Exhibit showcases thriving neighborhood that gave way for the construction of IUPUI

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A house sits on West Vermont Street amid the parking lots on the IUPUI campus in the 1970s. University Library Ruth Lilly Special Collections & Archives

INDIANAPOLIS -- An exhibit about a thriving neighborhood that existed where IUPUI buildings now stand will open May 22, informing visitors about a community that gave way for the construction of an urban university campus.

The paneled exhibition is titled "Welcome to the Neighborhood! Recognizing those who were here before," said Sidney Moore, a museum studies graduate student at IUPUI who is developing the exhibit along with JamieLe West, also a graduate student in museum studies.

A campus-funded Welcoming Campus Initiative, the exhibit will be in the southwest corner of the first floor of the Science and Engineering Laboratory Building, 350 N. Blackford St.

"This project is designed to bring neighborhood history into the Science and Engineering Laboratory Building," said Simon Rhodes, a professor of biology and dean of the School of Science at IUPUI.

"Many students, faculty and staff who work here know very little about the amazing history of Blackford Street -- the street where this building sits -- and this part of the city," Rhodes said. A survey of students found that some students thought the Science and Engineering Laboratory Building had been built on a cornfield.

"We hope they will learn things and develop an awareness and respect for the history of the area," Rhodes said.

Moore and West worked with Thomas Ridley, a 95-year-old man who has lived nearly all of his life on the near-west side, as they developed the exhibit.

Ridley, who is a docent at the Madame Walker Theatre Center, said the neighborhood he grew up in, south of Indiana Avenue, has been cleared out completely.

"All of that has changed," he said. "The entertainment area of Indiana Avenue is gone. It used to be a very big thing. Now it's down to one or two buildings that are still operating."

He remembers when he was a child, living two blocks from where the Science and Engineering Laboratory Building now stands. "It was a very active street," he said. "There were a lot of people, and activities were going on all the time."

Despite the changes, Ridley said, he is for progress: "I am for things improving. If change is for improvement, I'm for that."

Moore said plans call for the exhibit to cover about 90 feet of wall space and showcase the neighborhood's history.

The exhibit will be devoted to stories of people who lived in the neighborhood as well as businesses, churches, homes and community life. Moore and West hope to develop an interactive map that will show how the neighborhood changed from 1908 through the present, including the transition to an IUPUI campus.

In spring 2017, the Museum Studies Exhibit Planning and Design class created and presented four exhibition proposals for the School of Science and School of Engineering and Technology about the history of Blackford Street.

"As a student in the course, I participated in creating one of the proposals," Moore said. "I was extremely excited and fortunate to be offered the chance to work with several exhibit content and design evaluators, mentors, archivists, a design intern, and a community advisor to learn more about the exhibit development, project management and installation process of an exhibit through my internship at IUPUI."

As the project manager and exhibit developer, Moore has worked on connecting with the community, researching content and developing the focus of the exhibition content for the panels.

"How do you fit over 130 years of history into about 90 feet of wall space? It is not easy," she said.

"I have been researching content and developing the label copy, as well as working with JamieLe, the design intern, on laying out the exhibit panels and researching and selecting images to be used." she said.

In addition to Ridley and Rhodes, Moore and West are working with others to develop the exhibit, including Paul Mullins, professor of anthropology in the School of Liberal Arts; Elee Wood, associate dean for student affairs, professor of museum studies and teacher education, and public scholar of museums, families and learning at The Children's Museum of Indianapolis; Modupe Labode, associate professor of history and museum studies; Greg Mobley, an archives specialist in University Library's Ruth Lilly Special Collection and Archives; Stephen Towne, University Library archivist; David Russomanno, dean of the School of Engineering and Technology; and Catherine Hamaker, exhibit developer at The Children's Museum of Indianapolis.

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Rich Schneider

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