In 2006, Citizens Energy Group embarked on a 20-year project to improve local waterways by constructing the DigIndy Tunnel System 250 feet below the surface of Indianapolis. The purpose? To clean and preserve the city’s rivers and streams for generations to come. The first 10 miles of the system opened in late 2017 and have prevented more than 1.3 billion gallons of sewage from entering the White River and Eagle Creek across the southern half of Marion County. Upon completion, the 28-mile DigIndy Tunnel System will nearly eliminate sewer overflows from area waterways.
In order to shed light on this sophisticated system that residents may never see, Citizens developed a continuing art project that features local artists’ work and encourages conversation around our human connection to water. In 2019, the DigIndy Art Project partnered with Big Car to highlight some of the major changes taking place under our feet and allow community members to become involved.
The DigIndy Art Project asked local artists to imagine an Indianapolis with cleaner waterways in our natural landscape. What does it look like? Who are the people, real and imagined, that these improvements will affect? How will access to cleaner waterways improve residents’ quality of life?
With this, eight Indianapolis-based artists developed designs that visualize our city’s future with enhanced waterways as a result of the DigIndy Tunnel System. The designs were then transferred into paint-by-numbers on wooden circles, representing manhole covers. These wooden circles were brought to community events Downtown and at the Indiana State Fair for anyone, no matter skill level, to paint. Some sat for minutes, some sat for hours. Through their participation, each person was not only given the opportunity to learn about and take a virtual reality tour of the DigIndy Tunnel System, but community members were also able to connect with one another through the art-making process.
As the designs were being painted by the community, the artists painted their pieces onto real manhole covers. The manhole covers were placed throughout the city and serve as reminders of the DigIndy Tunnel System, our future with cleaner waterways and our connection to one another. So, next time you are walking Downtown, near IUPUI, or in the Garfield Park and Broad Ripple neighborhoods, take time to look down and you may find a piece of artwork under your feet.
Artists featured: John Clark, Carlie Foreman, Andy Fry, James Kelly, Ess McKee, Chris Tower, Ezi Underwood, John DeWeese
Check out photos from the project here.