Collaboration Accomplished: Indianapolis Zoo

Butterflies by Mettje Swift
Nylon and stainless steel butterflies surround the entry to the Zoo’s White River Gardens and Hilbert Conservatory. Photo: Courtesy of the Indianapolis Zoo.

As Creative Services Director for the Indianapolis Zoo, Jo Holbein was tasked with designing a new butterfly exhibit that would attract visitors to the Hilbert Conservatory. As Jo explains, “The Butterfly Kaleidoscope theme was developed as an exciting way to make the color, light, and movement of butterflies larger than life—and to make learning about their amazing metamorphosis even more fun. We set out to transform the experience of walking into the Conservatory into one of entering an immense glass kaleidoscope. A co-worker found some inspiring images of artwork by Mettje Swift online that captured the look I had in mind. I knew when I saw them that I had to get in touch with Mettje and her team.

“Jo Holbein was an amazing partner who understood the physical layout and the parameters of what we could do. She is the kind of person we all dream about working for as artists.”–Mettje Swift, artist

“Mettje provided the perfect blend of creativity and practicality. She designed and fabricated these huge mobiles and sculptures, shipped them, and provided us with easy assembly instructions so we could do the installation ourselves, making the project affordable. It went so well that when we decided to add an exterior component to help guide visitors to the exhibit, Mettje was an easy selection. Everyone else I talked to was proposing fiberglass butterflies, but I really couldn’t envision it working in any other medium but Mettje’s banners. Everything else seemed too heavy and lifeless.

“The response to the installations has been great. Attendance at the conservatory has increased from about 25% of the Zoo’s guests to 35%, which is exactly what we were hoping for. And I can’t count the number of times I’ve been told by someone that they’d love to steal one of the butterflies for their own yard.”

Read more about this project at the 2013 CoD+A Awards website, presented by The Art Commission.

Butterflies in Hilbert Conservatory
Butterfly Kaleidoscope by Mettje Swift, inside Hilbert Conservatory at the Indianapolis Zoo. Photo: Jo Hohlbein.