Still (city) Life


Nineteen formerly gray and bleak traffic boxes on the east side of Indianapolis are now brightly painted visions of community, hope and public safety.

Volunteers transformed these everyday objects into canvases as part of Foundation East’s street art movement.

Foundation East is an organization that aims to improve life on the east side through public art.

The non-profit organization runs on the belief of what co-founder Vishant Shah calls “CPTED.”

“It’s the idea of crime prevention through environmental design,” Shah said. “Art can remake the east side, benefitting everyone.”

Shah described the origins of his and Aaron Story’s foundation as one not always focused on reducing the crime rate.

“You kind of notice after a while that people up north or even in the suburbs travel around the city a lot,” Shah said. “East-siders—they typically stay on the east side. They see a lot of the same things.

“There is just a lot of opportunity to make things beautiful.”

Shah and Story have been creating art together since 2012, when they worked on a project called Street Tattoo.

After a while, the two found they had a similar outlook on the city and ideas to make it even better.

“We realized there was a need to spread beauty,” Shah said.

The notion of using this beauty to positively impact the community came from Shane Foley, an Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department officer.

After attending a conference in which the idea was discussed, Foley brought the idea to the Irvington Terrace group. Combined with Shah and Story’s craving for beauty, Foundation East was born.

According to statistics posted by some of the redesigned traffic signal boxes, crime rates have indeed fallen slightly since the movement started.

“Obviously the bigger issues need a bit more to change, but there has been a reduction in small scale crime rates,” Shah said.

Not everyone completely agrees with the effect Foundation East’s work might have.

Brandon Mouser, Butler University professor of sociology and criminology, said art may only be a temporary solution.

“Crime has typically been proven to stem from poverty,” Mouser said. “Art tends to be an expression of a condition. It may help but could be seen as a Band-Aid in this situation.”

Crime prevention by use of street art is becoming more prevalent in urban areas in the U.S., with similar programs operating in locations like New York City.

“There isn’t much research to back that up, but that doesn’t mean it is not a legitimate cause,” Mouser said.


This does not deter Foundation East from its goals.

The organization has many plans for the future, including “Gallery on the Go.” The basic idea is to make IndyGo buses into rolling art pieces.

Shah also said a Foundation East event will happen this summer.

On July 25, there will be a group of approximately 500 volunteers creating public art all over Indianapolis.

“This whole thing is all just very exciting and lots of fun,” Shah said.

Events like this are only one of many ways Foundation East keeps its movement alive.

“These days, fundraising has become very competitive. Support is always welcomed when we are competing in events or putting up installations around the city,” Shah said.

Support can also be given through online donations, and creativity is welcomed among volunteers as well.

“Together, Foundation East hopes to have a small hand in transforming the people and places of Indianapolis,” Shah said.