Challenging the implication that remonstrators are an obstacle to creative placemaking.

8 May

At the April 19th workshop on creative placemaking sponsored by the Reconnecting To Our Waterways group, one of the attendees, from the Mapleton-Fall Creek area, asked a question of the panelist “What do you do about remonstrators?”  He was not specific about the reason for his question.

But the negative implication was clear: instead of having legitimate personal or community concerns when art projects are proposed, remonstrators are deemed an obstacle to be overcome.  When subsequently consulted, staff of the Mapleton Fall Creek Neighborhood CDC (Community Development Corporation) confirmed that there had been a recent case in the area in which neighbors objected to a proposed art piece (a painted mural on public property) and that those objections had caused some adjustment in the planning process, and in fact, had ultimately resulted in a modification to the plan (“part of the project was not undertaken”).

I also made inquiry about the details of that situation with Doug Day, the  project’s principal proponent (and the same person who asked the question about dealing with remonstrators), but he did not respond with any of the requested specifics.  Subsequently, one of the affected neighbors indicated that a number of the near-neighbors had stepped forward to say that they didn’t want to be forced to look at big (and “loud”) painted letters on the retaining wall (at Fall Creek Parkway and the Monon overpass).

As our unsettling experience with the planned so-called Art2Art trail (targeted for the historic, scenic Central Canal) has shown, all-too-typical of many zealous public art advocates is disdain, if not contempt, for those who would step forward to question a proposal or advocate against it.  They presume that they know what is best for the community and are irked, often even incensed, when others publicly object to, or oppose, their plans.

Another question to a panelist at the workshop from a representative of the Big Car arts collaborative asked “What are the desirable skills in an arts-organizer position?”.  The answer was: “Two qualities– “humility and the ability to work with different points of view”.  Perhaps this answer was also an apropos answer to Mr. Day’s question of how to handle the remonstrators who dare to challenge the presumed authority and expertise of proponents of public art on public property.

Clarke Kahlo


Seven-year-old art critic nails it

22 Jul

Here’s an amusing, if not prophetic, account of a field trip to the IMA by a group of kids from Small Miracles day care in Indianapolis. Small Miracles is operated by Cathy Burton who is President of the Marion County Alliance of Neighborhood Associations. At MCANA’s July 20th neighborhood forum, during which the scenic Central Canal was briefly discussed, she recounted the following:

“We visited the IMA on July 11th. We had toured much of the museum during which the kids have viewed art from over the centuries. We paused at one of the large windows looking east from the museum over the canal, and one of the boys commented “This is the best art we’ve seen all day”.

There they go again– pushing a pubic art trail by media promotion

14 Jul

After a welcome period of relative quiet (i.e. respite from art-trail promotion, the Art 2 Art trail people are back at it, as dutifully reported by their friends at the  Indianapolis Business Journal (see Kathleen McLaughlin’s promotional article below).   

After their presumptuous and destructive plan for art on the canal property was rebuffed by Citizens Water last summer following public outcry, now they seek to yet to prevail upon the public by placing their art on structures near and visible from the canal. 

 In particular, they mention 2 possible art pieces on the new parking garage on Westfield Boulevard in Broad Ripple.  Time will tell if the garage/retail combo will be successful.  However, judging from initial appearances, it’s a big flop.  Motorists are loathe to use it judging from snapshots of occupancy levels at various times, and most of the retail space on the first level remains unleased.  Likely, Keystone Construction is scrambling for ways to grab attention and lure people in.  Before it was zoned, many people tried to convince the City administration that the garage was in the wrong location, but the planners, politicians, and the Broad Ripple Village Association would not listen.

Perhaps big money will eventually control the outcome. If the leaders and overseers of Central Indiana Community Foundation and the Indianapolis Foundation are resolute to place their public art wherever they see fit, they likely also have the necessary accommodating political connections to get it done. But continuing to ramrod public art in questionable places and without meaningful public consultation will only further diminish the civic capacity and reputation of Indianapolis.             


