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Big Car featured on The Art Assignment on PBS Digital

Big Car featured on The Art Assignment on PBS Digital

Play the game created by Jim Walker and Florian Rivière here. Be sure to share your adventures on Twitter. There’s great documentation of what people are doing on The Art Assignment’s blog.

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Pop-up locations and future moves

Get a taste of Big Car’s things to come from Big Car Executive Director Jim Walker…

Video by Kurt Nettleton

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Big Car 2014 in Review + Looking Ahead

Big Car 2014 in Review + Looking Ahead

by email hidden; JavaScript is required, Big Car Executive Director

This year was a busy but successful one for Big Car. It started with our three-year pop-up socially engaged arts experiment, Service Center for Culture and Community, closing after a market-rate tenant leased the space. In the middle of relocating and expanding our work to include Downtown Indianapolis, we accomplished much, including:

• Three major public events attracting 5,000 people (the TEDxIndianapolis conference at Hilbert Circle Theatre, the Art in Odd Places public art experience Downtown, and No Brakes 10-year Big Car retrospective at University of Indianapolis).

• Pop-up cultural spaces on three sides of town lacking easy and free access to cultural opportunities (Lafayette Square, Far Eastside, Near Southside) including a new sound-art gallery curated and organized by one of our artist fellows, John McCormick, a recent Herron School of Art MFA graduate.

• Three major murals in Central Indiana and nine more nationwide — all created in collaboration with community members, involving more than 2,500 people in making art, and helping beautify a variety of public spaces.

• Design work for 15 fellow nonprofits, including a virtual historic tour of the Athenaeum — and logos and other materials for Ensemble Music Society, iMOCA, White River Festival, Garfield Park Neighbors Association, Reconnecting to Our Waterways, and Youth Power Indiana.

As part of a NUVO Newsweekly cover story in September highlighting Big Car’s 10 years of working Indianapolis, writer David Hoppe called Big Car artists “impresarios of the imagination,” using our creative expertise to “benefit people where they live.” This, as always, continues to be our goal. Read the rest of Hoppe’s story here.

In 2015, the theme of the annual TEDxIndianapolis big ideas conference we lead will be “Keep it Simple.” We plan to use this as a guiding principle for our approach for 2015. One way we plan to simplify is to focus more of our programming this year on a particular neighborhood — Garfield Park just south of Fountain Square. Look for exciting details soon on a new home base we’re establishing there. A good portion of our work in the early part of 2015 will be focused on launching this location while also advocating for neighborhood-wide improvements and furthering our relationships with community partners there.

We’ll continue pop-up programming and projects in Lafayette Square and the Far Eastside, including the summer-long partnership with the Indianapolis Public Library that pairs our mobile art-experience unit — the DoSeum — with the Bookmobile, making stops at apartment complexes in very challenged areas of the city. There, Big Car artists make art with young people and share free, healthy snacks. We call this entourage Fun Fleet and we look forward to another summer of fun in these neighborhoods.

And we’ll again bring a few major citywide projects to Indianapolis in 2015. The biggest is a partnership with the City of Indianapolis to bring arts programming to Monument Circle from June to September. Funded by a National Endowment for the Arts Our Town awarded to the City and Big Car, this work — also in partnership with Art Strategies — will include temporary, site-specific cultural programming that helps the community reimagine what can happen at the Circle.

We’ll also further expand our work to make public sculptures using salvaged honeysuckle wood removed from waterway areas around the city. We’ve created a system for volunteers to clear the invasive honeysuckle, which blocks views of our waterways and kills native species, and then repurpose it as building material for chairs, benches, arbors, and other sculptures. Our artists work with volunteers, including young people from the TeenWorks program, to design and collaboratively build the pieces, which are often placed in public areas near the waterways.

Our audience in 2015 will continue to be a blend of primarily lower-income residents who don’t have easy access to art, and an arts audience (including many local artists) that continues to support Big Car and our work. We believe connecting people who are newer to the arts with existing arts supporters and artists is crucial to expanding the arts audience in Indianapolis. And we believe involving people in making art helps them better connect with it and appreciate it.

