BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – This summer 13 rural Indiana organizations will work with Indiana University to create new placemaking and public art elements in their communities through the Rural Placemaking Studio initiative.

A partnership between the IU ServeDesign Center at the Eskenazi School of Art, Architecture and Design and the Center for Rural Engagement, the Rural Placemaking Studio connects IU faculty and students with rural residents who seek to enhance their communities through art and design. The Rural Placemaking Studio collaborates with communities to foster the development of vibrant, accessible public places that can be maintained and sustained for future generations. This can include the physical environment, like the design and aesthetics of buildings and public spaces, as well as the availability of amenities, cultural activities, recreational opportunities and a sense of community.

“Creative placemaking in a rural community is more than a painting a mural,” said Jon Racek, program director of comprehensive design and director of the ServeDesign Center at the Eskenazi School of Art, Architecture and Design. “Placemaking can make a physical marker to a sense of shared memories, and deep connection to a place. It is through placemaking that rural communities can cultivate their unique identity and turn their downtowns into vibrant hubs of cultural heritage and local pride.”

Selected community-identified projects include murals, wayfinding signage, architectural and park design and downtown revitalization efforts. The Rural Placemaking Studio will support community feedback sessions, develop a scope of work and create designs the community will implement on a timeline that fits the project. Students studying comprehensive design, creative placemaking and community arts engagement will work with communities through the summer months alongside Racek and the Center for Rural Engagement team.

The state of Indiana has identified quality of place as a key area of focus for state and federal support through programs like the Regional Economic Acceleration and Development Initiative (READI). Counties in the Indiana Uplands region, where IU Bloomington is located, have each completed a quality of place and workforce attraction plan in collaboration with Regional Opportunity Initiatives. Creative placemaking promotes inclusive public spaces, cultivates a sense of belonging, preserves and enhances natural and cultural resources and supports economic development.

“A strong quality of place is critical to the vitality of our rural communities and our entire state,” said Denny Spinner, interim executive director at the Center for Rural Engagement. “Through the Rural Placemaking Studio, communities can leverage the creative strengths of IU students and faculty to revitalize their unique local assets that increase hometown pride and attract new visitors and residents.”

2024 Rural Placemaking Studio projects include:

  • Black Vulture Project (Orange County) is renovating the historic Tomato Products Company building along the former Monon Railway in Paoli and will create architectural designs to create a space for public events.
  • The City of Charlestown (Clark County) will create a pocket park alongside Short Street, which will include creative seating, lighting, and art. The pocket park will be across the street from City Square, which hosts events and fairs throughout the year.
  • The Daviess County Economic Development Corp. will create a photo-op station in front of the newly finished “Greetings from Washington” mural.
  • Discover Downtown Washington (Daviess County) will map and design renderings of wayfinding signage to help connect people to attractions throughout the cities and towns of Daviess County.
  • INergize Linton (Greene County) will activate an alley that will provide a walking path from 1st Street to Main Street, which will help connect the Linton Public Library and the Carnegie Heritage & Art Center to the downtown business district of Main Street.
  • The Martin County Alliance for Economic Development will design a splash pad along the riverfront and create cohesive signage and storefront branding for businesses, including innovative signage downtown to promote local business in Shoals, Ind. as well as a welcome sign for the Town of Crane.
  • The Pekin Community Betterment Organization (Washington County) will design a mural on the exterior walls of the shelter house in a local park.
  • Spencer Pride (Owen County) will create rooftop signage on its CommUnity Center building and a colorful mural on the building’s exterior.
  • The Town of Lynnville (Warrick County) will create town branding and wayfinding sign designs, including “Welcome to Lynnville” gateway signs off I-64, IN-68, and IN-61 and wayfinding signs in downtown Lynnville and at trail heads.
  • Warrick Trails (Warrick County) will conceptualize a design that will transform a parking lot on the corner of First Street and Main Street in Elberfeld, Ind. into a pocket park.

Participating organizations were selected through a proposal process that included information about the project idea, implementation plans and partners involved. A future call for proposals is planned for winter 2025. The Center for Rural Engagement will launch a free, rural placemaking webinar series open to the public on May 31.

Community planning sessions in participating communities will begin in May. For a schedule of upcoming meetings and more information about the Rural Placemaking Studio, visit

April 10, 2024

Media contact: Kyla Cox Deckard, IU Center for Rural Engagement

(812) 855-4992 office  (812) 219-9993 cell