Writer / Kara Reibel
Mission Statement: The DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC WORDS is positive words empowering people. Through the power of words, we build, sustain, and empower communities through strategic arts partnerships, mentorships, events, and education.
The Department of Public Words was started seven months ago by Holly and Dave Combs. was then hired as Grants Director. All three artists were brought together by their shared love of positive messages, street art and community. The Love Train is one of their largest completed projects, and quite possibly the largest mural in the state.
While meeting with Mike Cloran to discuss a mural for DeveloperTown’s outer wall facing the Monon Trail, DPW was immediately drawn to the opposing wall. This long wall, which had not been painted since 1999, clearly showed signs of neglect and decay.
DPW immediately contacted the owner of the wall, Herman & Kittle Properties, or HKP. Originally turned down by the Super Bowl beautification grant committee, the wall is the length of two football fields and was deemed “too large a project” by the committee. HKP did not know if they could repair the beautiful artwork that was originally painted by Broad Ripple High School students 15 years ago. It soon became evident, due to the amount of weathered damage, that they would have to start all over.
Knowing they only had the seasonable weather of summer and fall to get the work done, they worked fast and furious on their plan. Megan immediately went to work on solidifying funding. Funding was secured through a Meridian Kessler Neighborhood Association grant, SmallBox “nice grant”, and Herman & Kittle Properties, Inc.
Herman & Kittle Properties enthusiastically committed to the project. HKP’s philanthropic committee, HKP Cares, approved a donation of $8,000 to DPW for the mural. Thanks to a national contract with Sherwin Williams, they converted their credit of $5,000 for the paint and supplies. Outside of financial support, HKP had more than 70 employees and family members come out for a volunteer day and other days to help DPW on the project.
With a project of this size, stencils would be required. DPW called in a regional expert, StenSOUL street artist, Peat Wollaeger. He consulted on the project and he instinctively knew the mural would be a train, a “love train.” Inspired by the Monon Railway, his visual images were converted into large stencils to transform the wall into a train.
EYEZ, as Wollaeger is known, has a signature “eye” on all of his artwork. Wollaeger is big on awakening people. He believes that most people are looking down at their phones and tablets too much and not opening their eyes to their surroundings. So his iconic eyes are all over the train cars.
The Love Train contains 283 individual pieces of positivity along 44 train cars, including two engines and one caboose, spanning the distance of 600 feet. You cannot see one end from the other. It took five large 4 feet by 8 feet stencils to create one car, plus another stencil for the wheels. Each train car also includes detailed stencils with different messages such as “Forgive,” “You are Beautiful” and “Amaze Yourself.”
Residents and users of the Monon Trail who pass by it are drawn to the messages. One resident said, “every time I run by, I see something new.” That is what the Department of Public Words had hoped for, fresh discovery of positive messages by the public.
The Jefferson family lives across the street from the Love Train. It is their community and their home. Positive messages create an impact on people who read them, and they have seen proof that their message is well-received. “The Speak Easy hosts wedding receptions occasionally and I have seen bridal parties utilizing the Love Train as the back drop for their photography,” shared Jefferson. There has even been a marriage proposal in front of the message “I love you.”
Marketing and Public Relations Manager with Herman & Kittle Properties Laurren Brown said, “Our mission is to create value through real estate, and this mural does just that for so many people in the Indianapolis community. We are so proud to have been a part of it.”
The logo of the Department of Public Words is meant to look municipal, and the DPW does receive an occasional email regarding a pothole around the city. “Our intention of ‘positive words in public spaces’ is best shared with a fun logo that when people read it, they do a double-take,” says Holly Combs.
Combs knows a thing or two about the impact of positive messages. She placed “YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL” above the Murphy building in Fountain Square and has painted Y.A.B. in other areas around the city. Always asking permission from the building owner first, Combs has received positive feedback from her messages. She even carries around stickers with Y.A.B. on them that she will pass out to random strangers.
In one such instance, she told a story of how she was driving near 10th and Rural and had an overwhelming feeling she needed to paint “YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL” on the west-facing wall of that intersection immediately.
“I parked my car, went inside the building to ask the business owner if I could paint Y.A.B. on the outer wall and he helped me do it. Three hours later we were done,” said Combs.
Two weeks later, she and her family were at the Starbucks in Irvington, when she handed a sticker to a man who was seated at a table. He had one broken leg and the other had been amputated. He paused and his eyes teared up when he read the sticker. He looked up at Combs and said, “10th and Rural?” She nodded and smiled. He shared with her that he had seen that message a couple weeks prior when he was on his way home to kill himself after breaking his only good leg. He saw her message and had a change of heart.
Combs teaches art to kids in juvenile detention centers. This therapeutic work helps kids create their own positive identity, instead of the labels thrown at them by others. She has overcome life experiences with labels given to her and turned it into a powerful tool for change. Stickers are small things.
“It’s the small things that make a big difference,” says Combs.
Combs was one of the keynote speakers at the recent TEDx Indianapolis event in October. She wants people to see it, feel it and say it. “YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL!”
Watch her clip at stickerssavedmylife.com
For more information see DPWords.org and for more on Peat Wollaeger stenSOUL.com