Repurposing Indianapolis: People for Urban Progress are on the job 

In the second story of Fountain Square's Murphy Art Center you'll find the People for Urban Progress (PUP) headquarters and studio. Inside are chic "Urban Hobo Bags" created with a sturdy Teflon-coated fiberglass material. This material was tough enough to survive twenty-five years of snowstorms and summer scorchers as the roofing of the RCA Dome, which was demolished in 2008.

PUP founders Maryanne O'Malley and Michael Bricker came up with the idea of recycling the RCA Dome material — all 250 tons of it — and implemented a plan, commissioning artists to make purses and messenger bags – "Dome Bags."

click to enlarge Recycled "Dome Bags," designed by local artists and for sale through People for Urban Progress.
  • Recycled "Dome Bags," designed by local artists and for sale through People for Urban Progress.

They hope to use proceeds from the sale of these bags for the funding of shade structures and pavilions, also made from the dome material, that will soon appear in parks all around Indianapolis.

PUP recently reached a milestone, selling a thousand Dome Bags; $35,000 has already been put into a fund to create the aforementioned shade structures and pavilions. O'Malley and Bricker anticipate that the first of these structures — designed in partnership with W/Purpose's Will Marquez and manufactured by Randy Domeck and Brian McCutcheon of Indianapolis Fabrications — will be deployed at the Community Outreach Center in the Reagan Park neighborhood, near the intersection of 23rd and Gilbert streets. (Check in upcoming weeks for more info, as the installation date hasn't been set.)

In addition to their work with the dome material, PUP is exploring the possibility of bringing a car-sharing program to the city of Indianapolis. This initiative would be modeled after the successful iGo Chicago, whose executive director, Sharon Feigon, came to Indianapolis on Sept. 23 to talk about the program. With car-sharing, groups of environmentally and/or wallet-conscious motorists share a small fleet of vehicles to service their transportation needs instead of owning separate cars.

Sustainable urban development

O'Malley and Bricker didn't intend to form a nonprofit organization. But they found it necessary in order to accomplish their goal of keeping the RCA Dome material from being dumped in a landfill. Once PUP was founded, however, they broadened their mission to embrace other sustainable urban development practices.

Michael Bricker grew up in Indianapolis, earning a degree in art from Wabash College and a Master's in Architecture from the University of Texas at Austin. Bricker not only co-manages operations of PUP, but has sewn together quite a few dome bags himself.

Maryanne O'Malley, who grew up in New York City, has spent much time abroad, including Japan, where she rarely had to use a car because of the sophisticated Japanese public transit system. This experience allowed O'Malley to look at Indianapolis — a city with bare-bones public transportation options — from a fresh perspective.

click to enlarge Maryanne O'Malley and Michael Bricker, PUP founders.
  • Maryanne O'Malley and Michael Bricker, PUP founders.

"We wanted just to save the roofing material," says O'Malley. "And that kind of thrust us in this direction just based on us, you know, seeing the gaps in the city and wanting to find solutions for some of the missing pieces."

"We wrote a proposal on why it should be saved," says Bricker. "We researched the material. We called the original manufacturers. We found out its value today if you were to buy it new today. We just assembled a pretty serious set of information about the material. I think that is what really helped them to take us seriously but also kind of realize the potential.... it's one of the most inert materials made. It just would sit in a landfill indefinitely.... And the properties are just unbelievable. It's perfect for anything.

"The possibilities are endless here," he continues. "We just thought, 'Why isn't there an organization focusing on improving the urban quality of life in Indianapolis?' So instead of being a transit-based organization or a green-based organization, we're trying to be an urban-based organization which includes design, environment, and transit. In an urban setting you have to consider all those things together. So that kind of led us to doing projects instead of policy so we're an organization known for our projects that start popping up throughout the city."

Recycling the RCA Dome material was not something they could do on their own. They needed to talk to many parties and develop partnerships with many different organizations including, most crucially, Sabre Demolition. In order to carry out a project of this size, O'Malley and Bricker needed to convince the company responsible for the dome demolition that theirs was a viable idea. They began talking to Sabre in June 2008 prior to the dome coming down.

"Without Sabre Demolition, this never would've happened," O'Malley stresses. "They really are the hero in all this. They listened to our proposal. We actually met with Jaime Gance who was the sight manager and supervisor and he thought it was a good idea."

The search for partners

The PUP founders knew that getting the demolition company to take down the dome material in a way that wouldn't destroy its usefulness and integrity was just one part of the venture in preservation. They needed to find partners to transport and store it as well.

First they went to Indy Parks. It made perfect sense: If all went well, the urban parks of Indianapolis would ultimately benefit from shade structures and shelters made from the dome material. Indy Parks agreed to store the first eight acres that came down.

"So once Indy Parks was interested, they helped line up transportation and storage. And [their] warehouse is on Delaware and South Street," says Bricker. "So it was only going like five blocks and by that time it had been folded up and palatized. That chunk of it was pretty easy to transport. And that hadn't been cleaned. That's just sitting in there. The only stuff that's been cleaned is what we are turning into bags. And that's a process of power-washing and then hand-washing twice and then cutting them out. It's a long process."

PUP also arranged for SEND (Southeast Neighborhood Development) and Keep Indianapolis Beautiful to store the remaining dome material.

Once enough had been salvaged and cleaned, seven local PUP-commisioned artists created wallets, bags, messenger bags, notebooks and other items. You can find the goods available for purchase at Indy Swank, Big Hat Books & Arts, Homespun, Silver in the City, the Indiana State Museum, as well as the PUP studio itself on First Fridays.

As you make the rounds this First Friday, Dec. 3, stop by the People for Urban Progress headquarters in Fountain Square and consider buying a repurposed piece of Indy history to support their mission.

Items from PUP available for sale now (dome wallets, clutches and messenger bags are no longer available):

* Urban Hobo ($65), made from the RCA Dome roof and other repurposed fabrics. Designed for PUP by Jessica Bricker and made by Jessica Bricker and Liz Roney.

* Noteables ($24-$55), also made from the RCA Dome roof and recycled paper. Handmade by Melissa Oesch of Reimagined by Luna (

* PUPshirts ($24), designed by PUP.

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