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Social Alchemy: Utopia in Indiana

Social Alchemy: Utopia in Indiana

With this multifaceted, multiyear project, Indianapolis-based arts organization Big Car Collaborative — with our partners, the University of Southern Indiana, Indiana State Museum, Historic New Harmony, and others –– is exploring, learning, and sharing how utopia has informed places and pursuits over time. Social Alchemy explores historical and contemporary examples of utopian experiments, fictional utopias and dystopias, and social design projects. Through a variety of public programs — made possible with support from Indiana Humanities and Efroymson Family Fund — it offers a deeper understanding of the relationship between the built environment and social good.

What we’re doing:

More details once COVID-19 pandemic is in confirmed decline.

In 2021

  • A series of radio broadcast/audio programs related to utopian ideals, planned communities, and related art and literature with a focus on New Harmony and its past, present, and future.
  • Conversation and future-focused work in New Harmony that may include philosophers, writers, historians, designers, architects, placemakers, urban and rural city planners, and community organizers. 
  • A series of exhibitions at the New Harmony Gallery of Contemporary Art focused on New Harmony’s visionary civic leader and preservationist Jane Owen (1915–2010) and the Minerva Society of early feminist leaders.
  • An exhibition at the Tube Factory about the history and art of New Harmony (designed to travel), with emphasis on Marguerite Young’s Angel in the Forest and visual interpretations of this lyrical text. 

Summer 2021-Summer 2022

  • A series of five art shows featuring New Harmony-based artists in the Jeremy Efroymson and Guichelaar Galleries. 


  • Partnering to participate in, support, and promote other events happening in New Harmony.

About New Harmony: This southern Indiana town was the site of two utopian experiments in the early 1800s. The first was a separatist, religious community known for its hard work, communal living and property ownership and celibacy. The second, was a rationalist social experiment in giving people of many backgrounds an opportunity at a better life and work environment.  Then, in the 1940s until the 1980s, town leader Jane Blaffer Owen envisioned New Harmony’s built environment as a mix of historic Hoosier and cutting-edge contemporary. Today, New Harmony brims with art, history, architecture, and a strong sense of place.

A quick history of New Harmony Pop. 763 (as of 2017)

THE WOODLAND INDIANS: From 400 AD, the Woodland Indians maintained a complex, productive community, including earthen mounds built for ceremonial and cosmological purposes.

THE HARMONISTS: German farmer George Rapp and 400 followers arrived in New Harmony in 1815, creating a community based on productivity, worker-owned industries, and shared resources.

THE OWENITES: The Rappites sold the land in 1825 to Robert Owen, a Welsh socialist. At its height, 1,000 Owenites were part of a “Village of Unity and Mutual Cooperation” prioritizing worker rights, scientific research, and artistic expression.

JANE BLAFFER OWEN: For nearly seven decades, Jane Blaffer Owen was the driving force behind the restoration and revitalization of the town of New Harmony, Indiana. Owen had a vision for the town, bringing in and commissioning renowned architects, visual artists, musicians, and writers. Her time there is often referred to as the town’s “third utopia.”

About Big Car Collaborative and why we’re part of this: As a nonprofit organization working in art-based community development, we’re very interested in intentional and inclusive communities designed for all to thrive. That’s our goal for our 15-building, one-block Cruft Street Commons project in Garfield Park––to make an arts-focused, socially cohesive neighborhood. And this work is inspired by our research into historic utopias in New Harmony and elsewhere. 

Why is this called Social AlchemyIn our research about New Harmony, we discovered that Father George Rapp — founder of the Harmonists, the first utopian experiment in New Harmony — studied alchemy and was trying to make gold and other precious commodities to fund his vision of utopia. Today, with New Harmony already a successful town with much to offer (including events and public programs), this project and symposium combines all the assets of New Harmony: the people who live there, the architecture, art, and food to celebrate and expand the town’s magic to Indianapolis and hopefully even further. We’re calling this mixture of everything Social Alchemy.