All of the artists at Big Car see working with people to improve the quality of life as our artistic practice. It’s not a side outreach program. It’s not something we do for a living, begrudging, while we wish we were doing our art. While many of us still make other kinds of art, our work with people is integrated with this practice. And our personal passions — the issues that mean the most to us — are integrated into our approach to the work we choose as an organization.

What we strive to create at Big Car is a better world, starting with our own community and our own neighborhoods. We use the tools and the power of art to help people become more culturally and creatively inclined, happier, healthier, more active and engaged, and better connected to each other in an increasingly divided world. That’s our art, as it should be. And, ultimately, it’s everybody’s art.

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Ladders Up: Thoughts on Social Practice Art

Ladders Up: Thoughts on Social Practice Art

By Anne Laker 

“Social practice art” is a term we use to describe Big Car’s work: creativity in relation to making the community better. Social practice art comes in many forms. It may address social justice issues head-on. It might offer experiences to participants that end up having healing benefits. Or it might focus on the built environment and creative placemaking. All position the artist as creative problem solver, existing in real-time relation to people or place. All treat people as collaborators in the making.

This year I had a chance to attend two conferences related to social practice art. Said author Lewis Hyde—who spoke to a full house at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago at the A Lived Practice symposium—an artist is “a skilled host of our collective consciousness.” It’s even more true in the world of social practice.

Diverse examples of social practice art include:

  • A Virginia artist named Charlie Brouwer I met at the Open Engagement conference in Queens, NY last May asked the citizens of a struggling working class community to loan him their ladders. He made a huge sculpture of them (with clear metaphoric power).
  • A team of artists strapped mini cameras on little boats and invited people to pilot them to see beneath the surface of the polluted waterway in New Town, NY.
  • Artist Ernesto Pujol was asked to perform a ritual cleansing of a traumatized historical site in Hawai’i.
  • In the 1970s, Mierle Laderman Ukeles asked to become the artist-in-residence in the New York Sanitation Dept., engaging workers as collaborators in street-weeping dances and strapping mirrors on trash trucks.
  • Behavioral artist Marcus Young works for the City of St. Paul engraving hundreds of poems in sidewalks.
  • Last week, Big Car hosted a visit from Dawn Weleski, an artist who sets up new forms of dialogue around conflict and violence, often using food and music as tools for connection.

The “why” is clear. Social practice art is a creative response to the challenges we face in civic life: a lack of beauty and connectedness, environmental degradation, crime, historical memory loss, and diminishing democracy. The artist catalyzes, and then convenes people to remember, recover, re-make or make. Not simple to do, but potentially profound. Many questions emerge:

  1. What prepares an artist to do work that involves people in the most transformative way?
  2. If listening and witnessing are key to social practice art, how do you know what to do with all that vulnerable information?
  3. Can an art project or organization change the way we live in relation to each other?
  4. Is it relevant to ask about the difference between artwork and social work, as the artist works to curate society?
  5. Is creating unity and a sense of belonging the goal of social practice art? (so says Ernesto Pujol).  Leaving a place or a person in better condition than you found it?

My gut feeling is that social practice art comes down to listening and observing, and then designing an experience or intervention in response. A difficult and delicate act, well worth trying. An exhibition that is never over. A ladder toward a better place of being.

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Urban creatives

Urban creatives

by Cara Courage, Thinker in Residence

I’m back in the UK now after my near-month with Big Car and although Indy is around 4000 miles away, the place and people still feel close; I talked in my first blog about the ‘magic’ of the type of art work – social practice – that Big Car does and sat here at my desk now in Brighton, UK, it appears that a magic has left its mark on me.

My role with Big Car as Thinker in Residence gave me a special licence to get involved with the team but also remain somewhat separate to it too. In this role I was neither artist nor community member, but me, a researcher with a 15-year career in the arts, that was an extra pair of hands and someone to bounce ideas off.

This place I inhabited has led me on to think of the term ‘urban creatives’. Urban creatives is a term that I am increasingly using to describe that group of people that come together in a social practice art project to make it happen. This will be artists, community members, maybe also architects, planners, engineers… The point is though that in an urban creative group whoever is in it, all work in equal regard of each other’s skills – the artist is expert at being the artist, that planner at being the planner, and, as social practice artist Jeanne van Heeswijk states, the community is expert at being the community. Each can act on their expertise and each will also learn from the interactions with others.

