What happens when you train a group of artists, community members, and police officers to work together to improve public safety in a neighborhood? That’s what we’re finding out with Indy East Art Peace, a joint project of the Arts Council of Indianapolis and Near East Area Renewal (NEAR) that will take place from January 2018 through July 2019.
Until the 1980s, Indianapolis’ Near Eastside was home to middle-class families with good-paying manufacturing jobs. With the decline of this economic sector over the next 25 years, the area faced dwindling community investment, resulting in its current high levels of unemployment, poverty, crime, and physical deterioration.
In 2012, the community developed the Near Eastside Quality of Life Plan to help guide its future; in 2015, the federal government designated the Indy East Promise Zone as an area with assets and activity that merited special attention from programs designed to improve livability and spur growth. Creative placemaking was identified in both of these plans as a desired approach, to help bring “out of the box” thinking to seemingly entrenched challenges, particularly the type of crime that was keeping the neighborhood from attracting opportunities for jobs and economic growth. This approach is confirmed by a significant body of research.
Meanwhile, the East District of the IMPD has a new emphasis on the idea of “community policing,” in which the community and law enforcement partner to create a positive physical and social environment that prioritizes problem-solving for prevention rather than reactive arrests. A set of strategies often applied in community policing is Crime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED), which employs techniques focused on art, architectural and urban design, and the social environment to make a neighborhood more crime-resistant. Many East District officers are CPTED-certified. Other techniques highlight working positively with youth at risk and those re-entering the community after having been incarcerated.
About the Program
Indy East Art Peace was created by NEAR and the Arts Council, with support from the City of Indianapolis and the participation of the IMPD, the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office, and the Indy Public Safety Foundation, to combine these community- and city-based efforts with the creative energy of artists, well known for their ability to inspire activity that brings community together, promotes positive use of public space, and looks at challenges in a completely unexpected way. The project intends to take advantage of these three different streams of expertise, and adds training, planning time, and, most importantly, compensation, to create knowledgeable, empowered, and productive teams. As the project progresses, teams will develop ideas for action and will vet them with the community at large during a “pitch night” event, where the preferred ideas will be identified for execution. Along with the project ideas, Indy East Art Peace will develop evaluation metrics and a process toolkit so the effects of future actions can be tracked and the techniques of Indy East Art Peace can inspire other neighborhoods.
The Rural Street corridor, between Brookside Avenue and E. Washington Street, was chosen as the Art Peace project area because it has been identified as an area of high crime for the East District by IMPD; it is also the focus of current efforts by NEAR in the areas of economic development and housing. Six neighborhoods come together here in very different ways to solve common challenges; infusing this interaction with artistic energy for a positive result is the goal of Indy East Art Peace.
In January 2018 a team of arts experts, neighborhood representatives, and Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department (IMPD), Arts Council, NEAR, and Indy East Promise Zone staff selected the Indy East Art Peace creative cohort, who applied for the roles through three separate open calls. Both new and longtime residents and artists using a wide range of artistic approaches are included in the group.
The Indy East Art Peace cohort with Art Hushen. Left to right:
Top row: Todd Bracik, Mark Latta, Christopher Shaw, Roman Williams-Ervin, Stacy Riojas, Samone Willis, Tosca Carranza, instructor Art Hushen.
Bottom row: Elizabeth Nash, Andrea Jandernoa, Stardust Adita, Debbie Sluss, Josie Hunckler.
The participants are:
- Stardust Adita, a Near Eastside native and resident of the TEAR United neighborhood, owner of Healing Arts by Star
- Todd Bracik, a sculptor and resident of the Bosart-Brown neighborhood
- Tosca Carranza, a painter/arts educator and longtime resident of the St. Clair Place neighborhood
- Josie Hunckler, a resident of Woodruff Place and the owner/manager of Rabble Coffee in the St. Clair Place neighborhood
- Andrea Jandernoa, a painter and social-practice artist with a studio in the Windsor Park neighborhood
- Mark Latta, Writing Center Director at Marian University, a creative writer/storyteller and resident of the Windsor Park neighborhood
- Elizabeth Nash, a resident of the Cottage Home neighborhood
- Stacy Riojas, an IMPD East District patrol officer with 12 years tenure
- Christopher Shaw, an IMPD East District patrol officer with 11 years tenure
- Debbie Sluss, a Near Eastside native and longtime resident of the Englewood neighborhood
- Roman Williams-Ervin, an IMPD East District patrol officer with 10 years tenure
- Samone Willis, an IMPD East District patrol officer sworn in with the Class of 2016
What's Happening Now
After a kickoff meeting on March 1, 2018, the participants received training in CPTED, provided by Art Hushen of the National Institute of Crime Prevention (Tampa, FL), on April 28-29. They also received training in arts-based community organizing, provided by Sam Buffington of Springboard for the Arts (St. Paul, MN), on May 12.
The participants are continuing to meet monthly as a group, talking with each other and with community guests about how best to address the crime prevention needs of the community. They are also working individually and in small, mixed-discipline groups to survey the project area and generate ideas for engaging the community as a whole through the arts. Community engagement activities undertaken since June included a pop-up “maker” playground for preschoolers and early childhood learners, printmaking workshops engaging youth ages 6-18 to help visualize peace, a Community Art Exchange pop-up, open mic nights, a community conversation, and a story workshop for young adults about what it means to commit peace.
Pop-up “maker” playground at Englewood Nature Playspace, June 16, 2018.
This project is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts. To find out more about how National Endowment for the Arts grants impact individuals and communities, visit http://www.arts.gov