Conversations with the Artists: Jeana Ripple, Ripple Architecture Studio; Barbara Brown Wilson, University of Virginia / by Place Lab

Jeana Ripple + Barbara Brown Wilson are a two-person team that will submit a proposal for the ArtHouse public art commission Illumination. The artists selected for ArtHouse's public art commissions will be announced in late May 2016.

What motivated you to apply for the Bloomberg Philanthropies Public Art Challenge at ArtHouse? If you have a connection to Gary, what is it?
We are inspired by the vision for ArtHouse: a place that uses art and food to create both community and opportunity.

Jeana: I’m from the Midwest (Cleveland) and have lived in cities across Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, and Michigan. This led me to develop an architectural practice focused on collaboration with manufacturers as a way to promote the local economy. I’ve seen manufacturing form the heart of these cities and at times also struggle to re-invent itself.

Barbara: My work focuses on community engaged design and education programs. So the history of Gary’s education innovation is particularly compelling to me. Gary started a national movement in education, where students at community schools learned through a work/study/play model focused on learning by the tactile experiences of making.

Our combined interest in promoting local community and manufacturing made ArtHouse a particularly inspiring project. 

Inside  Woods of Net  pavilion, designed by Tezuka Architects. Photo by Abel Erazo.

Inside Woods of Net pavilion, designed by Tezuka Architects. Photo by Abel Erazo.

Are there examples of public art works that have had an impact on you?
The Good Neighbor mural in Cleveland’s Little Italy had an impact on me as a kid because it was a source of pride and marking of place. Today, project’s like the Woods of Net Pavilion at the Hakone Open Air Museum by Toshiko Horiuchi MacAdam are an inspiration because they prompt curiosity and play in children. We’re after all of these effects with this project—promoting pride, place, play.

Does your approach to a public commission differ from the approach you take to other work, such as for private clients, exhibitions, galleries, or targeted audiences? If so, how? If not, why not
Some goals—like the translation of local material and manufacturing technology—are shared across projects. But a public commission in particular needs to be interactive, inspiring, and a place in which residents feel a sense of authorship. 

Why do you feel that public art is important to communities?
Public art plays so many roles in communities. Its been shown to cultivate community cohesion, to drive economic revitalization, to serve as a vehicle for education, to build a collective sense of identity in a place and also pride for that place, and to encourage residents to stop and utilize their senses—which is fundamental to improving quality of life and human health. Our project is designed to provide educational opportunities, celebration space, inspiring and playful experiences… all of which contribute to the joy people feel in their immediate environment. In this project, the art is also designed to provide social amenities like internet access and bike repair stations, attracting people to participate in the entrepreneurial initiatives at ArtHouse.

Ripple Architecture Studio project,   Evaporative Skin  , featured in the TEX-FAB SKIN Digital Assemblies Exhibition.

Ripple Architecture Studio project, Evaporative Skin, featured in the TEX-FAB SKIN Digital Assemblies Exhibition.

Should your proposal be chosen as the winning artwork, how do you envision the Gary community would be involved in bringing the work to fruition?
The design facilitates opportunities for involvement that range from design/build workshops to the creation of a documentary to a social making party at the ArtHouse opening. We are planning to provide equipment and further training in film-making for a local youth video club to document the manufacturing and assembly process involved in the commission. We’re hoping to work with local partners to create opportunities for youth to be involved in construction and have created several “learning-by-doing” scenarios.

Finally, we envision a launch party that brings the greater Gary community to the makers table during the opening celebration. The launch event at the end of the installation process could double as a Social Making event where community members can learn how to build their own lanterns like those in our design. This event could also serve as the film premiere for the youth-made documentary on the installation process. The hope is that this installation is one articulated by joyful collaborative making and community building experiences, and that the final product is something to which many Gary residents feel they contributed and want to return to and enjoy frequently.

What do you want to convey about cities in your commissioned work of art (or in the process that leads up to its installation)?
Cities each have their own material and innovation culture that can be celebrated through its art. Cities can spark curiosity, inspire new thinking, and reinvigorate your senses, while also honoring and embodying within them the history of that place.

Anything else you’d like to add, or tell ArtHouse fans?
ArtHouse is the people who are dedicated to this effort: Gary residents and their Mayor Freeman-Wilson, Mama Pearl’s, Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Knight Foundation, and especially PlaceLab. We’re excited to contribute a design that will continue to build on the power of community, and on the energy of this creative infrastructure.

Jeana Ripple and Barbara Brown Wilson of Ripple Architecture Studio and the University of Virginia have combined backgrounds in award-winning architecture and community engaged design that creates a dynamic team to contribute art honoring Gary’s manufacturing expertise, community pride, and future potential. Jeana Ripple is the founding principal of Ripple Architecture Studio. Her work uses manufacturing processes as a driver for design innovation. Ripple Architecture Studio has won multiple AIA awards and has been internationally exhibited and published. Dr. Barbara Brown Wilson is an urban planner, leader in the practice of community engaged design, and known for her ability to partner with local nonprofits to craft youth-led design initiatives. Her community-based work as a practitioner and an educator has produced projects and programs that are beloved by community and recognized for excellence in the profession. Wilson has won numerous local and national awards for her community engaged design efforts and is recognized as one of the “top 100 leaders in Public Interest Design.”