The Love Train / Department of Public Words

Indianapolis Love Train

A couple years ago, I walked out of a meeting with DeveloperTown Founder/Partner Michael Cloran with my head about to explode (he’s one of the smartest people I know and quickly discovered that in order to absorb and follow his mental processes I need to toke up on dark chocolate and green tea about 30min prior for maximum absorption) and as I walked out of their building, I saw the mental balance I was needing after my meeting: art. Specifically, the Love Train mural created by the Department of Public Words along the Monon Trail between 52nd and 54th street. I breathed deeply, walked toward the long mural, reading all sorts of amazing messages of positivity that adorn it. Over 270 positive phrases are shared along the 600’ mural, which required 300 volunteers to create.

Megan Jefferson, one of the members of the Department of Public Words, was out that day with her stencils, spray paint and her boys, adding wheels to the freight cars.

Megan quickly became one of my favorite people and is involved with one of the best non profits in existence. Truly – I have a thousand and one reasons to support this…just ask me! (

Megan is a compliment to her partners and DPW Founders, Dave and Holly Combs, who also fall into the “favorite people on the planet” category. Holly, Dave, and Megan are all equally gifted and talented in their own artsy super hero ways. Each are funny, brilliant, amazing, loving, and artistic beyond comprehension.

I’m so impressed with them and their work and feel that it needs to be shared and go viral that I might have written about them a few times:

and perhaps this:

The Department of Public Words was asked to be the April speaker for the #CMINDY Creative Mornings meet up. The topic was RISK. Each of them have their own story and have taken risks, and they are living their lives as artists and are earning a living by doing what they love. While I am already familiar with their story, I heard it differently that morning since I am a different person than I was a couple years ago when first introduced to them. Here are my takeaways:

Holly has a TEDx Talk on How Stickers Saved Her Life.

While Holly was making dinner one night, she was interrupted by her son who wished to share something with her. He drew a picture and wrote the words “I love you!” on the page and told Holly that people don’t hear this enough. So Holly and Dave made 100 stickers with “I love you” on them and let their kids pass them out.

Harmony DPW

Holly and Dave are legendary for their “ban comic sans” campaign. The best video depicting them on this topic is on the Huffington Post Influential Innovators site.

Another favorite project of theirs is the “Breath” mural on the north side of a building that faces DeveloperTown. The mural depicts an exhale, and if you really want to geek out about it, they embedded the words “technology” and community” in binary code! (I am NOT joking when I say these people are freaking cool!)

Another fun story about DPW: Dave is a Rose Hulman grad. While he was at school, he created fliers for a fictitious missing turtle who responds to the name “Roland”. He received calls. Not having the heart to share that it was a joke, he gratefully took in the turtles and let them go into the wild. (side note: I read a review of Rose Hulman by a female grad when my daughter was looking at schools and one read, “The odds are good, the goods are odd…”)

DPW is probably best known for their YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL sign atop the Murphy Building in Fountain Square. One day the Combs family was driving along 10th and Rural and Holly looked up and asked Dave to stop the car. She had an overwhelming feeling to paint “you are beautiful” atop a building immediately…like NOW. Holly knew that inner voice and listened. Dave went to buy a gallon of green paint while Holly walked inside to get permission from the building owner. The owner not only granted permission, he helped.

A few weeks later, Holly and her daughter were inside Starbucks after her daughter broke her arm. As they walked in, a man smiled at them. Holly told him he had a beautiful smile and made her day. She noticed he had a cast on his leg. Her daughter and the man talked while Holly was getting her order. Holly noticed his other leg was amputated. As Holly returned to the man and her daughter, she thanked him for speaking with her daughter and handed him a “you are beautiful” sticker. He said, “10th and Rural!”

Holly smiled and said, “yes”. He then shared that a couple weeks ago he was heading home to end his life and got off the bus at the corner of 10th and Rural and looked up and saw the sign “you are beautiful” and it gave him the courage to make it through his healing ordeal with having one leg amputated and one in a cast. It gave him hope that he was valuable and pushed him through feeling sorry for himself.

Holly, Dave and Megan don’t know all of the stories of the positive impact of their work, but they’ve heard enough to know that they are validated: what they are doing is important and impacting lives.

“Words are our most inexhaustible source of magic.” – Albus Dumbledore, Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft & Wizardry.

My April Fools Adventure with Dan Wakefield

Dan Wakefield
Dan Wakefield

Ok, so Dan Wakefield and I share a meal frequently. He’s a mentor of mine and we enjoy finding quiet restaurants with good food where the tables are not too close together so we can talk.

On Friday, April 1st, we planned to go out to dinner. Midday I receive an email from Dan that we have been invited to a gallery exhibit of his friend, Will Higgins, who is a writer for the Indy Star.

En route to The Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art (IMOCA), Dan offers full disclosure of the exhibit. “It’s a collection of presidential urine samples that Will has amassed. I hear Bill Clinton’s is the largest bottle.”

WHAT?! I thought perhaps Will had a hobby of painting or photography, but urine collection? Presidential urine specimens?

Dan and I find a place to park and proceed around the block to the assumed location of IMOCA, per my GPS. We search the Murphy Building in Fountain Square, which hosts an array of artists and restaurants. We pass a gaggle of people gawking at a window, but they look as if they are overflow from one of the popular restaurants along the strip waiting for a table. We finally locate the IMOCA and enter.

Alas, where is the urine?

