November 26th, 2013

Building a Better Billboard

by Emily Vanest


I have passed the billboard at 16th and Delaware almost every single day for the past 13 years as I’ve taken my kids to school at both The Oaks Academy and Herron High School.  My 3-year-old son can identify the injury attorney whose face has featured prominently on the board for years by name.  When the billboard became available this month, for the first time in nearly a decade, we began to ask ourselves what we could do to reclaim it — for the neighborhood.  We wanted to create something that would celebrate King Park, inspire the 25,000 commuters driving by us every day, and tell the story of this neighborhood.  What could we do?

Kyle Ragsdale, who has his studio here in the old choir rehearsal room of this historic King Park church building, has served as curator of the Harrison Center for over a decade.  A recent body of work, celebrating neighborhood, community, and connectedness, uses yards of billowing silk and long poles as props for a cast of characters that includes Herron High School students and King Park Area residents walking to school and playing in their yards.  We decided that one of these paintings would be a perfect, jubilant, honoring of one part of the neighborhood story.


We invited several Herron High School students who live in King Park to gather during the magic hour, just before the sun sets, on a Sunday evening to shoot photos.  Evelyn, from Old Northside led the march in front of Russell Hall (new name for the historic Museum building), followed by Herron Morton’s Michael, Lucy, Imani and Alayna.  Brandon, whose family moved to Fall Creek Place last year, took up the rear.   And, who is the little guy out of uniform?  That’s Lucy’s little brother Leo, who attends School 27, tagging along with his violin.   Most of these kids have grown up together: they played together in Herron Morton Park as preschoolers, trick-or-treated each Halloween, and now sing and study together at Herron High.  These streets and stories . . . these people . . . have shaped who they are.


This year, we at the Harrison Center want to tell the stories of King Park.  Over the summer, we hosted our first singer songwriter interns.  One researched the stories and people of King Park to write a song a week for our Neighborhood Songwriting Project.   Three others joined together to create the Neighborhood Ballad Project, telling the stories of heroes and villains from King Park’s history.  And last week, we stood wrapped together against the biting cold to watch that old billboard come down, and this new story go up.  We hope you’ll enjoy the view.