Cultural Trail unveils garage's million-dollar art installment

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The latest piece of art to be installed along downtown Indianapolis’ Cultural Trail will cost almost as much as the first eight pieces combined.

Located inside the Virginia Avenue parking garage south of Maryland Street, “Swarm Street” by Acconci Studio of New York is an interactive light display that the creators compare to swarms of fireflies. With the unveiling of Swarm Street, all of the public art to be built as part of the trail's construction has been revealed. Other pieces are likely to be added after the trail is complete.

Cultural Trail public art, AcconciThe interactive light display has been compared to swarms of fireflies.(Rendering courtesy Indianapolis Cultural Trail)

The project, which is set to be done by year’s end, costs $975,000 and will be funded by private donations to the Cultural Trail. Acconci Studio’s design fee is $97,000. Most of the remainder will go to Indiana-based contractors that will handle fabrication and installation, said Cultural Trail officials.

Local contractor Shiel Sexton will provide construction management for the project—at no charge—and coordinate other subcontractors.

More than 1,000 LED lights will be embedded below Cultural Trail travelers in the pavement, plus another 1,000 will be installed in an open steel-framework above. Movement from users on the trail will activate light sensors that “swarm” around the user and follow movement through the space.

“As you walk through the tunnel, as you cycle through, a swarm of fireflies—above you, below you—gathers around you and lights your way. One sparkle attracts another, like a magnet, “ explained Vito Acconci, owner of Acconci Studios. “When someone passes you, when someone comes toward you, some sparkles veer off in a different direction, and a new flock of fireflies emerges.”

When it’s finished in 2012, the eight-mile urban trail will represent $62.5 million in public and private investment. Brian Payne, who has spent the past nine years turning his concept of the trail into reality, doesn’t want to see it treated like common pavement.

“It’s something that’s a world-class amenity,” said Payne, president of the Central Indiana Community Foundation. The foundation is building the trail in conjunction with the city of Indianapolis.

To date, more than $1 million has been invested in eight other art displays that are in the process of being installed during the trail’s design and construction.

Artists or architects currently living in or with ties to Indiana created five of the eight projects. In addition, three Indiana-based poets have been commissioned to do work that will be featured on new Cultural Trail bus shelters, with the possibility of five more authors receiving commissions.

“The garage is our biggest design challenge,” Payne said. “In addition to the railroad and interstate, it creates another visual barrier to the neighborhoods south of downtown. We also anticipated that people would be concerned about using a trail that takes users through a dark space. We knew that a public art installation could transform this space from a dark scary place to a vibrant, fun destination.”

The Cultural Trail’s Public Art Advisory Committee first approached Acconci in 2007 based on his “world-renowned reputation as an artist, designer, and thinker,” Payne said.
Acconci also has designed a donor recognition wall in this space. The names of donors who have contributed $100,000 or more will be laser cut from mirrored stainless steel and displayed along the interior of the installation.


  • hello
    "downtown resident" If world class could be built a day then everyone would have it. The cultural trail is on the verge of something great and each project that occurs along it gets it closer and closer. I just hope that the trail is ever-changing and they never settle for what they already have. That is what makes it so exciting now. It could become a showcase for new forms of interactive art for decades to come!
  • It's Not About Logic
    As the artist, Giorgio de Chirico, said
    "To become truly immortal, a work of art must escape all human limits: logic and common sense will only interfere. But once these barriers are broken, it will enter the realms of childhood visions and dreams."
  • Amazing
    Cannot wait to experience this installation. Kudos to Brian and Gail Payne for their tireless work on this, along with all the generous funders and partners. This is culture, beauty, and economic redevelopment, as downtown connects to its nearby diamond in the rough--Fountain Square.
  • Right place, right time
    Carl...the Artsgarden is not on the Cultural Trail, and the point of having the piece in the Virginia Ave tunnel is to make that section of the trail, and of the city in general, less forbidding as well as to draw people between Fountain Square and Downtown on the trail. How do you make something that is not traveled, more traveled? Put something there that people will want to experience.
  • Yes, It Is Terrific
    Downtown Resident, you seem to be confused about a few issues concerning the Cultural Trail. First, the Cultural Trail is named so because it connects cultural and historic points of interest downtown, not necessarily because the trail itself is considered a piece of culture. However, I think there is an argument to be made that it is a piece of cultural by itself since it demonstrates an innovative way of interacting with urban space and it has some interesting pieces of art for individuals to experience along the way. Second, yes, it is a sidewalk/trail. Did you expect it to get up and make your bed? Keep you company on a lonely night? Put on a song and dance? A walking/biking trail serves a basic function, so I am a bit perplexed that people like you complain that "it's just a sidewalk." Well, yes, it is a sidewalk/trail, but it is also something much more. It is a functional piece of infrastructure elevated to a higher level and made beautiful. I don't necessarily put the Trial in the category of the greatest works of architecture, but by your simple logic, I guess one can say the Golden Gate Bridge is "just a bridge," or the Statue of Liberty is "just a silly green sculpture of a lady holding a torch." Finally, the Trail has received international praise, so yes, it is "world class," at least in the opinion of various individuals from around the world. Whether you are or not impressed with it is your decision. But, I think we can both agree that it is a hell of lot better and more interesting than the usual crap that gets built in Indianapolis.
  • fancy sidewalk
    other than a nice wide cobblestone sidewalk, where is the "culture"? where is the "art"? You mean a criss cross of white painted I-beams that have multi colored lights alternating on a 10 ft stetch of the sidewalk? and some plastic red birds on another 10 ft stretch? I live downtown and walk this every day. Is this really "world class"?
    • What a great idea!
      When I first heard abot the trail going through the garage I thought it might be intimidating to travel it because of the darkness. This art installation will encourage people to explore this space and help connect downtown to Fountain Square. I can't wait to travel this when it is complete.
    • Great idea wrong place
      Why was this not done underneath the arts garden? I have to agree with the other poster as this is not an impact place and is a destination less traveled. I do however like the idea.

      Also this should have been done in the corridors running from the mall to the convention center in the tubes and also in the tubes to the various hotels.
      • thanks
        Thanks to Brian and Gayle Payne for all of the work they and so many other people did to make this a reality . It is rare that a city is lucky enough to get this many people focused on improving their city. I look forward to the next project .
      • Will Anybody See This?
        Ummmm... $975,000 to improve a space nobody visits or walks under, unless they were just released from Marion County? I like the idea, but the location stinks. This route is barely used by anybody other than Anthem folks. This seems like a waste of money...
      • Amazing.....
        This is truly the most forward thinking, progressive and quality of life boosting project for the city. The culture surrounding it and the support is overwhelming. The only scary part about this project is what could we do next that could possibly live up to it? Can't wait to ride the finished product, the pieces so far have been wonderful!
      • Right on
        My sentiments, exactly!
      • Thank You for Thinking Big
        I cannot say enough kudos to Brian Payne and his team for thinking big and not settling for anything less than world-class with this project. When complete the Cultural Trail will be unlike anything in any other city. In too many instances Indianapolis is merely following the lead of others, but in this scenario we are putting something forth to be envied by other cities here and abroad. If you haven't already, lace up and go for a run or jump on your bike and pedal the trail. The biggest crime of all would be if our residents didn't take advantage of this amazing development. Cheers!
        • Great Project
          Thanks to CICF, other participants, and Jim Shackelford, this is a fantastic addition to Indianapolis.

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