This article was originally published in the winter 2024 issue of the Ivy Indy magazine.

Stephanie Robertson, program chair of fine arts at Ivy Tech Indianapolis, has gladly orchestrated the campus’ involvement with the Spirit & Place Festival for nearly 15 years. Her creative leadership has led to stellar collaborations, both internal and external, elaborate community involvement, and award nominations. 

Robertson has seen the campus’ Spirit & Place involvement through an assortment of community art shows that have included a roller derby team, divers, bodybuilders, boxers, and even a trebuchet and pumpkins. Internally, she has, at one point or another, incorporated the fine arts department, early childhood education department (ECED), culinary arts, technology, and the English department. Externally, she has worked with the Garfield Park Arts Center, Harrison Center, the National Art Museum of Sport, and many more. 

“We love doing fun and funky things!” Robertson said.

In 2018, Ivy Tech Indianapolis won Spirit & Place’s Award of Awesomeness for its “Explore Art-omotive!” The event explored the intersection of art and automobiles and included Ivy Tech’s Automotive Technology Center, ECED, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum, and Marian University.

“Our printmaking class made special automobile coloring pages; there was a station for making cars out of clay; our automotive center brought in engines, simulators, and bodywork. We had a station for making roller derby cars and cardboard cars,” Robertson described. 

Robertson considers herself more of the project manager than the creative for each event. 

“We love to do interactive, family-friendly things,” Robertson said. “What we finally figured out through putting together the automotive art event was we needed about seven different activities. If everybody does their part in one activity, then it's not too much for any one person.”

Buzz & Flutter

When Robertson learned the theme of the 2023 Spirit & Place Festival was Nourish, she instantly knew who to call. She orchestrated a meeting with varying faculty members from ECED, Teach2Grow, culinary arts, and, of course, fine arts. They met in February, about nine months before the multi-day festival was slated to begin, and, as Robertson recalls, quickly came up with the idea of Buzz & Flutter.

“The hard part wasn’t figuring out what we were going to do – that all came together very quickly,” Robertson said. “The hard part was figuring out if we wanted to have it on campus, near our community garden, or the culinary building. But then Garfield Park Arts Center reached out to us, and we’ve worked with them several times for Spirit & Place, and it just felt like the perfect fit!”

All about cultivating, creating, and caring for our pollinators, Ivy Tech Indianapolis faculty and students alike came up with a plethora of ways attendees could join the conversation, learn, and explore the many ways they could help better our community, our planet, and, thus, their families.  

In addition to an art exhibit based on gardening, bees, and butterflies, Ivy Tech Indianapolis had informational tables on beekeeping, hive management, gardening, and monarch butterfly gardens. Buzz & Flutter also featured honey tasting, a honey-themed recipe station, a do-it-yourself flower pen station, and flower crowns. 

“We can nourish ourselves through nourishing the earth,” Renee Rule, the professor of the English 111 service learning class, known as Teach2Grow. “This is a great event because we always take a theme and develop something relatable that we’re passionate about.”

Rule is passionate about gardening. She created Teach2Grow, a hands-on learning class that allows students to learn differently by dividing their time between the classroom and the community garden on campus. Rule says the students still research and write the same as in a traditional English class, but they also have the opportunity to learn how to garden. 

“I don't want to sit in the classroom for three and a half hours, so I figured some of our students don’t want to either,” Rule said. “A lot of the students make great connections with each other, especially since many of them take this class in their first semester,” she continued. “That connection is a benefit I didn’t expect when I originally designed the class, but it has been one of the biggest rewards. Plus, the campus English 111 pass rate significantly increased to about 90%!”

Rule’s part in Buzz & Flutter is bringing her knowledge of building monarch butterfly gardens to the community. She was part of making the monarch butterfly garden in Noblesville and is in the process of creating one at the downtown Indianapolis campus. Throughout the year, her Teach2Grow classes collected seeds in the garden to hand them out at Buzz & Flutter. 

“It’s beneficial to be out like this and educate our communities. Not only for the monarch butterflies but for people to know that service learning classes are available at Ivy Tech,” Rule said. 

Fine arts student Baily McKendry says she would’ve loved community art events such as Buzz & Flutter as a kid. McKendry held a workshop showing people how to make flower pens. It was her second time being part of Spirit & Place. 

“I came back for the experience. It’s a very nice event. The fact that it's free and allows kids to come in and be creative in various ways is amazing. I definitely would’ve participated if I had something like this in my community as a kid,” McKendry said. 

Robertson says she and those around her always look forward to their subsequent contribution to the Spirit & Place Festival because it’s a natural fit. 

“Spirit & Place is looking for community engagement. And we're a community college full of people who love humanities, art, music, theater, and education,” Robertson said. “Our Ivy Tech faculty loves to put together fun, interactive projects for the whole family. And if we can engage families – even if it’s only 20 families or just 20 kids – it means something.”

Buzz & Flutter had over 225 attendees, a significant jump from about 40 the year before.

About Ivy Tech Community College

Ivy Tech Community College is Indiana's largest public postsecondary institution and the nation's largest singly accredited statewide community college system, accredited by the Higher Learning Commission. Ivy Tech has campuses throughout Indiana and also serves thousands of students annually online. It serves as the state's engine of workforce development, offering associate degrees, long- and short-term certificate programs, industry certifications, and training that aligns with the needs of the community. The College provides a seamless transfer to other colleges and universities in Indiana, as well as out of state, for a more affordable route to a bachelor's degree.