 Promoters of arts trail recast vision

Kathleen McLaughlin

July 6, 2013

A mural slated for one wall of the Broad Ripple parking garage will be the first new artwork within view of the Central Canal Towpath, which a group of north-side institutions would like to rebrand as the Art2Art trail.

The idea behind Art2Art was to make the towpath, which connects the Indianapolis Museum of Art and Indianapolis Art Center, more of a destination for art seekers.

The original concept, unveiled last year, called for placing new work along the path, but that drew opposition from a citizens group led by Clarke Kahlo, and it had a practical limitation. Citizens Energy Group, which owns the canal and 20 feet to 40 feet of land on either side, won’t allow any structures that would impede access, spokeswoman Sarah Holsapple said.

Keystone Construction plans to install a mural on its new parking garage in Broad Ripple. The mural will be visible to users of the Central Canal Towpath. (IBJ photo/Aaron P. Bernstein)

“The reality is, we are formulating something more concrete and incremental,” said Carter Wolf, CEO of the IndianapolisArtCenter and head of an ad-hoc committee working on Art2Art. Other members include representatives from the art museum, Butler University, Midtown Inc. and the Central Indiana Community Foundation.

Art2Art promoters are looking for sites and opportunities within view of the path, Wolf said, and they landed a big one with Keystone Construction’s decision to have a mural painted on the northeast corner of the parking garage at the busy intersection of College and Broad Ripple avenues.

Keystone hired the art center to issue a request for proposals from local artists for the mural. Wolf said he’s encouraging the company to also install a three-dimensional work on a bit of green space on the west side of the garage.

The art center assembled a panel that came up with the mural finalists, but as the property owner, Keystone will make the selection. Keystone executives hadn’t made a decision by IBJ’s deadline.

Wolf also is anticipating redevelopment of the vacant Shell gas station site northeast of the same intersection. He said he is talking to the developer of that proposed project, Browning Investments, about ways to include artwork near the canal.

Wolf said Art2Art proponents never wanted to plunk down sculptures in the natural settings of the 4-1/2-mile trail.

“There’s certain areas along the trail that are beautiful, beautiful sites,” he said. “As a longtime runner, I wouldn’t want to see anything deface the trail.”

Another priority site for Art2Art is the intersection of Westfield Boulevard and Illinois Street, which could be redesigned to accommodate a new Army Corps of Engineers floodwall. Wolf said the group is trying to encourage the city of Indianapolis to create green space, which could hold a new work of art.

Wolf said that makes more sense than ripping out green space along the path to accommodate art.

The Art2Art concept emerged from Midtown Inc.’s master plan for neighborhoods north of 38th Street. Department of Metropolitan Development Director Adam Thies’ former urban-planning firm, Eden Collaborative, came up with Art2Art, but he said he’s not using his role with the city to promote it.

When Art2Art rolled out last year, Thies said he thought its execution could be as simple as posting some signs along the towpath and Monon Trail.

“Branding needs substance as well,” Wolf said. He thinks developing Art2Art will be a five-year process.

Art2Art has a couple of financial boosters in the Broad Ripple Alliance for Progress, which is the fundraising arm of the Broad Ripple Village Association, and the Central Indiana Community Foundation.

The alliance landed a small matching grant, $17,500, from the Indianapolis Foundation this year to make improvements along the Monon Trail from the art center to the canal, President Tom Healy said. The alliance is considering hiring artists to repurpose old telephone poles along the Monon and taking down an old mural that’s become an eyesore.

“Art2Art isn’t just about installing statuary or fountains, or posters or murals,” Healy said. “It’s about enhancing the greenway. Right now, we’re sort of prepping the canvas.”

The original Art2Art plan called attention to erosion and other problems with the towpath. Citizens hired a consultant, Storrow and Kinsella, to study the canal from an urban-planning perspective, but the study isn’t complete, Holsapple said.

The consultants are looking at options for erosion control and at whether the towpath could be widened in some areas, she said.

