What is Big Car Collaborative?

As a nonprofit art and design organization, Big Car Collaborative utilizes tools of culture and creativity to build community and social cohesion — helping connect people as a way to boost quality of life. Formed in 2004 and based in Indianapolis, Indiana USA, we also work in other communities and collaborate with artists from around the world.

As an adaptive and flexible cultural organization, we draw together people of all backgrounds to promote and perpetuate creativity, invigorate public places, and support neighborhoods. Big Car is a creative community builder working to boost livability from an engagement-based arts perspective.

Our mission statement: We bring art to people and people to art, sparking creativity in lives to support communities

Download our two-page About Big Car document.

What do we believe?

Places are made when they feel like home.

When everybody is welcome and comfortable.

Artists can and should support life in neighborhoods

through culture, creativity, and community.

Artists are good at home and place making.

That’s why we do the work we do.

What is our work?

Much of our work as artists focuses on active public programming in public spaces, creative placemaking for people (and place keeping), and socially engaged art. We support quality of life by utilizing the tools of art and culture to encourage us all to be …

Creative — in low-pressure ways, we encourage people of all ages to make art, record or write stories, make music, and see that everyone can and should create

Curious — encourage people to ask why and how things work and participate in joining others in finding answers

Informed — support understanding the context and history of communities and cultures so we can better connect with each other

Adventurous — offer opportunities to take chances and learn new things through experimentation (there’s no wrong answer)

Empathetic — provide experiences where people of different backgrounds and cultures understand differences; collaborate; socialize; and learn from, care about, and accept each other

Connected  help people feel connected to their community and to others, as well as to art and cultural offerings in our city

Inclusive — provide experiences where people of different backgrounds, races, and cultures collaborate and socialize

Healthy   offer support for improving physical aspects of life like relaxing, playing, walking and cycling

Happy — provide comfortable, social, positive, playful, and fun activities,  brightening the lives of people in big and small ways

These things happen via our three main program areas:

1. GARFIELD PARK CREATIVE COMMUNITY — long-term investment in our home neighborhood as co-leaders with an artist-run space and ongoing social practice and placemaking programming. Learn more here.

2. CITY & STATEWIDE PLACEMAKING — our placemaking work, often tactical urbanist in nature, in which we test and program approaches to improving public life through art and design when invited — using the Garfield Park area as our home base/workshop for all this. (Examples: Better Blocks, Service Center, Made for Each Other, Spark Monument Circle).

3. CULTURAL PARTNERSHIPS — programming and collaborative social practice projects led by our artist collective (examples: TEDxIndianapolis, museum partnerships).

Why is this work so important?

  • Too few people experience the joy of creativity. Cultural events should be for everybody, everywhere. We should all get to imagine, make, and play.
  • Our society is too disconnected. Still, people long for positive social experiences and opportunities to interact with each other.
  • Many people today struggle with a lack of empathy for others.
  • Neighborhoods need creative solutions to cultural problems. Who better than cultural workers to address this?
  • Public spaces aren’t realizing their potential as social infrastructure. And this leads to missed opportunities for people connecting with each other socially, civic pride and involvement, and success for small businesses.
  • Many cities, and Indianapolis in particular, struggle to attract and retain talented workers including artists, who are vital to a strong community.
  • Many citizens aren’t strong advocates or supporters of the arts. This is likely due to a lack of opportunities to connect with creativity and interact with artists.

Download our 2014-2019 strategic plan.

What’s our approach to the work?

  • We focus on mobile and flexible approaches to bringing cultural programming to people of all ages and backgrounds.
  • We lead in creative placemaking and tactical urbanism work that includes the activation of public spaces with programming.
  • We bring more engaging outlets to communities for all people to get creative, where they are.
  • We’re a voice at the table as leaders work to boost livability in our community.
  • We offer a Design for Good design program that helps neighborhoods, coalitions, and other nonprofits while generating income to help sustain our other programming.
  • We provide paid jobs for artists who work collaboratively and are dedicated to improving our city.
  • We incubate and support emerging cultural initiatives and arts entrepreneurs.
  • We engage in constant research and regular travel to help us connect with others and learn.

Download a PDF document that charts our approach to projects.

What are we doing about gentrification and displacement?

We work very hard to fight displacement, the most problematic aspect of neighborhood improvement and cultural community development. We do this by remaining in open and constant communication with neighbors and by working to secure ownership of property in our home base neighborhood, Garfield Park. The idea is to preserve residential affordability as the neighborhood makes progress (for example, fewer homes and commercial/industrial buildings are vacant) — with a focus on residents who will help support positive change. Read more here.

We have no association with for-profit or larger gentrification plans or efforts to take housing or property from current residents. As the convener of the South Indianapolis Quality of Life Plan, we work for and with neighbors to approach issues from a grassroots lens.

Some people have concerns about placemaking as “place taking” and it working, worldwide, as a tool for gentrification and displacement. While the term “placemaking” has some challenges, we are determined to do placemaking right and use the term properly.

True placemaking is about creating and setting in motion the kind of open and free public social infrastructure we need to be better connected with each other. Better connected people are less lonely, healthier, safer, happier, and more successful. And a community of connected people is more trusting, empathetic, inclusive, sustainable, resilient, and civically involved.

More on our approaches to placemaking and socially engaged art here.

Why are we called Big Car Collaborative?

We see the car as a great metaphor for our organization. We’re mobile and move quickly. We also like the irony of our name being the opposite of who we are. Our organization isn’t very big — yet there’s plenty of room for everyone to hop in our imaginary car and help drive toward better, more creative communities. And we don’t necessarily love cars. We know how destructive car-centered design has been to the environment, and to cities and neighborhoods — including our own. That’s why we advocate for walking, biking, and slowing down in Indianapolis — a city with major ties to the auto industry and known, worldwide, for auto racing. Sure, our name is a little funny and unusual. But so are we. And what about, Collaborative, the third word in our name? Collaboration (working together with others) is central to everything we do and really the key to a strong society. We are collaborative within our organization and through partnerships.

Locally, we belong to: Fountain Square Merchants, Garfield Park Neighbors Association, Bean Creek Neighborhood Association. On a national level, we are also members of Congress for the New Urbanism, Americans for the Arts, and Placemaking Leadership Council.