Project Partners: University of Southern Indiana, Historic New Harmony, New Harmony Gallery of Contemporary Art, Working Men’s Institute, Indiana State Museum, Indiana Humanities, Pattern Magazine, University of Indianapolis, The New Harmony Project

Our Focus on Marguerite Young: A book that has shaped our thinking for this project is Indiana-born Marguerite Young’s Angel in the Forest: A Fairy Tale of Two Utopias (1945). It’s a non-fiction work with a surrealist style: a lyrical, magical take on the New Harmony true-life fable. We’ll highlight Young’s work in a related exhibition in 2020 to follow up on a mural of her commissioned for Tube Factory in 2019. Born in Indianapolis, Young (1908-1995) studied at Butler University and taught Kurt Vonnegut at Shortridge High School before joining New York’s Greenwich Village literary scene in the mid-1940s. Some believed her work was every bit as groundbreaking and masterful as James Joyce’s. Young once said: “I believe all my work explores the human desire or obsession for utopia, and the structure of all my works is the search for utopias lost and rediscovered. But the beauty of it is that you nevertheless go on, walking towards utopia, which may not exist, on a bridge which might end before you reach the other side.”

Themes for this Social Alchemy work 


  • Connecting the past and the future 
  • Ideas for New Harmony/Main Street/young people, families 
  • Art and culture as utopia 
  • Literary New Harmony/utopian literature over time 
  • Spirituality, philosophy, alchemy, and utopia


  • Current utopian experiments and planned communities, contemporary communal studies 
  • Activating spaces/placemaking as utopias/temporary utopias  
  • Food, drink and agriculture in utopian/planned communities 
  • Preservation and history/context 
  • Tourism as temporary utopia
  • Architecture and landscape architecture 
  • Labyrinths/other physical metaphors/sacred geometry

More about the project: We all grapple with divides in society and real-life examples of dystopia (shootings, mass incarceration, ecological degradation) and utopia (experiments such as co-living communities that make people demonstrably happier). This project is about exploring historical and contemporary real-world examples of utopian experiments and social design projects as well as theoretical and fictional utopias and dystopias. Our goal is for the impact of Social Alchemy to be a deeper understanding — via history, literature, and the philosophy of art, design, and architecture — of the relationship between the built environment and social good.

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APLR Homes Available

APLR Homes Available

Housing applications for artists now live.

Click here to apply or go to https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/PHZ6YFV

Are you an artist who wants to engage and help shape a community? Located on a block in both the Garfield Park and Bean Creek neighborhoods on the near southside of Indianapolis, the Artist and Public Life Residency (APLR) program is an innovative and experimental approach to supporting artists who use their talents and skills to help drive positive change in the community.

For this program, we view the label of artists to include creatives, makers, and designers. Fields include — and are not limited to — architecture, culinary art, curation, visual art, public art, furniture, fashion, craft, design, film and video, creative writing and journalism, performing arts, music, theater, placemaking, socially engaged art, etc.

The APLR —  taking applications for resident artists now through December 23, 2019 — is a long-term, affordable and community-invested artist home ownership program as part of a community land trust approach.

Applicants will be notified if they moved on as semi-finalists by January 6. Finalists will be selected by mid January. Public information sessions will be at Tube Factory art space December 5th, 6 pm and December 7th, 11 am.

In partnership with Riley Area Development and supported by Indianapolis Neighborhood Housing Partnership (INHP), the APLR’s goal is to provide artists enjoyable and equitable home ownership while they work — in part — to collaborate with other neighbors and boost the culture, creativity, diversity, livability, safety, health, and economy of the local and greater community. This is a reboot of the program launched two years ago before pausing to work out various aspects of the program and partnership. So far three families have been placed into the homes.

Through a community-inclusive selection process, artists of all disciplines can apply to be matched with one of five affordable homes and downpayment assistance.

Ultimately, we will be teaming up with resident artists who see their work with the public – and their work for the benefit of the community – as at the core of their practice and production as artists. We are looking for artists who want to make a difference, as artists and neighborhood leaders, and see this work in support of the community as truly part of their art.