“Once the Storrow and Kinsella study comes back, then we might have an idea of what Art2Art projects we might be able to approve.”

Citizens can’t use ratepayer money to pay for beautification of its property.•



Nuvo’s Hoppe on the proposed mixed-use rezoning on the canal at 6349 College Ave.

12 Jun

Below is the link to David Hoppe’s April 29th column in Nuvo Newsweekly.

In notable part, he writes:

“Ironically, the Browning proposal is the first major initiative to try and actually make something of Broad Ripple’s greatest physical asset, the Central Canal. It’s about time the developer treated the canal as something other than an afterthought.  It’s too bad what Browning would build will likely overwhelm, not enhance, this valuable resource.”

The public hearing on this rezoning before the Hearing Examiner of the Metropolitan Development Commission has been continued until July 11th at 1:00 p.m. in the City-County Building in the 2nd floor Public Assembly Room.


IMA’s contemporary art curator accepts position in Virginia

26 May

On March 4th, this blog noted that the IMA had cut its staff by about 29 positions. On May 16th, the Star reported that the IMA’s contemporary art curator, Lisa Freiman, had left the museum to take a position in Virginia.

We wish Ms. Freiman well because she was a talented and energetic advocate for contemporary art. We wondered though why she seemed so intent upon adorning the canal with art when she had the full one-hundred acre Art and Nature Park with which to work. In 2010 she brought the installation titled Flow: Can you see the river? by New York artist Mary Miss. It consisted of a series of intrusive red balls and mirrors at numerous points along the canal from the museum north to Broad Ripple. That project had mixed success as reported in the IMA’s post-project evaluation which also noted significant vandalism to many of the red balls and mirrors.

The future impact of her departure on the scenic, historic Central Canal remains to be seen. We hope that Ms. Freiman’s successor will be sensitive to the need to protect the canal.

Clarke Kahlo

Stakeholders and Customers Find Voice at Citizens Energy Group

19 Apr

Both designated Stakeholders and customers in general seemed to find a new voice recently at an April 9th meeting of the Citizens Stakeholders Alliance. The Stakeholders Alliance was created by city-contractor Veolia Water in about 2002 and was carried forward, and expanded, by Citizens Energy/Water when it purchased the water and sewer utilities from the City in August 2011. Generally, each of the 20 or so invited stakeholders represents a defined group or constituency. Legally, the meetings are public (open) meetings although the non-notified general public almost never attends.

Some Stakeholders are long-standing. One representative has participated on the Stakeholders Alliance since 2002 when Veolia created the group. Stakeholders are primarily considered by CEG to be large commercial groups such as the builders association and the board of Realtors and some prominent not-for-profits.

The format of this particular meeting was unusual. CEG management had pre-selected two discussion topics (the CEG website and “quality customer service”) which became the subjects of small groups’ critique and discussion. The 3 groups prepared lists of comments and presented them to the entire group.

The most notable result from the meeting was the expressions of surprise and appreciation from several stakeholders that they were able, apparently for the first time, to actually talk with each other. All of the previous meetings have been presentation-style with little opportunity for interaction. This obviously frustrated many of the participants who felt that they were a spoon-fed audience with limited voice, especially in not being encouraged to talk among themselves. We’ll see if CEG decides to revise the format to better accommodate this concern.

Although a visitor, I was encouraged to take part in the small group discussion. I observed that CEG should create a better process for critically evaluating community input, citing the recent efforts by Save Our Scenic Central Canal to protect the historic canal from a plan to clutter it with public art. I explained that we needed to form a coalition, create a website, organize public presentations, and prepare exhibits and case statements, before we received serious consideration by CEG. The main reason for CEG’s initial disinterest in our cause appeared to be that several influential groups were pushing the public art plan. CEG’s resistance to our plea stands in stark conflict with one of the fundamental tenets of quality customer service– i.e. listening to the customer.

