bloomington, said the department has been celebrating Ostrom’s impact by bringing several of her female students back to campus over the past year. She hopes the placement of the statue – behind Woodburn Hall, in a central part of campus – introduces more people to Ostrom’s legacy and sparks conversations among students.

A hand sculpted from clay
IU alumnus Michael McAuley spent months sculpting the statue out of clay before it was cast in bronze.Photo courtesy of Michael McAuley

“Even before the Nobel, everyone knew Elinor Ostrom and her work,” MacLean said. “She was very warm in her interactions with students and really seemed to think about her students and colleagues as an extended family. But I never thought about what it was like to be a female scholar in her shoes until she got the Nobel. I think this statue is a really great start to thinking about this space on campus and being more inclusive in terms of who we recognize.”

IU alumnus Michael McAuley, who also created the Hoagy Carmichael Landmark Sculpture, spent nine months working on the Ostrom sculpture, which is cast in bronze. He researched Ostrom and studied photos and interviews of her to ensure the finished work reflects not just her likeness but her infectious personality.

“As I set out to convey her life and character visually, it became quite evident that what consumed her was a zest for life reflected in her research, her teaching and her students,” McAuley said. “For generations to come, I desire all to see her as she was in real life.”

The statue and Ostrom Commons will be dedicated during a ceremony behind Woodburn Hall at 1:30 p.m. Nov. 12. There is limited space for an in-person audience, but people can also attend virtually.


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Barbara Brosher

Executive Director of Storytelling and Research Communications, and Interim Associate Vice President for Strategic Communications

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