The Indianapolis Cultural Trail: A Legacy of Gene & Marilyn Glick is a unique eight-mile urban bicycle and pedestrian path that will connect five Cultural Districts and deliver users to every major art, cultural, heritage, sports, and entertainment venue in downtown Indianapolis. However, the Cultural Trail is not just about the destination…it is about the journey. With the support of ArtPlace, “Swarm Street,” an interactive light-environment designed by Acconci Studio (Vito Acconci), is being built as a creative way to connect the Fountain Square Cultural District with the urban core using the Cultural Trail.

As “Swarm Street” nears completion, ArtPlace interviewed Mindy Taylor Ross, the public art coordinator for the Cultural Trail, about the unexpected challenges and happy surprises that she’s encountered during construction.

ARTPLACE: As you reflect on your work to date, what unexpected challenges have you encountered?

MINDY: The first unexpected challenge was with the timeline. The contractor selected by the Indiana Department of Transportation for the publicly bid portion of the Cultural Trail project was late in turning over the project’s site to the private contractor we hired to build out “Swarm Street.” This shortened our timeline to build by at least 60 days. This was a challenge because Indianapolis was preparing to host Super Bowl 46 in early February and we really wanted the “Swarm Street” project completed for the hundreds of thousands of visitors that would be moving around our city during this event. Everyone had been so focused on getting the city buttoned up for Super Bowl that I didn’t anticipate not hitting that deadline. Sadly, we were not able to get the project up and running by Super Bowl. In hindsight, this was a nice deadline to shoot for but it doesn’t really matter that we didn’t hit it. It is better that we take our time and get the project built right before our own residents hit the trail this spring and summer.

Another unexpected challenge has been pigeons! Pigeons are roosting in unexpected numbers under the railroad bridge the covers the southern portion of the “Swarm Street” project area. They are defecating all over our new beautiful white pavers and soon will be defecating on trail users! So, we are researching a solution for this problem now. It will likely mean that we construct some “pigeon slides,” which are essentially a piece of metal put at 45 degrees on every surface where pigeons are perching. If pigeons cannot land and lay on a fairly flat surface, they won’t hang out for long, if at all. Additionally, we are looking at a solution where we would hang a giant net under the rail bridge so the pigeons cannot access the abutment where they like to sit.

The last unexpected challenge has been with the ambient lighting—the purple color field we’re trying to create. The red and blue bulbs specified in the design are not mixing to make purple. Therefore, we are spending time trying new solutions. Tweaking. Trying a different solution. Tweaking again…

We had challenges with the construction and wiring of the armature, but this was anticipated. The form that Acconci Studio designed is extremely complex.

ARTPLACE: Have you had any happy surprises in your work to date?

MINDY: It has been a great surprise to see how efficiently the local contractors have been able to tackle such a complex project despite the delay in getting possession of the project site. Sometimes I have found that large general contractors are impatient with creative projects like this and in this case Shiel Sexton has been great and so have their subs. I’d heard grumbling about the difficulties with the armature but as soon as the guys fired it up a couple weeks ago and it started responding to their movement (another happy surprise that it worked the first time we turned it on), even they had to admit it was cool.

It is also always a great surprise when I step out onto the job site, look out over a project and think, “Wow, it looks like the rendering!” This moment doesn’t always happen but it did happen with this project.

ARTPLACE: Are there things you’ve learned in your work that others in the creative placemaking field can learn from?

MINDY: I think the biggest lesson learned was about the importance of using time and resources early in the project for prototyping. I wrote about this in the January blog post and encourage others to not be penny wise and pound foolish about this. Prototype. See what is not working. Prototype again. Work on the prototype until you have a solution to all the major creative aspects of the project before you start construction. I’m convinced this will save time and money in the end.

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