Jack Carney, Aim Hometown Innovations Contributor

A colorful 168-foot stretch of 464 seemingly floating umbrellas stationed in Batesville is not only attracting every camera phone in town, it’s sparking interest in tourists from around the world this summer.

The Umbrella Sky Project, a Portuguese art installation commissioned by the Batesville Area Arts Council, became the fifth of its kind in the United States in June when it was constructed near Village Green Park in downtown Batesville. The structure creates a beautiful canopy for locals and visitors to admire while also serving as the site for several community events this summer, including farmer’s markets and concerts.

BAAC President Ethel Rodriguez spearheaded the effort to bring the umbrella display to Batesville. Her goal was to create something in town that was both aesthetically pleasing and could attract visitors.

“I think it is a beautiful art installation, but it also has the benefit of bringing in people from other places and helping the local businesses, too,” Rodriguez said.

The Umbrella Sky Project has indeed generated a lot of interest from far and wide. The Franklin County Tourism Foundation reported that potential tourists from at least 10 different states and far off countries like Poland, Sweden and Australia have inquired about lodging and other attractions in the area. Additionally, a Facebook post promoting the project earlier this summer received over 120,000 page visits. The Batesville umbrellas were even written about in a Washington Post story published in January.

Rodriguez and everyone else working on the project have been blown away by the attention the umbrellas have brought to tiny Batesville, population 6,650.

“We have the Franklin and Ridley County tourism foundations helping us with the promotions, and they are very surprised with how far this project has gone,” Rodriguez said. “It’s been awesome for the city. To be honest, we were not expecting this many people to be interested in coming to see the umbrellas.”

Batesville Mayor Mike Bettice has also been pleased with the success of the project.

“The Umbrella Sky Project has been wonderful,” Bettice said. “The number of visitors that have come to Batesville just to see it in person has been great. The Chamber of Commerce has received phone calls from all over the Midwest wanting to know more about the project and how to find us. I can’t thank the Batesville Area Arts Council enough for all their hard work to make this happen.”

Rodriguez originally came up with the idea to bring the umbrellas to Batesville when she discovered a similar installation in her hometown of Chihuahua, Mexico in 2015. When Rodriguez became vice president of the BAAC a few years later, she contacted Impactplan, the Portuguese creative agency behind the umbrellas, to begin the process of bringing the exhibit to Indiana.

Patrícia Cunha, Impactplan’s creative director, created the first Umbrella Sky Project in Águeda, Portugal in 2011, citing the American musical fantasy film Mary Poppins as her inspiration. The installation has since expanded across the world with similar sites popping up in Sweden, Japan, Norway, Spain and the United States. Batesville became the fifth American location for the project, joining Pittsburgh, Miami, Pensacola and Dollywood.

It was no small task for Rodriguez and the BAAC to bring the Umbrella Sky Project to Indiana. The Covid-19 pandemic created logistical challenges, along with the state’s strict security requirements for such a structure.

In the end, Impactplan shipped a pre-assembled kit to the BAAC which in turn contracted a construction company to erect the installation. The structure consists of 12 “anchors” each weighing 3,500 pounds that hold up the apparatus with the umbrellas held in place above by a series of cables.

In total, the project cost approximately 55,000 dollars, with all funding coming from grants and other contributions from various organizations.

The investment seems to be paying off as tourists continue to pour in to see the exhibit. The increase in visitors has certainly helped the Batesville Farmer’s Market.

“The farmers market is super happy with this because they have a lot of new vendors and new people coming from other places,” Rodriguez said. “And it is nice to be under the shade of the umbrellas.”

A list of other events happening under the umbrellas can be found here. The Umbrella Sky Project will remain in place in Batesville until mid-October.

The Terminal