This is certainly my experience of Big Car and Indy. During my time there I found myself in a group with all sorts of skills and backgrounds, where each was valued for what they bring and was encouraged to act on this. At the same time, the open dialogue was set to foster learning between ourselves. So whilst I saw people given the space and permission to be who they are I also saw people change as an outcome of this gathering of skills. I saw this spread out too from the local projects that Big Car is engaged in to the wider creative and cultural fabric of Indy, spreading through the networks, conversations, and institutions that comprise that scene.

In my first blog I posited that the magic in these projects came from them being fun and social and useful and I stand by that still now. I also said that it’s down to the people involved that make them magic and that’s certainly been underlined for me with Big Car – this is a very unique set of people without doubt. But to move this a little further, my initial unpacking of my thoughts from my month with Big Car and in Indy is that it’s not just the outcomes of what Big Car does but the how of what it does that makes it special. Like any special practice art, it is the varied elements of the process coming together in their myriad ways that makes these projects magic. It values people and brings out in them potential they may not have realised they had and puts this to use, gives it a social value.

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Fun Times at Art in Odd Places

Fun Times at Art in Odd Places

Thanks to everyone who participated, sponsored and presented as part of Art in Odd Places Indianapolis.  Hundreds of people experienced surprising installations, traffic-stopping performances, and lively interactions with the 27 creative interventions presented Oct. 17-18.  Big Car Collaborative’s project–the As You Wish desk–fulfilled over 100 wishes with on-the-spot objects made from paper, clay, and more.  WISH-TV Channel 8 did a nice video piece.  Check out photos on Flickr and at IndyStar.com.

AiOP Indy was a collaboration of Big Car, Classical Music IndyArts Council of Indianapolis and Indianapolis Museum of Art, with financial support from Big Car, Delta Faucet, the Arts Council of Indianapolis, Indy Mod HomesDowntown IndyApparatus ITSun King, and KA+A, and promotional support from NUVO and IndyHub.

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Art In Odd Places Indy

Art In Odd Places Indy

by Cara Courage, Thinker in Residence

Art in Odd Places comes to Indy tomorrow and Saturday, two days of art installations and performances around Monument Circle and Market Street to City Market, from dawn until dusk. Ed Woodham, the AIOP founder gave a lecture on the project at IUPUI this week; one of the students asked Ed how he gauges the public’s perception of the work, and this is a pertinent question of art in the public realm – does seeing these interventions have a lasting effect on people or is that effect, like the art itself, just momentary?

Art interventions that are momentary, that have a limited temporality, I call splash interventions – they are dropped into the urban realm like a pebble in a river, make a splash and are then gone. How one measures the impact that these have on the people that see them or may interact with them is a question I have had of my research for some time.

There is a growing voice that sees splash interventions as opening up the meaning of urban space – what can happen in it and done by whom – and reimagines the city.

The temporary nature of this artform opposes fixed meanings of spatial use; this is a porous practice with a ‘loose’ unintended use of space designed to engage passers-by in a moment of play or reflection. These moments are unpredictable and transitory and open up sanctioned meanings of city space. Here, the function of splash interventions is to jolt people’s assumptions about the use of space and from this spark imagination or reflection, or both, and stimulate interest in the place around them. This enhanced or renewed connection to place for some is a process of engagement through alienation or dislocation, the disruption of the expected urban norm makes the lived experience of it active, not passive, the jarring of the arts encounter in the urban space paradoxically creating a connection to it. This will then go on to encourage human interaction in the urban realm that is again different to the norm, which creates a new collective urban experience and strengthens social bonds.

These are grand claims to make. I question how deep this practice is – does this have an impact past the moment of interaction to the next day, or longer? I also question if anything more than a moment of play, of a break from the norm during lunch hour or the walk to work, is the aim of all splash artists.

I have certainly seen splash interventions recreate the city as a space where rules are suspended, make the city become a spontaneous space that is open to a variety of uses and encourage people to express themselves in a different, less formal, way. This is something I am looking forward to seeing over the next two days with AIOP Indy.

