An arts pathway is taking hold in Hamilton County and a sliver of Tipton County.
The Nickel Plate Arts Trail is a collection of once-scattered galleries, artisans and organizations now united to increase awareness and boost economic activity.
A coming-out party June 1-3, the Nickel Plate Arts Weekend, will define the trail project, which ambles for 30 miles along the historic Nickel Plate rail line and White River. It involves six core communities: Fishers, Noblesville, Cicero, Arcadia, Atlanta and Tipton.
So it's not a trail in a literal sense, but associated destinations -- galleries, museums, restaurants -- with imagination as the guide.
"We don't want people to just drive from point-to-point; we want them to experience the communities," said Betsy Jones, director of tourism development with the Hamilton County Convention and Visitors Bureau, which hatched the idea for the project in 2008.
The project went into overdrive late last year, when the bureau received an $800,000 tourism development bond from Hamilton County. That allowed for the purchase of the historic Judge Stone House in downtown Noblesville -- future headquarters for the Nickel Plate Arts Trail, artist studios and workshops.
A collaboration among trail organizers, the Noblesville Preservation Alliance and the city of Noblesville evolved into a redevelopment project that includes renovation of the Judge Stone House and the Eighth Street corridor -- long a priority for Noblesville officials.
The city's nearly $260,000 portion of the project has three main elements:
Streetscape redevelopment along the west side of Eighth Street, between Maple and Cherry streets. Includes new sidewalks, landscaping and tree buffers. (Cost: $122,409, funded through the federal Community Development Block Grant.)
New public parking lot on the parcel just south of the east-to-west mid-block alley. Includes plantings and landscaping, storm-water management and 15 extra parking spaces. (Cost: $129,796, to be funded by Logan Street tax increment financing and the Noblesville Parking Fund.)
Exterior rehabilitation to the Judge Stone House. (Cost: $7,719, funded by Logan Street tax increment financing.)
The trail project "will be a catalyst to a growing local arts movement that will take multiple forms," said Christy Langley, planning director for the city of Noblesville. "This is a huge quality-of-life-asset not just for visitors but for our own citizens, to have a gem like this right in their backyard."
Cassandra Medley, owner of Medley Portraits, which specializes in photographing children who have disabilities, will occupy space in the trail's headquarters in July.
"I think it's a great concept," said Medley, 41. "It will be nice to bring the community together and make it more empowering when we're trying to sell our art, to come together and share resources."
The trail project, designated as one of eight cultural trails in the state by the Indiana Artisan program, will get its first test this weekend. For Jones, it's just the beginning.
"My dream scenario would be that every single day there is a class being taught somewhere, and it truly does catch on," she said, "and that people do recognize art as something that is huge in terms of quality of life and from an economic development and community development standpoint."