By Katey Perry, Metro Parks Community Relations Intern
Art is unique in that is capable of bringing many different people together in a common place. It has been utilized all around the city to create different feels, from coffee shops to parks. Memorial Park in downtown Louisville is one great example of this. Back in the early 1990’s it was an underutilized park with high cement retention walls and a very low visit rate. The art students at Spalding University, with the aid and guidance of Joyce Ogden, decided to change this.
In 1995, an art class at Spalding went to Metro Parks with an idea to reclaim Memorial Park — and to revive it. Because the park was barely used they thought that by holding public art classes there they could bring more people back to the park. They developed a proposal after spending an entire semester researching the history of the park through various articles and documents they found. While in this process they also formed a survey for residents within a one block radius to see how many of them actually used the park and what changes would make the park a more likely hotspot.
With their art background they decided that by bringing art into the park they could create a more interesting feel and work to help people see nature as opposed to the cold cement walls. They looked at other art in parks and began to decide that they could revamp by changing a normal bench into a functional sculpture. Memorial Auditorium sits just across the street and so they decided to compliment the Doric columns by integrating them into the park’s new design. This theme of columns led to a circular form with curving lines becoming central to the parks theme. It became a natural flowing between the city and nature.
The first of the main projects continued on this theme in the form of the bench at the bus stop on 4th street. The bench now sits and looks like a fallen column intended to represent an artifact. They continued with this theme as they moved into their second major project of revamping the retention walls. The work, called “Strata,” is an abstract interpretation of seeing the earth lying behind the wall and displays various artifacts throughout.
This project was key in getting the community involved with the park because people from any background or skill level could get involved. Residents of the local retirement community and local high schools came out in hundreds to make the tiles that would be placed all along the North wall. It was important to get the people involved in the revitalization so they would feel a proud commitment to the park and would once again enjoy spending their time there. Another wall mosaic, “Creating Communities: Nature and the Inner City,” was a project to bring inner city youth into the project. The abstract art was a way for these youth to connect with nature and then go back to their city lives and have a different perspective or reflection on their environment and on nature.
The renovations to the wall cost the city approximately $25,000, but thanks to the efforts of the Spalding University art students and the efforts of many people over the last decade, the park has become a much more utilized space and should be used by more and more people each year.