Accepting the inevitable conclusion that we have been taken for April Fools, we cross the street to a restaurant appropriately titled End of the Line (where the street trolley ended back in the day) and commiserated about the prank. At Dan’s behest, I email Will from my phone to enquire about the location of his urine, copying another friend of Dan’s, Travis Dinacola. Travis was also invited, yet declined (the smart one at this point).

During dinner, I erupt in spontaneous fits of laughter given the circumstances. Dan holds up his glass and says, “Look, I have found the urine of President Buchanan!”

Dan and Mike
Dan and Will

Walking back to the car, we pass along the Murphy Building frontage. Immediately in front of the IMOCA was a large display window with the entire collection of Presidential urine! The gawkers I noticed earlier may have been waiting for a dining table, but they were certainly entertained by the exhibit behind glass (which is as close to Presidential urine as I’d like to be).

Celebrating 100 Years of Presidential Urine: a salute to the ASPUC (American Society of Presidential Urine Collection. Mission statement: To foster integrity, cohesion and (where possible) dignity within the U.S. Presidential urine collecting community.

Curator: Will Higgins


Presidential UrineWhen was the ASPUC founded?

Presidential urine collecting began in earnest right after the Civil War and became a source of status among wealthy New York families. The ASPUC, however, was not formed until August 9, 1916.

Why not until then?

The discovery nearly 1915 of a previously unknown vat of Martin Van Buren caused widespread excitement, but later when it was revealed as a hoax, public outcry threatened to undermine presidential urine collecting. Amid calls for strict government regulation, or even a total ban, and in the absence of an over-arching sanctioning body, leading urine collectors gathered at the Willard Hotel in Washington D.C. July 4-6, 1916 to hammer out best practices. The ASPUC was incorporated one month later.

Who collects presidential urine?

Our members are cross-section of America. They include doctors, lawyers, firefighters, civil servants, clergy, and shoe sales personnel.

What does a membership cost?

Dues are just $10 a year, which entitles members to a subscription to ASPUC’s semi-annual electronic newsletter.

Can anyone join?

Sure. We welcome anyone with a sincere interest in presidential urine, whether they be serious collectors, scholars or just interested members of the public.


Dear God. I thought I did crazy things to entertain myself. It’s time to up my game!


Creating Our Own Mythology

creating our own mythology 1
Kara Kavensky with Artist Walter Knabe

The feeling of coming home is the best way that I can possibly describe how I feel when I gaze upon work by Walter Knabe. As I walk into his studio, I inherently take a deep breath, for his art settles me. I’m grounded by the visual elements of interest he utilizes in his work. I find his use of color nurturing to a portion of my soul that seems insatiable for his aesthetic.

This is the reaction art should have.

Knabe’s esthetic is a hybrid of antiquity and the modern, with a tangible timelessness which makes every piece of art Knabe creates feel like it’s ahead of it’s time, yet classical simultaneously. Knabe believes art helps create your own world, creating your own mythology.

“You get to ‘create your own mythology’ with art,” Knabe said to me. “People should feel empowered to create their own world with their own intellectual bent on things – thus creating your own mythical world. I ask clients to envision their dreams and ask what inspires them.”

Walter’s approach to his art matches that of my writing process. When I interview someone, I always find out what it is that they love.

creating our own mythology 3
Artwork by Walter Knabe

Knabe’s art is well-known across the country and around the globe, and yet proudly calls Indianapolis home. He used to live in NYC and studied with Warhol. His client list is a ‘Who’s Who’ across the globe. I used to spend time in his studio while it was located in the Stutz building, walking in one day to find him getting off a call with Drew Barrymore.

Knabe began his career creating large wall murals. Warhol said, “Jerry Hall has an empty wall, go paint something”. These large murals influenced Walter’s hand-painted and hand silk-screened wallpaper. He continues to evolve, expanding his offerings through a wide variety of mediums.

creating our own mythology 4
Artwork by Walter Knabe – “Everything that you imagine is real”

Today, there are new tools at Knabe’s disposal to utilize for his creations, such as digitizing techniques. This tool helps expand Knabe’s pattern collection, allowing for a selection of eight hundred colors. Eight. Hundred. Colors. Knabe is a kid in a candy store of his creation – a lab for his mythology.

What’s perpetually fascinated me about Walter since I met him 17 years ago, is his process. He doesn’t know what he is painting when he starts. It’s like his body knows a language he can’t yet translate except to allow it to flow through him, using his body as the vessel. At some point he steps back and says, “Hello! I know what this is.” It’s at this moment, the acknowledgment of the creative element and the creator become one.

In my storytelling presentation that I share with business owners, I strongly encourage fostering creativity. It’s a requirement for success. Brene Brown recently stated, “The only unique contribution we make in this world will be born of creativity.”

Artwork by Walter Knabe
Artwork by Walter Knabe

What amazes me is that Walter lives in that space of creating unique contributions almost daily. Some of us would be happy with one bolt of creative inspiration, spurring us to create our own masterpiece, regardless what our canvas is. Mine is writing, although I feel I do as much or more speaking than typing.

When Walter stated that he wanted to inspire others to “create their own mythology” I took that challenge to express what that is – what that looks like, how it feels. His expression of elements of his mythology is through art. While mine may be partially expressed through purchasing his art, I write and re-write my story on a daily, if not hourly basis. We all have that power – to change our story. If you don’t love where this chapter is taking you, write a new one – and make it of mythical proportions.

Kara Kavensky

Kara Kavensky