FORWARD: Issue #2: Transportation

Respecting the Local

Big Car Collaborative, a collective of artists, engaged community members through events and pop-ups to learn more about Big Car’s neighbors’ concerns and thoughts about the BRT service. Video by Big Car / flickr / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Artists can help build bridges between transit systems, riders, and neighbors

Streets, bridges, train tracks, tunnels, and sidewalks all exist to facilitate connections between places. Decisions about transportation infrastructure, including the location of stops, types of transit, road width, and pedestrian facilities, are most often made with the needs of those passing through in mind. However, every piece of transportation infrastructure exists in a community, whose residents may have a different set of needs than those who are merely traversing the area. At the same time, community members increasingly worry that transportation improvements will bring new, different people to their neighborhoods and contribute to gentrification or the displacement of long-term residents.

Transportation professionals have partnered with artists to remedy these conflicts. Artists have played a key role in helping to make neighbors aware of new transit options and then convince them to use these opportunities. Simultaneously, artists have celebrated the communities through which transit runs, thereby helping riders understand the culture of the communities they’re passing through. By building feelings of local ownership of transit, artists have helped build bridges between transit systems, riders, and neighbors.

IndyGo Red Line Bus Rapid Transit

To help the city’s first Bus Rapid Transit route succeed, artist interventions created a culture of public transportation, educating the public about the service

Location: Indianapolis, IN

Like many mid-sized American cities, Indianapolis has long struggled with an inadequate transit system that poorly supports businesses and poorly serves riders, who must wait an average of one hour for buses to arrive. Indianapolis’ sprawl across central Indiana (Indianapolis is larger in area than New York City, but its population is just 10 percent of New York’s) isn’t especially conducive to transit, though the situation has begun to drastically improve. In 2016, Indianapolis voters approved a tax increase to support transit, the first-ever ballot referendum for public transportation in Indiana, thereby starting the process of creating three Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) lines in the city.

Led by the Arts Council of Indianapolis and Transit Drives Indy, a coalition of nonprofits and public agencies partnered with a team of artists to support the launch of the Red Line, Indy’s first BRT route, and to ensure that all Indy residents benefit from the recent investment in transit. The team recognized that Indy’s first BRT route would only succeed if Indy’s residents chose to ride the new service, especially given requirements to meet a portion of the service’s budget through the fare box. Artistic interventions therefore focused on creating a new culture of public transportation, and educating the public about the Red Line’s route, construction progress, and the sorts of things the BRT service will help people to access.

The following artists produced artistic interventions for the Red Line’s launch.

1.

Community members at a Red Line screening event presented by the Big Car artist collective. Photo by Big Car / flickr / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Ready for the Red Line, Big Car Collaborative Big Car is a collective of artists who use art as a democratic tool for nurturing a more vibrant city and boosting quality of life for every person. They “bring art to people and people to art, sparking creativity in lives to support communities.”

Big Car engaged community members through events including a Red Line Movie Night, Red Line Craft Fair, and Red Line Block Party, to learn more about Big Car’s neighbors’ concerns and thoughts about the BRT service. This information was then used to produce three wayfinding kiosks on the south side of Indy to “highlight destinations, like schools, pharmacies, recreation centers, and grocery stores within a mile of the four Southside transit stops.” The kiosks, which launched in anticipation of the opening of the Red Line, each include “a map of the area highlighting local attractions, diagrams of what the Red Line stops will look like, informative pamphlets about the IndyGo transit system, and interactive features like Spotify scan codes that lead to playlists about transportation and a Where Will You Go on the Red Line? chalkboard.

In partnership with Transit Drives Indy and the Arts Council of Indianapolis, Big Car engaged the community to inform three wayfinding kiosks on the southside of Indianapolis. Photo by Big Car / flickr / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Through events like the movie night, Big Car learned what residents wanted to know about the incoming rapid transit system and what route locations were important to the neighborhood. This info was translated into three kiosk designs by staff artist Josh Betsey. Photo by Big Car / flickr / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Community members enjoy pop-up event activities. Photo by Big Car / flickr / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

2.

