Around Franklin’s courthouse square, visitors find themselves face to face with a hedgehog sailing in a teapot, a grizzled old sea turtle sailor and a beagle depicted as a flying ace.
The next block over, they will find the colorful beauty of Johnson County’s native plants and flowers. Vivid abstract florals add zest to the downtown area.
Murals, installations and other art-forward projects have come to define Franklin’s downtown space. The most recent additions only strengthen the city’s reputation as a stronghold for the arts.
In an effort to beautify downtown Franklin, and support the local arts community, a series of artist-designed banners have gone up on lightposts around the courthouse square.
Three artists were chosen to have their work included — Greg Potter, Michelle Johnson and Kelli Park. A fourth, graphic designer Dustin Brenton, created banners to welcome people as they approach the city on King Street from Interstate 65.
“It was a way to really introduce the community to our local artists, and help people realize that we have some very creative people here in the city,” said Dana Monson, community development specialist for the City of Franklin. “It’s nice to see that natural creativity come up in your local community.”
The opportunity to have their art showcased in such a prominent way has been exciting for those chosen for the project.
“To be a part of it, to welcome people, it’s an honor to have my designs up,” Brenton said. “To have a banner for the city I love, and to show that it’s my work, it’s exciting.”
The banner initiative is part of Franklin leaders’ hope to emphasize art and culture in the downtown area, Monson said. To meet that goal, the Franklin Public Arts Advisory Commission was established in December 2020 to propose art projects and advise the mayor’s office on public art matters.
Officials are working to have the city designated as an Indiana Statewide Cultural District. Cultural districts are designated by the Indiana Arts Commission as well-recognized, labeled, mixed-use areas of a community in which high concentrations of cultural assets serve as anchors.
Existing districts can be found in Bloomington, Carmel, Fishers and Noblesville.
“(The banners) are the first project that the public arts commission decided to start with. It was affordable, and easy to do, and would be a great way to showcase our local artists,” Monson said.
Last summer, organizers posted a call-out for submissions, getting a response from about 15 artists. Selected works were chosen by the public arts commission, and winners were announced in June 2021.
Brenton’s design is displayed on 30 banners along King Street, greeting visitors as they enter the city. His blue and yellow banners rotate different images that he felt exemplified Franklin on the banners: a picture of Benjamin Franklin, the Johnson County Courthouse, the ArtCraft Theater marquee and the curly water slide at the Franklin Family Aquatic Center.
“The idea was to show some icons of Franklin,” he said.
As a longtime Franklin resident, Brenton wanted to take part in the banner contest when he learned about it. He owns Brenton Creative, a local marketing agency, and felt pride in being able to help draw attention to his hometown.
“I love Franklin, I love living here. I’m a Johnson County resident my whole life, so it was exciting to design something welcoming people to our city,” he said.
Potter, who is known for his mirthful depictions of animals in unusual situations, has been active in the local arts scene for years. He has designed murals for downtown in the past, and when he heard about the banner opportunity, decided to put more of his art out there.
“I’ve got a couple of murals around town, and then I thought, if I submit to this and they put more of them up, I’ll have work all over,” he said. “That’s my goal, to get a lot of my work around town. I thought it would be kind of funny.”
On 16 banners on East and West Court streets, Potter’s funky animals strike a pose.
“The paintings make people laugh, so I thought those would work,” he said. “When we submitted it, something must have stood out to make them pick those, so that feels good.”
Johnson’s uniquely abstract florals burst with color along North Main Street. Johnson, who is active in the Johnson County art scene, has seven banners hanging around the Willard and the Historic Artcraft Theatre.
Her husband told her about the banner project, and decided her work would appeal to the commission.
“I thought it would be a good fit for the art work I do,” she said.
The vibrant colors in her paintings make for a seamless match with the atmosphere of downtown, she said.
“I’ve spent a lot of time in Franklin, and it has a cool vibe downtown. I thought my pieces would fit with that energy,” she said.
Park’s designs infuse the area along South Main Street with vibrancy. The Franklin Community High School art teacher opted to enter a series of work she created that looked at the plant life of Johnson County.
“People relate to plant life. It’s familiar stuff, it’s Indiana stuff and I associate the banners with springtime. It’s about renewal, and I thought it fit the spot,” she said.
She learned about the banner project from Generation Art and Frame, where she often gets her work and her students’ work framed.
“I thought that it would be a good thing to enter. For one thing, it’s very public. I teach high school, and I want my students to know that I’m working. I’m not just making them work,” she said.