The art of mass transit in Indy 

A mobile art exhibit tells the stories of bus riders

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Every day, thousands of citizens get on and off IndyGo buses, simply going about their day-to-day lives. But in addition to whatever personal belongings they may have on them, each and every one of these riders also carries a story, encompassing who they are and why they happen to call Indianapolis home.

This concept is ultimately at the heart of a mobile Spirit & Place Festival exhibit titled Moving Stories, which will feature stories from community members sharing what defines Indy as their collective home. From Nov. 5 - 13, these personal anecdotes will be shared through images and quotes on bus routes, at the Transit Center and on social media, allowing the public to connect with them.


Having long been an advocate of community engagement, Marian University Writing Center director Mark Latta initially approached IndyGo with the idea for this project after having several personal interactions of his own on the bus.

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"Engaging in dialogue allowed me to see the bus as a site of culture, and that people could gather onto the bus and share information and talk about their day and talk about their frustrations," he says. "And then, they would leave, and they would carry those stories with them."

With this in mind, he assembled a group of about 40 volunteers, with the help of IndyGo, who would be given the task of riding buses and collecting stories from various strangers that they interacted with.

Before heading out onto the buses Latta gave each of the volunteers some pointers in sparking up a conversation. According to IndyGo communications specialist Allison Potteiger, who has also played a big part in making Moving Stories come to life, Latta encouraged volunteers to start out with questions like: "How long have you been living in Indianapolis?" and "Where are you headed today?" From here, they would hopefully then be able to dive into deeper questions like "Why do you consider Indy to be your home?" and "How does mass transit play a role in that?"

"Having these conversations at the Transit Center and on the buses was very interesting because you had this short timeframe to have a conversation," says Potteiger. "And because time was of the essence, really interesting stories and perspectives came out that probably wouldn't normally have happened if you would've set up an interview."

As a result of this approach, family and community were two common topics that often emerged in these conversations, which came as quite a surprise to Potteiger.

"I expected people to say, 'I like to go to the library because I like to check out books,' but you kind of got a glimpse into people's lives and got to know them a little bit just by their answers," she says.

In particular, Latta cites a conversation he had with a father who responded to his question of "What does home mean?"

"For him, home meant being a father to his daughter," says Latta. "He replied, 'I wanted to be a father to my daughter. I wanted to break the chain and say it stops with me. So I moved here. I stepped up and did what a father does.'"

Through Moving Stories, Indy residents will be able to read anecdotes like the one above all over town. According to Latta and Potteiger, there will be about 15 stories on display at the Transit Center, with photos accompanying each. Additionally, stories can be seen on the backs of certain buses (where ads typically are displayed), on placards inside of certain buses and on social media, giving everyone a chance to check them out.

"You wouldn't think about it unless you worked in transit, but our buses change every day because it's literally based on mileage," Potteiger says. "So the stories will likely be on just about every route [at some point]."

In reflecting on the potential impact of Moving Stories, Latta is hopeful that the exhibit can put more of a human face to public transportation, especially considering the city's future plans. "Public transportation is really about moving people where they want to go and where they need to go," he says. This being said, both he and Potteiger would like to see the project eventually evolve into something more in the future.

"This has really opened up the doors of what we can do and how we can get to know our riders better," Potteiger concludes. "I truly hope this is something that morphs into something more, but we'll see at this point. We've gotta get through this hurdle first."

(Editor's Note: This article was graciously boosted on social media by Spirit & Place Fest [www.spiritandplace.org]. Spirit & Place Fest had no input on the content in this article or the decision to create it.)

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