Terre Haute Celebrates the Wabash River
By: Nate Nickel
Last year marked a vibrant celebration of an environmental resource in Terre Haute, Indiana. The “2013 Year of the River” was a community-wide initiative that provided arts, cultural, environmental and educational events that focused on the Wabash River. Attention was also given to the role that rivers and water affect people’s lives. The City of Terre Haute provided support for the Year of the River, and many local organizations spearheaded the various programming events.
The Year of the River featured more than 90 groups, organizations and individuals. A total of 312 events were presented, which included: concerts, plays, nature walks, cleanup projects, tree plantings, art exhibits, historical exhibits, murals, public discussion series, lectures, a Big Read, a Native American mound celebration, an outdoor art festival, poetry competition, a duck race, a midnight river run, a photo contest, hands-on classes and more. A significant highlight of the 2013 Year of the River included community visits, lectures, and public group meetings with internationally and nationally recognized environmental artists Betsy Damon, Stacy Levy, and Buster Simpson.
Their visits and field assessments were made possible through a $25,000 National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Our Town grant. The purpose of these grants is to support creative placemaking projects that help transform communities into lively, beautiful and sustainable places with the arts at their core. All Our Town grant awards were made to partnerships that consisted of a minimum of a not-for-profit organization and a local government entity. The Our Town grant was awarded to Terre Haute in order to study the ways in which public art may play a role in connecting downtown Terre Haute with the Wabash River, including the area surrounding City Hall.
The grant will support Turn to the River, a comprehensive plan for public art to link downtown Terre Haute to the Wabash Riverscape, where housing, restaurants and recreation facilities are planned; connectivity is important for both districts to thrive. The City of Terre Haute is the governmental partner and J3 Concepts, based in Terre Haute, is the planning team engaged in the project. The purpose of Turn to the River is to engage the community in a creative placemaking project that will strongly impact the future of Terre Haute and its relationship with the Wabash River.
In creating this plan, a framework has been designed through which public art and design may create lasting connectivity between the riverfront and the downtown district, contributing to the revitalization of both areas. The newly established Wabashiki Fish and Wildlife Area just west of the river, along with on-going State preservation plans now under way through Indiana’s Healthy Rivers Initiative, has already drawn attention to the Wabash River. The goal is that the added connectivity between downtown and the river will continue to build upon this positive momentum.
Terre Haute’s City Hall lies midway between the downtown and the river and this area will be redesigned to include public art. The project will include research, design and community engagement, resulting in a comprehensive plan with action steps, a timeline and budget. Participants in this process include the City of Terre Haute, area universities, economic development and civic groups, arts and environmental organizations, businesses, urban planners, artists and citizens.
In summary, the arts offer extraordinary avenues for engagement and understanding. During the 2013 Year of the River, the arts were active in inspiring, connecting and engaging the citizens of Terre Haute and the Wabash Valley. This effort is already having a positive impact with involved groups in the Wabash Valley area already discussing and planning another community-wide initiative for 2015.
For more information regarding the 2013 Year of the River in Terre Haute, please visit the official website, or contact Pat Martin, Chief Planner for the City of Terre Haute at (812) 244-4903, or via e-mail.
(Thank you to Pat Martin, Chief Planner, City of Terre Haute, for his helpful assistance in preparing this blog post, as well as providing the accompanying photos).