Coming Soon... Seriously was an interactive sign that humorously made fun of the lengthy process that led to the Red Line. The installation includes a speaker designed to broadcast music, poetry, information about the Red Line, and other musings when its motion sensor is activated. Photo courtesy the Arts Council of Indianapolis.

Coming Soon…Seriously, Jamie Pawlus Jamie Pawlus is a freelance conceptual artist working in the public domain, with experience in both authorized and unauthorized public art. Her work often mimics non-art elements of the public realm, such as street furniture, signs, and commercial advertising.

Pawlus’ Red Line project consists of an interactive sign that humorously makes fun of the lengthy process that led to the Red Line. Pawlus sought “to create a signlike sculpture that works all through the life cycle of the Red Line: the preconstruction publicity, the construction period, the period after construction but before service, and the new service.” The sculpture also includes a speaker that broadcasts music, poetry, information about the Red Line, and other musings when its motion sensor is activated.

3.

Video shoot day for Sapphire Theatre Company. Photo courtesy the Arts Council of Indianapolis.

A Beautiful Ride, Sapphire Theatre Company Sapphire Theatre “delivers innovative, audience-driven performances, installations and collaborations designed for the common good.” A mobile theater company, they bring “theatre to the people rather than people to the theatre,” engaging a far wider range of people than traditional theaters.

David Orr, the Sapphire Theatre artist who worked on this project, wanted to “create a way for future riders to ‘pre-visualize’ what the Red Line experience will be like so that they would feel more comfortable taking the new transit mode and incorporating it into their lives.” Sapphire Theatre created A Beautiful Ride, a film that depicts a rider’s trip along the entirety of the Red Line’s 13-mile route. Shot using a time-lapse technique, the film includes music that is culturally relevant to the communities through which the Red Line passes.

4.

Doors to Transit College Avenue installation. Photo courtesy the Arts Council of Indianapolis.

Doors to Transit Meridian Street installation. Photo courtesy the Arts Council of Indianapolis.

Doors to Transit, Andrea D. Smith Andrea D. Smith is a portrait and lifestyle photographer who works to improve her community. Her work combines photography, graphic design, and public art.

The Doors to Transit project features physical doors installed at five future stops of the Red Line. Each door displays original photographs of youth and destinations near each stop. The doors also include the length of time it would take to travel on the Red Line to nearby stops, “to let potential riders know how the Red Line can positively affect their daily lives.”

5.

Still, I Ride poetry development session. Photo courtesy the Arts Council of Indianapolis.

Still, I Ride, Carlos Sosa Carlos Sosa is a graphic designer, strategic communications professional, and principal of the Sosa Group.

For his Red Line project, Sosa wanted to create something that “reflected the deeply ambiguous cultural feelings people have towards riding the bus, and to highlight the different types of Red Line riders (frequent riders, never-rode-before, ride-when-necessary, and even, yes, Red Line haters) and their feelings about themselves and the Red Line.” Sosa’s “Still, I Ride” is a poetry project inspired by Maya Angelou’s poem “Still I Rise” and uses that poem’s format as a template for community-sourced poetry about the Red Line.

6.

As part of the Red Line opening events, the Music in Transit initiative recorded mini-concerts, like this on by Fern Murphy, on moving Red Line buses. Photo courtesy Trent Tomlinson.

Musical Projects The first week after the Red Line opened, IndyGo sponsored live music at Rapid Tansit stations. A parallel Music in Transit initiative recorded mini-concerts on moving Red Line buses and played them back on video screens and on social media, as part of the Red Line opening festivities.

The Girl Called Books performs during the Red Line's opening week. Photo courtesy IndyGo.

Sister Sinjin performs. Photo courtesy IndyGo.

Performance by Viseria at a Rapid Transit station. Photo courtesy IndyGo.

