When Sophia Travis passed away, her absence didn’t leave a void in Bloomington— it planted a seed. The local musician, activist and politician’s warm personality had become so infused with her surroundings that the people she left behind were compelled to further enhance their community on her behalf. Those who attended IU at the same time as Travis remember her as a caring and fiercely loyal friend. Later in life, when early conversations around the construction of Interstate 69 piqued her interest in politics, it was that same dedication that made her such such an asset for her community. It only makes sense that her beloved town would want to honor her influence. As longtime friend Catherine Dyar puts it, “She was the kind of person who made an impression.”
When the Friends of Sophia Travis Memorial Fund, organized by Travis’ parents, close friends and colleagues, set about commemorating her impact on Bloomington, they wanted to honor her life in a way that would directly benefit the community she loved. Friends like Amanda Barge, who serves as co-president of the fund along with Dyar, remember Travis as someone who motivated others to make positive changes happen around them.
“Sophia inspired me and many others to be more active in local politics,” Barge says. “Her passion for this community was intense and we wanted to honor her civic accomplishments and do something that hadn’t yet been done.”
For their initial project, the Memorial Fund is aiming high, commissioning local artist Dale Enochs to design an outdoor seating space in her honor. The Sophia Travis Women in Government Plaza will rest just outside the courthouse in Bloomington’s central square, and purposefully resembles a living room.
“The carved figural silhouettes on the benches and chairs are intended to encourage people to fill the spaces or interact with those human forms,” Enochs says. “They are whimsical… and are meant to reflect that aspect of Travis.”
Travis was known for her ability to connect people with each other, and the Friends of Sophia hope that the space will encourage the kind of interactions and discussions that Travis found to be so important to community building.
While their first big project focuses on Travis’ role as a local politician and activist, the Friends of Sophia were sure to tap into her passion for Bloomington’s local music scene too. After all, it was Jacobs School of Music that first brought Travis to town and, as an accomplished pianist and harpsichord player, she was highly active in the town’s early music scene. In the ‘90s, she inherited her grandfather’s accordion and began performing everything from rock to tango to folk in both group and solo outings. From her work playing with The Vulgar Boatmen and The Mary Jones to her own songwriting ventures with Lola and Mitten, Travis was an active part of the town’s booming local scene.
So it makes sense that Friends of Sophia’s first big fundraiser would honor Travis’ musicality along with her passion for community. Based on events that first took place in Bloomington over a decade ago, the Rock Lotto fundraiser will encourage musicians to experiment and collaborate in an effort to raise awareness and funding for the Women in Government Plaza.
The two night event will take place on Friday, May 8 and Sunday, May 24 at The Bishop. The first night is the actual lotto, where various artists and comedians will perform and musicians will enter their name in a hat to be randomly assigned to bands. After the lotto, those mix-matched acts will have two weeks to work on songs, costumes, or any other elements they want to work into their performance. Both professionals and amateurs are encouraged to join in on the fun, and the hope is that musicians from diverse backgrounds will get to work together.
“What comes out of this Rock Lotto is anybody’s guess,” says event MC Brad Wilhelm, who often worked with Travis in his role as the director of Rhino’s Youth Center. “I think Sophia would have loved the fact that diversity in music will be the result of this.”
Fundraisers come and go, and most causes are more than worthy of the time and attention, but it’s not every day that an event resonates so directly with the cause that it benefits. Travis’ community remembers her as the kind of person who built bridges and connected Bloomington’s citizens to one another, whether it was through a friendly conversation, her civic duties or her musical finesse. And, on top of all that, she was a mother, a wife, and a dedicated friend to almost everyone she met.
“Bloomington is a special place, not just in Indiana, but here in the Midwest,” Wilhelm says. “And Sophia Travis was a special part of this special place.”
Women in Government Plaza and Rock Lotto fundraiser don’t just aim to honor her dedication to community— they are steps to continue the cultural growth and development in which Travis played such a crucial role.
The Rock Lotto fundraiser at The Bishop is on Friday, May 8 (Lotto, 8 pm, $7) and Sunday, May 24 (Performances, 8 pm, $12).