I told the group that our initial attempts to persuade based upon the merits were politely listened to, but largely dismissed by CEG, until, with considerable effort over about six months, we rose up to do battle– just to defend an indisputable long-standing and unique community amenity.

The recent experience with public art on the canal seems like the antithesis of quality customer service. Hopefully, this sort of politics-playing (i.e. pandering to influential groups and ignoring the best interests of the community at large), will be addressed by a renewed emphasis on the quality process in which current issues are considered on their own merits, and not on the basis of who is promoting the project. As a legally-created Public Charitable Trust, CEG should base its decision-making to a great extent upon the overall community interest as well as the interests of the trust’s beneficiaries/customers.

Also notably, and ironically, near the end of the meeting it was indicated by the CEG facilitator that, according to CEO Carey Lykins in a recent management meeting, “the Voice of the Customer” will become a guiding/renewed management philosophy at CEG and all employees will need to closely adhere to the philosophy of attentive listening to the customer.

A memorable quote by the former director of a national environmental group is: “Whenever I hear the word ‘stakeholder’, I know that the public has been excluded.” Time will tell if CEG is really serious about listening to the voices of the customers (including those customers who are not affiliated with influential commercial or “stakeholder” groups) or whether the intent will prove to be merely an effort to add more value to the corporate brand (also currently a high CEG priority) or to enhance its community image while its two rate-increase petitions are pending.

Clarke Kahlo
Save Our Scenic Central Canal

IMA announces staff reductions

4 Mar

According the IBJ, the Indianapolis Museum of Art has announced the layoffs of about 20 employees in order to reduce its budget and to better ensure the strength of its endowment. The report, posted today, follows below.

Recent discussions with IMA officials about public art on the canal have given SOSCC the impression that, for several reasons, including financial considerations, the IMA does not consider the idea of participating in the development an “art to art trail” on the Central Canal to be one of immediate relevance to the IMA mission.

Indianapolis Business Journal report—
“The Indianapolis Museum of Art is laying off more than 20 employees as it looks to cut costs and lessen its reliance on its endowment, the museum announced Monday morning.
The IMA said 19 full-time workers and two part-time workers will complete their employment Monday. Eight additional vacant positions will not be filled.

The museum, under the management of new CEO Charles Venable, informed the employees of the cuts Monday morning. The staff was warned about the possibility of job eliminations earlier this year, IMA said.

“These are difficult changes, but it is imperative that we reduce our reliance on the endowment so future generations can benefit from it,” Venable said in a prepared statement. “It pains me greatly that we have to make staffing reductions at this juncture, but it was clear that they were necessary.”

Venable, who replaced Maxwell Anderson as CEO, has beenrestructuring the organization, including a managerial shakeup, since he arrived in October.

Plans include reducing the $22 million annual budget while boosting revenue by hosting more major, mainstream exhibitions.

More than one-third of the endowment, which was $326 million as of June 30, is earmarked for specific purposes, leaving about $203 million for operational expenses.

The IMA has been drawing close to 8 percent a year from the operating portion of its endowment. Venable wants to reduce the rate to about 5 percent so the fund can grow to previous levels. Before the recession, the endowment was almost $400 million.

A spokeswoman for the museum said Venable was not available for further comment on the layoffs.”

Citizens Water’s canal web page is now live

4 Mar

The canal page from Citizens Water’s website is now live. The link follows.

Citizens officials have indicated the website will be a communications vehicle to post it’s Canal Policy and notify and inform the public about proposals which have been received by Citizens from persons and organizations which desire to use the canal for various purposes.

Hopefully, this will become a viable method which will function to also solicit community comment on specific proposals. The public is encouraged to visit the site often, and perhaps also to make personal contact with Ms. Jan Diggins at Citizens Water who is the lead contact on matters pertaining to the Central Canal.

Remembering Abraham Lincoln this Presidents Day for his Preservation of Natural and Scenic Areas

18 Feb

Hoosier politicians often remind us that Abraham Lincoln grew up in Indiana and developed his core values here— values like honesty, leadership, common sense, fair dealing, and a great sense of humor.

