Walking into some galleries, offices or rooms of curiosities at the Murphy Art Center on a First Friday can feel like crashing an exclusive party; one can only swipe some brie and hightail it to the next room to save face. Such isn't the case with People for Urban Progress, a "do" tank (not think tank) devoted to making Indy a better place to live by seeing through (not thinking through) projects that each address at least two of three key concerns: transit, environment and design.
Like salvaging the RCA Dome roof, which was PUP's first project and has given birth to many others - bags, wallets and other accessories made out of roof material, along with shade canopies that have allowed the material to return to its original state of roofiness. And salvaging Bush Stadium's seats and installing them in IndyGo bus stops. And salvaging the signage that the Super Bowl left behind. And even projects that don't involve recycling our sports infrastructure like car sharing, yellow grease recycling, solar panel installation on brownfields and infographics that show the common person how she might negotiate our city's government. More on those projects in a minute; for now, let's just get through the door.
More often than not on a First Friday, you'll find someone standing just beyond the entrance to PUP's office/factory/store at the Murphy to demystify things for a first-timer. It might be one of the Bricker twins, Michael and Jessica, 30, who aren't typically referred to by such a title (like, say, the Bobbsey Twins), partly because each does his and her own thing in the organization.
Michael Bricker, a co-founder of PUP, is the visionary who made PUP go in the early years and whose training in the world of architecture and design has informed PUP's notion of itself as a place for people with "portfolio" careers - i.e. young, often well-educated professionals whose portfolio features a mix of not-so-altruistic work in their fields of expertise with more public-minded but perhaps less lucrative projects.
Jessica Bricker, who joined PUP after it had gotten off the ground as one of its few part-time employees, supervises PUP's product lines, including wallets, bags and other accessories made from RCA Dome and Super Bowl fabric; and Indy-themed T-shirts, which have plenty of civic spirit without being gross about it.
Or maybe it'll be someone from PUP's not-so-small, peaceful army of volunteers and part-timers. Like Amy Crook, PUP's development innovator, who says she felt like she was "a lone cheerleader for Indy before plugging in" to PUP. Part of her job is doing outreach in the digital world, but you'll more likely than not find her in corporeal form on any given First Friday (as she was on a surprisingly un-slow January night when all PUP products were priced to move).
Regardless, it's all about making an appearance, according to PUP board president Gary Reiter, who himself got involved more than three years ago by just showing up one night. Here's Reiter: "If people want to get a feel for PUP they should just show up on First Friday. Hang around, show up and feel the energy - and it's the kind of energy that occurs on a daily basis."
It's the energy that powers the four years' worth of projects that are the subject of the rest of this story. Because while PUP is in the midst of developing a strategic plan that will ensure its long-term survival and create a rubric of sort to determine what projects to take on, at its heart, the organization is structured around projects - big and small, short and long, collaborative or not. The following is an inventory of PUP's key projects over the years.