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Herron student’s ‘Blue Skies’ art installation ready to soar at Indy airport

Nov 6, 2023

Herron School of Art & Design student Brenna McCarty's Blue Skies is the first sculpture to be installed permanen... Herron School of Art & Design student Brenna McCarty's "Blue Skies" is the first sculpture to be installed permanently at the Indianapolis International Airport since the new terminal opened in 2008. Photo by Ethan Gill, Indiana University

For Brenna McCarty, her soon-to-be displayed sculpture at the Indianapolis International Airport signifies a legacy — and her personal “thank you” to the city.

“I’m so grateful to be chosen to create this piece,” said McCarty, an IU Herron School of Art & Design student in Indianapolis. “I hope it will represent a ‘sending off’ and a ‘returning home.’ I hope this brings a moment of groundedness and peace and exudes a beautiful energy for people as they look up — almost a breath of fresh air.”

The piece will be made up of more than 200 hanging blue spheres, set at varying lengths and hues of blue, to symbolize unity, connection ... The piece will be made up of more than 200 hanging blue spheres, set at varying lengths and hues of blue, to symbolize unity, connection and a global feel. Photo by Brenna McCarty

Her piece, “Blue Skies,” is the first sculpture to be installed permanently at the airport since the new terminal opened in 2008. The piece will be made up of more than 200 hanging blue spheres, set at varying lengths and hues of blue, to symbolize unity, connection and a global feel. The spheres will be a lighter hue the farther out they are from the middle. “Blue Skies” will be installed near the escalator as travelers head down to baggage claim and will be installed officially at the end of the year.

In collaborating with Indianapolis’ The International Center, which funded the project through a grant from the Brooks and Joan Fortune Family Foundation to celebrate The Center’s 50th anniversary, McCarty said she aimed to infuse her art with shared principles of equity and inclusion.

“I was able to bring a lot of my values to the table with this partnership,” McCarty said. “Connection and equity are important to me, and I held on to that and started making ‘Blue Skies’ from that place.

“Coming from a lineage of beautiful intersectionality, legacy is also important to me. I have the opportunity to create beauty, peace, and meaning because of my ancestors. To create art that represents that is an honor.”

‘Blue Skies’: The process

A committee of representatives from The International Center, Indianapolis Airport Authority, Indy Arts Council and the community selected McCarty’s piece from a number of proposals put forward from Herron sculpture students in an intermediate and advanced sculpture class.

Herron student Brenna McCarty and Herron School Dean Greg Hull watch as one of the first spheres for the 'Blue Skies' art i... Herron student Brenna McCarty and Herron School Dean Greg Hull watch as one of the first spheres for the ‘Blue Skies' art installation dries. Photo by Teresa Mackin, Indiana University

Greg Hull, dean of the Herron School, said the project took students outside the classroom for a real-life learning experience as they visited the airport.

“Every student involved stays connected throughout the project, gaining unique professional insight that’s hard to find beyond academia,” Hull said.

Since it was established in 1902, the Herron School has left footprints across central Indiana — with art from students, faculty and alumni featured in studios, restaurants, outdoor community spaces and beyond, Hull said. In fact, his own sculpture greets people at the airport as they park. McCarty’s will add another permanent reminder of Herron’s impact.

“It’s exciting that a sculpture crafted by one of our students is visible in the terminal, continuing to welcome people to the city and playing a role of advancing contemporary art within our urban landscape, while also connecting with the rich history of art in both the city and the state,” Hull said.

The art installation is one of five community projects across the city celebrating The International Center’s 50th anniversary. Center President and CEO Martin Baier said the hope is that this piece will “serve as a reminder of The Center’s commitment to continue embracing diversity and elevating Indiana on the global stage.”

The road to ‘Blue Skies’

From a young age, McCarty said, she had a passion for creative expression and humanitarian work. Graduating from high school a year early in 2015, she embarked on what she calls a transformative five-year adventure in locations across the world like Australia, Madagascar and the Philippines.

Brenna McCarty works on the hue of one of the spheres that will be a part of her art installation. Photo by Teresa Mackin, Indi... Brenna McCarty works on the hue of one of the spheres that will be a part of her art installation. Photo by Teresa Mackin, Indiana University

“Humanitarian work and nonprofit work have a deep place in my heart,” she said.

Amid these philanthropic pursuits, she cultivated her talent for graphic design, laying the groundwork for her future in the art world.

After her time traveling, McCarty enrolled in the Herron School in Indianapolis, initially exploring visual communications design but landing on sculpture and printmaking. She said Herron’s Integrative Studio Practice program allowed her creativity to blossom, prompting her to seek art that conveyed meaning beyond mere aesthetics.

“When I go to the airport, I’m so inspired by the architecture,” she said. “With ‘Blue Skies,’ I want to further that inspiration, the beauty that the airport’s design holds, and speak to connection and unity. It is my hope that this installation creates a sense of calm in the space. That feeling of returning home and peace is the visual story I want to share.”

She said that using blue as the dominant hue carries deep symbolism, representing trust, wisdom and sincerity across cultures.

“Those qualities are needed in this world,” she said.

Reflections, resilience and creative trust

As “Blue Skies” nears its completion, McCarty reflected on the challenges she faced during the project. She said that balancing academic commitments, project deadlines and imposter syndrome tested her resilience. However, she trusted her intuition and found the courage to assert her creative decisions.

“I am still an artist when I choose to rest,” McCarty said, countering the prevailing notion of constant productivity.

She said the journey of creating “Blue Skies” has unfolded with reflection and patience, a testament to her trust in the organic growth of art. As she approaches the transition from one chapter to the next — upon graduation in December, she is moving from Indianapolis to Boston — this principle resonates within her work, encapsulating the core of her artistic essence.

McCarty said she hopes her work brings serenity and touches the lives of travelers, even in fleeting moments. As her family’s legacy intertwines with her artistic journey, “Blue Skies” becomes a bridge connecting experiences, appreciation and the wider world — a testament to the enduring power of creativity.

“This airport project is like a sendoff for me. And it also creates a place to return home,” she said. “To other students, I’d give this advice: Trust your intuition and trust your gut, because my intuition eventually led me to this moment.”

Author

University Communications and Marketing

Nisha Lalria

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