President Lincoln was also a leading-edge preservationist president. He was instrumental in protecting (via an 1864 land grant) the famous Mariposa Grove of giant redwoods in California. This land was later dedicated as Yosemite National Park. Lincoln was the first U.S president to recognize and seek to preserve natural wonders for the enjoyment of the public.

Case Statement in Opposition to Proposed Canal Overlook

9 Jan

Case Statement in Opposition to an Overlook Platform on Central Canal   (proposed for the south bank just west of Meridian Street)

Prepared by: Save Our Scenic Central Canal, January 9, 2013

1. There is no public need for a canal “overlook” structure. The proposing group (Midtown, Inc.) has failed to show a compelling need or identified a substantive public purpose. Midtown representatives have indicated only that they seek to build it to accompany Alice Carter Park and that it would increase accessibility.

An overlook cannot be deemed a substantive community need. Rather it is a private “want.” The canal is already highly accessible and can be readily viewed from almost anywhere along its banks.

2. An overlook structure would create an impediment to the operation and maintenance of the public water supply. Some Citizens Water production personnel have indicated that they do not support the idea.

3. It would conflict with the historic character of the Central Canal, built in 1839. The canal has been determined to be eligible for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places. The canal is listed on the Indiana Register of Historic Places. With the exception of the many commercial encroachments in the Broad Ripple area, there are few inappropriate intrusions along the remainder of the remaining 7-mile reach of canal.

4. It would detract from the relatively unadorned, pastoral setting that has been used and appreciated by generations of residents for a pleasant escape from the noise, congestion, and visual clutter of the city. It would visually intrude upon the aesthetic/artistic attributes of a scene often used by plein air painters.

5. It would create an unnecessary public safety hazard by encouraging mid-block pedestrian crossings to and from the park where none exist at present. This is an area often subject to speeding vehicles as eastbound drivers hasten to make a “green” signal at the intersection. The increased foot traffic could bring unwanted nuisances such as littering and graffiti.

6. The proposed overlook would be redundant because it would duplicate the nearby viewing area constructed in 2012 as a part of the revamped pedestrian crossing at Meridian and Westfield (northwest corner). Also, the numerous pedestrian bridges spanning the canal provide viewing possibilities.

7. It would set a negative precedent for enabling additional superfluous man-made structures along this special scenic waterway, which is part of the public commons. Some interest groups, seeking to create points of commercial attraction, are occasionally driven to propose physical structures that would intrude upon the canal. In 1997, for example, the Broad Ripple Village Association proposed a performance platform in the middle of the canal. Fortunately, that idea did not advance, likely because it was not supported by the Indianapolis Water Co., which operated the water utility at the time.

More recently, the canal has been targeted for development by Midtown, Inc. and several arts groups in a collaboration calling itself an Art 2 Art Trail.

8. Public need and public input should be prerequisites for all projects contemplating using public land. Midtown, Inc. apparently feels that public input should be the last step, and thus a virtual perfunctory afterthought, in the process which follows project funding and application for regulatory approval. This is suggested by Midtown’s (Executive Director Michael McKillip) reply correspondence dated 12-12-12: “Certainly, should we allocate the funding for the “Canal Overlook” we will pursue all of the appropriate approvals and welcome input from organizations such as Save Our Scenic Central Canal.” Unfortunately, history has often shown that proponents of ill-conceived projects become zealous advocates after they secure funding.

10. Citizens Water, the owner of the canal, is a Public Charitable Trust. It is legally obligated to operate based upon creating value for the beneficiaries rather than serving the desires of special interests, which, in this instance, cannot make a plausible case that would justify their proposal.

In response to community concerns about a planned program of public art along the canal, in September, 2012, Citizens Water indicated that it does not anticipate approving public art on the canal property which it owns. Citizens Water should make a similar determination on Midtown’s proposed overlook, which would impede utility operations and reduce its scenic and historic character.