LaShawnda Crowe Storm, a community artist and Public Allies Indianapolis alum, was recently awarded a $200,000 grant from ArtPlace America to assist her beautification work in northwest Indianapolis. ArtPlace America is a collaborative effort to incorporate arts and culture into community planning.
Crowe Storm, alongside fellow artist and activist Phyllis Viola Boyd, is spearheading a new project called RECLAIM, which will bring together artists and designers to transform blight into beauty, especially along routes that children take to and from school. The project will also elicit the help of formerly incarcerated residents, providing an opportunity to gain valuable skills on their pathways to reintegration.
RECLAIM is intentionally grassroots. “This work takes spending time on the ground, working with and listening to youth and other residents,” says Crowe Storm. “Our intention is to collaborate, because everyone in the community is an expert and has important insights.” This philosophy of inclusion resonates deeply with the Public Allies mission.
Listening to youth is exactly what Crowe Storm and Boyd have done. Their walks around the neighborhood with local students have revealed at least 70 vacant spaces and a slew of litter and debris within a three-block radius of the school. Students also reported instances of harassment on their commute to school, an issue that gave urgency to Crowe Storm and Boyd’s vision.
With deep connections to the community they serve, Crowe Storm and Boyd have long been advocates for public safety and beautification in northwest Indianapolis. RECLAIM is simply the latest iteration of their efforts. Earlier projects, including the Safe Routes to School initiative and The House Poem Project, primed the duo for RECLAIM, offering important insights into keeping children safe, creating economic opportunity, and using art for the greater good.
When it comes to the influence of Crowe Storm’s Public Allies experience on her work now, it’s two-fold: networking and collaboration. Not only does Public Allies offer a broad network that she’s drawn from over the years, but she has embraced the program’s core value of collaboration. To LaShawnda, the program’s idea that “everyone leads” has helped her to forge the authentic relationships necessary to engage in truly effective community organizing.