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Rural Indiana organizations to partner with IU on public art and placemaking projects

Apr 12, 2024

This mural on the walls of Astra Alley in Jasper, Indiana, was painted as part of a ServeDesign team project in 2022 by Hannah Jones, an ... This mural on the walls of Astra Alley in Jasper, Indiana, was painted as part of a ServeDesign team project in 2022 by Hannah Jones, an IU Eskenazi School alumna and former quality of place intern at the Center for Rural Engagement. Photo courtesy of the Center for Rural Engagement

Thirteen rural Indiana organizations will work with Indiana University this summer to create new placemaking and public art elements in their communities through the Rural Placemaking Studio initiative.

A partnership between the IU ServeDesign Center at the Eskenazi School of Art, Architecture + Design and the Center for Rural Engagement, the Rural Placemaking Studio connects IU faculty and students with rural residents who seek to enhance their communities through art and design. The studio collaborates with communities to foster the development of vibrant, accessible public places that can be maintained and sustained for future generations. This can include the physical environment, like the design and aesthetics of buildings and public spaces, as well as the availability of amenities, cultural activities, recreational opportunities and a sense of community.

“Creative placemaking in a rural community is more than painting a mural,” said Jon Racek, program director of comprehensive design and director of the ServeDesign Center. “Placemaking can make a physical marker to a sense of shared memories and deep connection to a place. It is through placemaking that rural communities can cultivate their unique identity and turn their downtowns into vibrant hubs of cultural heritage and local pride.”

Selected community-identified projects include murals, wayfinding signage, architectural and park design, and downtown revitalization efforts. The Rural Placemaking Studio will support community feedback sessions, develop a scope of work and create designs the community will implement on a timeline that fits the project. Students studying comprehensive design, creative placemaking and community arts engagement will work with communities through the summer alongside Racek and the Center for Rural Engagement team.

The Rural Placemaking Studio builds on and expands a partnership between the Center for Rural Engagement and the Eskenazi School that installed studio art graduate students in four rural Indiana communities during the summers of 2019, 2021 and 2022. The Rural Artist Residency program placed 10 MFA students in Paoli, Huntingburg, Nashville and Salem over a six-week session each summer to create art and integrate themselves into each town’s artistic ecosystem. The artists exhibited their work for the community at the culmination of the residency.

In addition, numerous Eskenazi School faculty and students have worked through the ServeDesign Center with support from the Center for Rural Engagement to lead placemaking initiatives in numerous southern Indiana towns. With robust engagement from community members throughout the process, Eskenazi artists have completed murals and other downtown activation strategies in Huntingburg, Holland, Salem and Jasper.

This mural, at Heritage Park in downtown Salem, Indiana, was supported by the IU Center for Rural Engagement, ServeDesign Center and Regi... This mural, at Heritage Park in downtown Salem, Indiana, was supported by the IU Center for Rural Engagement, ServeDesign Center and Regional Opportunity Initiatives in 2021. Photo courtesy of the Center for Rural Engagement

“We’re thrilled to continue partnering with CRE and our Indiana communities to improve quality of life,” Eskenazi School Founding Dean Peg Faimon said. “Our students tell us that their experiences connecting in community have been an invaluable complement to the training they receive in the studio.

“The experience has allowed them to engage with Hoosiers — individuals, business owners and government officials — to identify needs and concerns, and formulate creative solutions. It’s a gratifying service opportunity and tangible demonstration of the use and value of an art and design education.”

The state of Indiana has identified quality of place as a key focus area for state and federal support through programs like the Regional Economic Acceleration and Development Initiative. Counties in the Indiana Uplands region, where IU Bloomington is located, have each completed a quality-of-place and workforce-attraction plan in collaboration with Regional Opportunity Initiatives. Creative placemaking promotes inclusive public spaces, cultivates a sense of belonging, preserves and enhances natural and cultural resources, and supports economic development.

“A strong quality of place is critical to the vitality of our rural communities and our entire state,” said Denny Spinner, interim executive director of the Center for Rural Engagement. “Through the Rural Placemaking Studio, communities can leverage the creative strengths of IU students and faculty to enhance their unique local assets, increasing hometown pride, and attracting new visitors and residents.”

2024 Rural Placemaking Studio projects include:

  • Black Vulture Project in Orange County, which is renovating the historic Tomato Products Co. building along the former Monon Railway in Paoli. It will also create architectural designs for public events space.
  • The City of Charlestown in Clark County, which will create a pocket park alongside Short Street that includes creative seating, lighting and art. The pocket park will be across the street from City Square, which hosts events and fairs throughout the year.
  • The Daviess County Economic Development Corp., which will create a photo-op station in front of the newly finished “Greetings from Washington” mural.
  • Discover Downtown Washington, which will map and design renderings of wayfinding signage to connect people to attractions throughout the cities and towns of Daviess County.
  • INergize Linton in Greene County, which will activate an alley to provide a walking path from First Street to Main Street. The goal is to connect the Linton Public Library and the Carnegie Heritage & Art Center to the downtown business district of Main Street.
  • The Martin County Alliance for Economic Development, which will design a splash pad along the riverfront and create cohesive signage and storefront branding for businesses. This will include innovative signage downtown to promote local business in Shoals, Indiana, as well as a welcome sign for the town of Crane.
  • The Pekin Community Betterment Organization in Washington County, which will design a mural on the exterior walls of the shelter house in a local park.
  • Spencer Pride in Owen County, which will create rooftop signage on its CommUnity Center building and a colorful mural on the building’s exterior.
  • Lynnville in Warrick County, which will create town branding and wayfinding sign designs, including “Welcome to Lynnville” gateway signs off I-64, State Road 68 and State Road 61, and wayfinding signs in downtown Lynnville and at trail heads.
  • Warrick Trails in Warrick County, which will conceptualize a design that will transform a parking lot on the corner of First Street and Main Street in Elberfeld, Indiana, into a pocket park.

Participating organizations were selected through a proposal process that included information about the project idea, implementation plans and partners involved. A future call for proposals is planned for winter 2025. The Center for Rural Engagement will launch a free, rural placemaking webinar series open to the public on May 31.

Planning sessions in participating communities will begin in May. A schedule of upcoming meetings and more information about the Rural Placemaking Studio is available on the Center for Rural Engagement website.


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