One set of Music in Transit mini-concerts was held in 2019 for the Red Line opening. Photo courtesy Trent Tomlinson.

Performance by TribeSouL. Photo courtesy Trent Tomlinson.

A second set of mini-concerts was held on a stationary rapid transit bus in fall 2020, and was filmed under 100% COVID-safe conditions. Photo courtesy Trent Tomlinson.

Destination Crenshaw

A community-led project aims to help local residents see themselves in new infrastructure and introduce visitors to the local Black neighborhood history

Location: Los Angeles, CA

A rendering imagines Destination Crenshaw. Goals of the community-led project include helping local residents see themselves in the new infrastructure and introducing visitors to the culture and history of the Black neighborhoods they’re passing through. Image courtesy Destination Crenshaw.

More than a decade ago, Los Angeles voters approved Measure R, creating a new sales tax to support transportation improvements, including 12 new transit projects. In 2014, construction began on one of these projects, the Crenshaw/LAX transit project (C/LAX), a new light-rail transit service designed to connect the existing Metro E and C Lines and provide better access to LAX airport. The new 8.5-mile line will serve Los Angeles, Inglewood, and El Segundo.

Parts of C/LAX were engineered to run underground, others on an elevated rail line, and some at street level. The portion running through Hyde Park and Leimert Park, the heart of Los Angeles’ Black community, which is one of the largest Black communities west of the Mississippi, will run at grade. This required the removal of hundreds of mature trees and disruption to the many businesses along this important Black commercial corridor. Community leaders responded to this perceived slight by organizing around a vision for this 1.3-mile stretch of the light-rail line, focused on turning it into an “outdoor art and culture experience celebrating Black Los Angeles.” This vision became Destination Crenshaw, a community-led project with the dual goals of helping local residents see themselves in the new infrastructure and introducing visitors to the culture and history of the Black neighborhoods they’re passing through. Led by Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson, Destination Crenshaw’s leaders explain the goals of the project as follows:

“Serving as an economic incubator for residents and legacy businesses, Destination Crenshaw is an outdoor people’s museum that’s countering the forces of gentrification and cultural erasure that threaten our community. This first-of-its-kind project will preserve the culture and historic contributions of Black Los Angeles by increasing a sense of community ownership.”

Destination Crenshaw’s design team is led by Perkins and Will; 20 community partners advise on the project. Construction of Destination Crenshaw began in February 2020. When complete, the project will include more than 100 works of public art created by nationally and internationally known Black artists, more than 1,000 new trees, and over 30,000 square feet of green space.

A portion of the new light-rail transit running through the heart of Los Angeles’ Black community required the removal of hundreds of trees and disruption of businesses along this important Black commercial corridor. Community leaders responded to this perceived slight by organizing around a vision for this 1.3-mile stretch of the light-rail line, focused on turning it into an “outdoor art and culture experience celebrating Black Los Angeles.” Image courtesy Destination Crenshaw.

The project will include more than 100 works of public art created by nationally and internationally known Black artists.

When complete, the project will include more than 100 works of public art created by nationally and internationally known Black artists, more than 1,000 new trees, and over 30,000 square feet of green space. Image courtesy Destination Crenshaw.

An infrastructure reuse that will soon create a new world-class destination park, provide a new pedestrian connection across the Anacostia River, and support neighboring residents to ensure they will be able to stay and thrive along with the new park.

Location: Washington, DC Partners: Building Bridges Across the River, Forecast Public Art, OMA, OLIN, and Whitman, Requardt and Associates Artist Role: Engaging community, telling stories, marking place Cost: $75 million

Forecast will join internationally recognized firms OMA and OLIN along with engineers at Whitman, Requardt and Associates on the celebrated 11th Street Bridge Park in Washington, DC. To build local capacity, Forecast hired emerging curator Deirdre Darden to be part of our team on the ground. Park rendering courtesy OMA + OLIN.

