How Do You Know You’re in Goshen? Seeing the 'Goshen' in Goshen

To recap the arc of blog entries I’ve been contributing, with a few sidebars along the way: I’ve been focusing on the concept of placemaking and ways in which the city of Goshen’s creative output manifests itself in common, visual languages. But I’ve also been advocating for the idea that we can (and should) be doing more to continue distinguishing Goshen as a genuinely unique place -- that is, a Midwestern town that transcends the ubiquitous “historic” descriptor that many similar towns, ironically, claim in an effort to publicize and promote themselves.

To wit: We have a sign that reads, “Exploring Historic Goshen” placed along US 33 where there is not much in the way of infrastructure emphasizing anything about the historic nature of Goshen. On the contrary, the sign sits amid newer development primarily made up of non-local businesses.

How can we use art and design as a vehicle to help visually describe Goshen? How can art and design add to our existing infrastructure and shared spaces? How can we describe a town that is traditional in some ways yet progressive in others through imagery?

Begin by closing your eyes for a minute. Call to mind the various paths you travel when you drive (or bike) into or out of Goshen city limits. What do you see? What do you pass by? Among the buildings, houses, schools and landmarks, what are the defining physical characteristics that mark the change, signaling that you are leaving or entering town? What might be missing from this mental picture? What kinds of artwork or graphics might add to the environment without cluttering up the landscape?

I’m pretty familiar with Goshen. And yet in my mind, fuzzy lines continue to exist between Goshen and the surrounding towns and cities like Nappanee, Elkhart, Middlebury and Bristol. I know when I’m in Goshen; I know when I’m in Elkhart; and there are road signs to help me maintain my bearings. Even the train tracks along US 33 provide a point of orientation.

But without road signs and train tracks, how do I know I’m not in Dunlap? Goshen now has its very own brand/identity, which undoubtedly creates opportunities for marketing and advertising in a consistent, comprehensive way. However, we should not dismiss the contributions art and design can also make in communicating, through imagery, the characteristics that make Goshen distinct.

So again, I pose the question: How can we make public statements about the aspects that make Goshen “Goshen” through art and design? How do we use creativity as a vehicle for bringing the underlying--and perhaps even hidden--narratives of our community to the surface?

Over the next few weeks, I'm encouraging readers to send me examples of art and design--whether individual public art pieces or comprehensive art/design programs--that successfully highlight the uniqueness of other cities and towns. I’ll start by offering Cincinnati, Ohio, as an example of a place that has received attention for its public art programs.

Cincinnati is much larger than Goshen but there are still things we can learn from its ArtWorks program, to say nothing of the wayfinding system that has been developed for the downtown area. So, please, send your comments and suggestions my way! I’m looking forward to seeing what kinds of ideas we can collectively pull together.