Neighborliness in a Soup

An email came into my inbox a few weeks ago announcing an initiative called City Suppers. The goal of the program—co-sponsored by City Gallery, Harrison Center for the Arts, and Indiana Humanities—was simply to promote neighborliness by way of soup. On a particular night, everyone citywide was encouraged to sign up to host their neighbors for a simple dinner.

Of course, I loved this idea.

As it turned out, my spouse and I had been talking about having a casual neighborhood get-together for a while. City Suppers gave us the impetus to actually do it—not to mention a deadline to get the house clean.

In my neck of the woods, we define “neighbor” rather loosely as “anyone else who lives in Irvington or thereabouts.” So we invited an assortment of folks—some from just around the corner and some from further afield.

Around our table

A few of those who gathered around our table

Some had never met each other, and others had known each other a long time. Ages ranged from 1 year old to “I’ll never tell.”

We gathered around our table for a convivial evening. I made minestrone and bought some locally made focaccia and cheese. (Everyone seemed terrifically happy with the soup, which we call “peasant food” at our house—nothing all that fancy, but hearty, economical, and flavorful.) Guests brought wine, salad, and desserts. Truly mouthwatering desserts.

But the tasty, nourishing meal was really just an excuse for conversation and connection.

Life can be a full plate most of the time. So full that it seems hard to find the time for this kind of thing. In our neighborhood we have often socialized around shared projects. It was a novel change of pace to connect over a meal instead of at a meeting or work party.

We enjoyed it so much that we’re making more peasant food tonight and having different neighbors over. We’ll go to Russia instead of Italy, with borscht, rye bread, and beer. (Incidentally I traded with another neighbor—my chili peppers for her beets—for the starring veggie of the borscht. Our version of the “cup of sugar.”)

And bonus: the house is still pretty clean. Not that that matters—I figure if we waited till the perfect time to have people over, it would never happen. So why not just do it?

How about you—what’s your favorite way to connect with your neighbors? Is there something you’d like to initiate with the people living near you, but have been putting off? Why not get it going? It could be just the thing to warm a chilly winter night.

Many Hands

Lisa Boyles, who turned a vacant lot into a beautiful meditation space and labyrinth, is coordinating a new project in her neighborhood. Her energy and drive are truly inspiring. In fact, when I read that she spent part of her birthday volunteering, it moved me to spend part of my birthday helping with her latest project. Check out what she’s up to in today’s guest post.

Guest post by Lisa Boyles

Imagine people of all ages working together to improve their neighborhood. Think of a city unified through installations of art painted by community members. By designing a series of geometric projects, Andrew Severns has a vision for public art in the city of Indianapolis that can accomplish these things.

Artist Andrew Severns outlines the design for the mural at E 10th and N Sherman Dr.

Artist Andrew Severns outlines the design for the mural at E 10th and N Sherman Dr.

He says that the geometric uniformity among murals and other pieces of art will ensure its strength and timelessness while giving a well-defined look to the city at large. And through the outlines of shapes that Severns provides, those who help paint have a guide for creating a beautiful piece of art.

The project at the corner of East 10th  Street and North Sherman Drive is part of a larger series along the railroad underpasses in the Rivoli Park Neighborhood. The areas where these projects are planned need care and attention. By creating art that is participatory, people in the community can feel a sense of ownership of these previously neglected corridors.

# 3 Many hands came together to beautify this street corner, all coordinated by Lisa Boyles (foreground).

Many hands came together to beautify this street corner, all coordinated by Lisa Boyles (foreground).

The geometric style that Andrew uses reminds me of the colored pieces in a kaleidoscope. These shapes interconnect to make a pattern representative of the many different people in our neighborhood living together. It has been terrific to see so many people coming together to paint the mural at this busy intersection—and to hear the honks of approval and positive comments of people driving by.

The community's handprints are all over this site!

The community’s handprints are all over this site!

Students, teachers and parents from the Paramount School of Excellence participated in this mural project. The students seem especially excited to be a part of something positive that will have a lasting impact in their neighborhood.

Students from Paramount School of Excellence helped paint this mural.

Students from Paramount School of Excellence helped paint this mural.

Everyone who has donated or volunteered will have his or her name (or a dedication) alongside the edge of a section of the mural. When people think of their dedication, they are encouraged to also think of a meditation or intention to be a part of creating a better community. We will all share our thoughts about the project at a celebration party at the culmination of the first phase of the project on November 22nd.

#2 Community members of all ages have come together to paint the shapes in the mural.

Community members of all ages have come together to paint the shapes in the mural.

The online fundraiser for the Rivoli Park Mural Project continues through Friday, November 7th.  An investment in this project is an investment in community.  Check out the incentives and details here.

Public Art Foundation Turns 1

Guess who turned 1 last week? Foundation East, a grassroots organization born right here in my own neighborhood. These action-oriented folks bring “artists, funders, and dreamers” together to turn eastside Indianapolis neighborhoods (such as mine!) into public art havens.

My neighbor and friend, Rita Spalding, working on one of her signal boxes last fall. Photo by  Charmaine Edwards.

My neighbor and friend, Rita Spalding, working on one of her signal boxes last fall. Photo by Charmaine Edwards.

I first blogged about their work last winter in Public Art Unites the Community. Since then more traffic signal boxes have turned into canvases—not just in Irvington but in other parts of town as well. And Foundation East won a “Best of Indy” award for best public art for the Irvington project.

Oil painter Rita Spalding, one of the signal box artists, taught a painting class at Friday night’s birthday celebration.

Oil painters-in-the-making

Oil painters-in-the-making

What a kick to see people so absorbed in their creativity. Not a mobile device in sight (except for the occasional smartphone photo). We need more evenings like this.

Sunflower under the brush

Sunflower under the brush

Rita recently started another still life. She’s painting a signal box located on a busy intersection. Someone suggested she apply a painted wrap to the box instead, for safety’s sake. Though many neighbors have expressed concern about the cars and buses whizzing by, she remains committed to painting the box itself.

That’s because she wants passersby to see an artist at work in the public sphere. In her own words:

“My fondest hope: that rubbing up against original art in one’s daily commute and/or walks will awaken a curiosity about the arts… that it might lead to a trip to the IMA (Indianapolis Museum of Art); that it might cause one to slow down in front of a gallery window; that it might encourage one to dig out those paints in the garage and try something expressive and/or creative… A gentle nudge in the form of original public art might create some lovely ripples in a vast variety of lives…”

Here’s Rita (what a gem!) schooling Friday evening’s youngest participant in painting a peach.

Rita with Nathan, budding painter.

Rita with Nathan, a budding painter.

Another artist friend, Laura Hildreth, will be painting a signal box in homage to Irvington’s history. She’s the perfect person for the job, with family ties to this area going back generations.

Laura with a representation of her design for the signal box at the corner of Washington and Ritter.

Laura with a representation of her design for the signal box at the corner of Washington and Ritter, showing the original buildings along that stretch.

And just to show that we are not alone in this effort to beautify the commons, here’s a photo I snapped in Victoria, B.C. earlier this summer. This particular utility box pays tribute to the “slender woollyhead,” a plant native to Vancouver Island.

On the back was printed information about the plant.

On the back was printed information about the plant.

Watch for an upcoming guest post by Foundation East’s co-founder, Vishant Shah, about the next generation in public art projects.