While Washington, DC, is often associated with the Potomac River, the city was founded at the confluence of two rivers: the Anacostia and the Potomac. The Anacostia riverfront, which is lined with parks and recreational amenities, is one of the longest urban waterfronts in the country. On the west side of the river, new development includes Nationals Park, boutique hotels, condos, and top restaurants. The east side of the river, which includes Wards 7 and 8, is considerably less dense and has seen less development in recent years.

Geographically isolated from the rest of the city for generations by the river and I-295, Wards 7 and 8 have recently become the last portion of DC whose population is still mostly Black. Black people make up 93 percent of the population of Ward 8, and approximately 50 percent of the population of DC as a whole. Recognizing the significant rift that the Anacostia River has caused across DC, as well as the opportunity to create DC’s first elevated park, Building Bridges Across the River (BBAR) has been working to develop the 11th Street Bridge Park for nearly a decade.

Forecast’s team will work to facilitate a selection process to commission artwork for the Park, with a focus on amplifying the stories, culture, and heritage of neighboring Black residents. Hammock grove rendering courtesy OMA + OLIN.

The new Bridge Park will feature a hammock grove, an outdoor performance space, fruit orchards, a playground, a boat launch, and more. Shade terrace rendering courtesy OMA + OLIN.

In the spirit of New York’s High Line, Philadelphia’s Rail Park, and Chicago’s 606, the 11th Street Bridge project will create a new elevated park and pedestrian connection using outdated transportation infrastructure. But rather than repurposing rail infrastructure, this park will be built on the remaining piers of the old 11th Street Bridge, which has been reconstructed nearby. When complete (estimated to be in 2024), according to the BBAR website, the park will feature “an outdoor performance space, playgrounds for all ages and abilities, fruit orchards, classrooms to teach students about river systems, and kayak and paddle boat launches on the river below.” The park will also provide a new pedestrian connection between Capitol Hill and the stadia to the west of the river and Anacostia and the National Park Service’s Anacostia Park on the east side of the river.

The 11th Street Bridge Park project was formally initiated in 2013 after about two years of conversations between the DC Office of Planning and community members in Ward 8. The effort and the staff behind the Bridge Park were officially housed within an existing nonprofit based in Ward 8, Building Bridges Across the River, which, according to the Bridge Park’s director Scott Kratz, “had been focused on metaphorically bridging the river, and then became focused on physically bridging.” Kratz also noted the importance of having the Bridge Park aligned with an organization based east of the river, which helped build trust with residents of Ward 7 and 8.

In the spirit of New York’s High Line, Philadelphia’s Rail Park, and Chicago’s 606, the 11th Street Bridge Park project will create a new elevated park and pedestrian connection using outdated transportation infrastructure. Plaza rendering courtesy OMA + OLIN.

The span of nearly ten years between the project’s inception and its anticipated groundbreaking in 2022 was intentional; community involvement and a holistic approach to design and development have both been key components of the undertaking, which has required the project team to work organically in a way that isn’t always directly linear. A key component of this approach is the Bridge Park’s Equitable Development Plan, which focuses on the area within a one-mile radius of the park. According to the BBAR website, the Equitable Development Plan’s goal is “to ensure that the park is a driver of inclusive development—development that provides opportunities for all residents regardless of income and demography…. The Bridge Park’s design strategies will increase connectivity between those living on both sides of the Anacostia River, but more must be done to ensure that residents and small businesses nearby will continually benefit from the success of this signature new civic space. To achieve this goal, the Bridge Park staff worked with community stakeholders to create an Equitable Development Plan in 2015, that was updated 2018.”

This plan led to substantial investments in the neighborhoods to the east of the future park. The project team has trained 46 community members in Community Leadership Empowerment Workshops; loaned more than $650,000 to small businesses in Wards 7 and 8; spent nearly $34,000 on artist fees and products from Black DC artists in 2020; placed 70 residents in Wards 6, 7, and 8 in jobs; helped 85 Ward 8 residents become homeowners; and invested $2.6 million in a community land trust, among countless other investments. By conceiving of the scope of 11th Street Bridge Park as extending far beyond just the physical park, the project team has succeeded in investing equal amounts in the physical infrastructure of the bridge park and in the surrounding community (approximately $75 million in both).

