21. Showcase Equity Through Art in our Parks

“Art makes people think and question, and people change the world.” – Chirlane McCray

On the last post of Art Week, I want to reflect on HeForShe‘s goal of building solidarity for gender equality. Public space can be used to facilitate art, as reflected in the other ideas this week, which means that it can also be used to promote gender equality.  This can be through showcasing community openness, an attachment driver and the concept that all are welcome, or through celebrating the work of all genders in our public spaces.  Parks are a natural place for this to occur, having a long history of showcasing art (from Boston Commons historic sculpture to Strawberry Fields in Central Park to City Garden’s Sculpture Park in St. Louis to Grand Park in Los Angeles).  While the scale of those parks reflect the cities they occupy, South Bend itself has many great parks that can be used to better support art.  This project will focus on specifically on parks themselves later in the 100 Ideas Project process, this is a nice intersection between the two.

Leeper Park is a lynchpin public space for the City of South Bend.  It serves as the northern gateway for the city, bisected by the main vehicular route and bolstered by the presence of the St. Joseph River. In addition, with a renown annual Arts Fair and Rose Garden resurgence, Leeper Park stands poised to embrace a more lasting representation of public art.  While Toole Design Group developed an updated plan, incorporating much of the original George Kessler design, thinking about the space as an opportunity to showcase art takes it one step further.

Leeper Park main

Branding: Use Grand Park in Los Angeles as a template for this.  The tagline “A park for everyone” is just the beginning.  The park itself serves as a conduit for art, from embracing various exhibitions to the vibrant colored furniture throughout. It goes to great lengths to let visitors know that it’s an inclusive park, from universal accessibility to gender equality.

As a Gateway: While the new roundabout and main entrance to Memorial Hospital steal a lot of Leeper Park’s thunder, the park can reinforce that hierarchy using art principles of repetition and variation.  Repeating elements along the corridor (like banners or colorful bollards) when viewed as a whole, create a cohesive visual identity, and when implemented along a line (like a streetscape) draw the eye along to important visual elements (like the roundabout).  Variation refers to the opportunity to create change in the pattern, which draws attention the that element. Such opportunities exist at entrance drives or key features within the park’s footprint (such as the duckpond or historic pumping house).


Programming: Public spaces, especially parks, can allowing artists to showcase their work through installations and exhibitions. The parks can integrate culture, history, and as such promote the values of the community.


Sculpture and Physical Art: These elements have long been the focus of art in public spaces and throughout the history of the United States, we’ve known the value this brings to communities: civic pride, civic attachment, and civic engagement.


City Garden

To bring this back around to gender equality and Arts Week, these artistic efforts must be done in an inclusive manner, prioritizing diversity and openness.  In this way, we can ensure that every person who visits the city understands that South Bend values equity. Looking at the LGBTQ Center in South Bend’s guiding principles, a safe and accepting physical space is listed as first principle.  What better way to broaden that principle, than by applying to the physical space of the city parks (from messaging to infrastructure to restrooms and beyond).

I invite everyone to take a look at the HeForShe Barbershop Toolkit, which includes additional strategies for mobilizing toward gender equality.


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