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Space and community

Space and community

by email hidden; JavaScript is required, Thinker in Residence

I’ve now been able to see all the spaces that Big Car has. After moving from the Service Center base, Big Car can now be found at Lafayette Square, where it has its Listen Hear and Showroom spaces; at Superior supermarket on the Far East Side, in its Galeria Magnifica space; its administrative base at The Hinge in Fountain Square; and Truck Stop, its storage, meeting and gallery space. I have also seen the potential future space for Big Car, the Tube, a factory in the Garfield Park area that presents Big Car with a truly multifunctional space to house all its various activities under and from.

Big Car’s Jim Walker talks about the vision for these spaces in a video tour of them here and a map of past, current and future Big Car spaces can be found below (an image from the No Brakes Big Car exhibition at UIndy).

BC map

Each of the gallery spaces brings with it huge possibility. The spread across the city is a material realisation of Big Car’s ambition to bring art to the people and people to art, literally, across Indy, and between neighbourhoods too. It gives opportunity also for artists to respond variously to each location, to think of the space itself, its setting and the spaces in-between. All the spaces facilitate a variety of uses – from gallery, to meeting space, to rehearsal room, to workshop, to performance space…I saw Showroom operate for the first time as a live venue this week with Hourglass, a participatory dance performance.

Hourglass 07

The spaces also pose a singular challenge at this time of beginning. This challenge is about finding the community around them, getting to know them and creating a programme that will get them over the threshold of the space and keep them coming back. And get them going to events at other Big Car spaces, crossing the neighbourhood boundary. Activity at Galeria Magnifica will soon centre on just this – getting to know who shops at the store it is housed in, getting to know the local area and starting a programme that will bring people together from within the area and then with others through food and storytelling.

Galeria Magnifica 02 crop ip

I can see the role that Big Car has played on Fountain Square over its ten years and it’s told to be by nearly everyone that I have interviewed here. I have come to Big Car at a time when as it enters its second decade that it is starting anew in many respects – the offer presented by the new spaces a creative watershed. Knowing Big Car as I am getting to, the challenges it faces will be tackled with creativity and tenacity and over time, from these early days and from its wealth of experience, these challenges will transform into opportunities and into relationships, programmes and events.

I get the sense too that Indy may be in a similar position as Big Car as again I am told that Indy is undergoing something of a cultural renaissance. I can certainly sense that Indy is looking at community afresh, seeing a resurgence in community initiatives city-wide and a local design, arts and culture infrastructure that is self-supporting and generating.

For both Big Car and Indy, its shared concerns with community, the space of the city and the role of the arts in this, these are very interesting – and exciting – times.

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Ecologies…

Ecologies…

by email hidden; JavaScript is required, Thinker in Residence

Indy and the work and place in it of Big Car has really opened up to me this week. I have seen it at work in the community with mural painting in and out of the city. I have seen its connections across the city and peoples’ warm and enthusiastic reactions to the mention of Big Car, and the pride that so many have from being involved with Big Car or from seeing how it has grown and what it has achieved over its ten years.

Talking to a fellow placemaking researcher, Anita Mckeown, an artist and PhD candidate at National College of Art and Design Dublin, she reminded me of ecologies – the worlds in which we all may live, work, study and play, and how our own worlds will inter-mingle with those of others – and this perspective is helping me make sense of Big Car’s place in the city.

Big Car’s activity may be a situated ephemeral activity, as in the coming together of a group of artists and community members in the course of a day to create something, as with the mural project for Indy Do Day last week (and the image above), where an extended team of volunteers were galvanised in the task into a creative community that created not just an art object but also an experience that had meaning. One person said that painting the mural made them want to ‘paint the whole city!’

With projects where it is more deeply embedded over a longer duration with a community, it may also be considered a social movement. This is work where Big Car, like a social movement, has its own modus operandi; a singular ethos; operates as a collective action where multiple viewpoints are incorporated; is a responsive and interactive learning process; and works to transform the socio-political characteristics of an area.

Where this thinking is leading me is to consider Big Car as a situated art practice that works with micro publics, in the various ecologies of the arts and community settings of Indy, with different drivers for different types of work. This live practice, whether it be along a street or across a whole neighbourhood, produces a generative knowledge that culminates in a social movement within Indy. Big Car may be doing its work through hyperlocal local sites, but these sites are all across the city, and together its effect is city-wide as both a driver and constituent of the city’s creative and cultural ecology.