Rather than repurposing rail infrastructure, the 11th Street Bridge Park will be constructed on the remaining piers of the old 11th Street Bridge, which has been rebuilt nearby. Kayak launch rendering courtesy OMA + OLIN.

While the Bridge Park’s Equitable Development Plan originally included goals related to workforce training, affordable housing, and small business preservation, the Bridge Park team officially added cultural strategies to their tactics in 2017 under the direction of then–Deputy Director Irfana Jetha Noorani, with specific goals suggested by Anacostia-based artists and other community leaders. According to Kratz, the team added cultural strategies because they realized that “if the community loses its sense of place, its sense of home, there are enormous downstream consequences.” The team recently hired Forecast Public Art to serve as curator for the park’s public art, with the intention of seamlessly incorporating the public art plan into the park’s design while also telling the story of Black DC. Forecast was selected due to its members’ “deep experience with public art, but also their real commitment to making sure their work builds the capacity of DC residents to continue this work,” since the team is “always looking to build more sustainable muscles in the community” to engage in the project, said Kratz.

Based in Saint Paul, Minnesota, Forecast’s team works nationally to connect and build the capacity of artists and public and private partners to effectively work together to imagine more equitable places through public art that advances justice, health, and human dignity. Forecast will work with BBAR and a resident-led curatorial committee to identify and select artists for the initial public art commissions. To build local capacity, Forecast hired emerging curator Deirdre Darden to be part of the team guiding work on the ground in Washington.

Forecast’s mission—to advocate for public art that advances justice—aligns with the values of the Bridge Park, the project’s cultural strategies, and the community-centered approach we’ve had since the beginning. Their commitment to local capacity building was also critical to our collaboration, and we are so excited that Deirdre Darden, a DC native and curator, will join Forecast’s team to lend her tremendous expertise to this project.
—Irfana Jetha Noorani, former deputy director of the 11th Street Bridge Park

The span of nearly ten years between the project’s inception and its anticipated groundbreaking in 2022 was intentional; community involvement and a holistic approach to design and development have both been key components of the undertaking, which has required the project team to work organically in a way that isn’t always directly linear. A key component of this approach is the Bridge Park’s Equitable Development Plan, which focuses on the area within a one-mile radius of the park. 11th Street Bridge Park rendering courtesy OMA + OLIN.

“Forecast’s mission to activate public art that advances justice, health, and human dignity aligns beautifully with the Bridge Park’s people-first approach to infrastructure investments,” says Theresa Sweetland, Forecast’s executive director. “We also believe in collaboration and shared power and approach every partnership through the lens of addressing systemic disparities by supporting local artists, building local creative capacity, and amplifying the voices of local cultures and communities to ensure that the temporary and permanent public art in that place represents the people of that place and fosters a sense of deep belonging.”

Recently, like so many others, the Bridge Park team has pivoted to address the ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic, first by setting up a food distribution center at their space in Ward 8 within weeks of the pandemic’s beginning, and more recently by converting their theater into a vaccination center. In cooperation with Martha’s Table, Bread for the City, and the Far Southeast Family Strengthening Collaborative, the Bridge Park team launched the THRIVE East of the River partnership, which has become the nation’s largest privately funded unconditional cash transfer program. Nearly 500 families in Ward 8 have received more than $5,000 each with no strings attached, a model that is growing in popularity across the country and being tracked by the Urban Institute. Additionally, many of the approaches first tested by the Bridge Park team have been adopted by similar infrastructure reuse and park projects, demonstrating a new way to collaboratively deliver world-class recreational infrastructure while simultaneously supporting the surrounding communities’ social infrastructure.

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FORWARD: Issue #2

Transportation

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