The APLR program works as sort of an exchange, with artists who qualify for the program both financially and in terms of their practice as artists co-owning the homes with the partnership — that way only paying a portion of the cost. As in community land trusts, the artist homeowner will purchase a 49% ownership interest in the home costing between  $49,000 and $72,000. The artist home buyer must meet income qualifications. Qualified artist buyers are required to make less than 80% of the average Marion County income, or less than $43,250 per year for single member household. As part of the exchange — which also includes downpayment assistance — the artist residents commit to working for six years in support of the community as part of their practice as artists. 

If the artist should move out in the future, the partnership will buy their 49% share of the house and put it back in the program at the same cost level, ensuring that affordable home ownership sustains. This way, increased property values that might be caused — at least in part — by art-focused community development boosting demand in the neighborhood won’t price out artists on this block currently transforming from mostly vacant to vibrant. The program works as land trust for artist housing. The idea is to keep the houses outside of market forces and maintain an affordable place for artists to be able to be homeowners and leaders living in and supporting the community.

The houses in this program were previously vacant, some for a long time, and no existing residents were displaced. These efforts for APLR are happening in partnership with current residents as a way to work together to further strengthen the neighborhood and keep affordable housing for artists in place. Our partner, South Indianapolis Quality of Life Plan and others are also working on strategies for affordable housing in general in the area. And we are all teaming up on efforts to avoid the displacement of existing residents.

Throughout this process, we’ve researched other initiatives around the country as well as teamed up  with expert volunteer teams — like Ursula David’s Indy Mod Homes and Axis Architecture — to develop this program and renovate five formerly boarded up houses. Indy Mod and Axis adopted one house to transform as a lovely home for artists. These five homes will soon serve as a catalyst for positive activity on a short block that dead ends into an interstate highway that has caused challenges for the neighborhood now anticipating a boost from Indy Go’s Red Line bus rapid transit, opening this summer.

We focus on artists in the APLR program because Big Car Collaborative is an arts organization working in partnership with a nonprofit community development corporation to support the neighborhood where we are based and, with multiple staff members, where we live.

This project is linked to larger efforts on the block funded by a $3 million grant by Lilly Endowment announced in December of 2018. Learn more about that here. Also, this program and process comes — in part — from the research and organizational efforts by Indianapolis-based artist and planner Danicia Monet.

More details:

  • Resident artists will receive research and training support from Big Car staff and others as they will represent our partnership in the community.
  • Artists will open their home and/or grounds for some form of public engagement during neighborhood-wide open house or art walks events – usually on the First Friday of the month.
  • Artists will dedicate 16+ hours per month to work with the public in the community. This includes time on their own public projects, training and meetings, and time supporting other Big Car or neighborhood programs.
  • Artists will have opportunities to participate in Big Car-organized exhibition and collaboration opportunities. We will encourage partnerships between resident artists, visiting artists, other local artists, and our staff artists.
  • Qualifying artists will be selected by a panel of experts on community-focused art and housing (some from other cities) and neighbors. The selected artists will be able to become homeowners while also committing to building participation and strengthening the community through art, along with Big Car, in the South Indianapolis neighborhoods and the greater Indianapolis community. This is an investment by both owners in the homes and community, and a way to keep housing affordable in the neighborhood in the long term.

Additional keys to this project and the future of our Cruft Street micro community:

• We live in the neighborhood, communicate and work with neighbors as neighbors — and welcome everyone

• Our programming is about social cohesiveness first — with art as an avenue to bringing people together

• Physical improvements artists will help build create needed social infrastructure

• We have already created a cluster of positive energy in a small area — one block built around Tube Factory

• We anticipated and support public transit (the nearby Red Line), walkability, and bike access

• We bought these previously vacant properties early before market forces began to influence price

• We are not displacing anyone with this project and are, instead, moving people with low incomes into long-term affordable housing

• We team up with many partners (some covering our gaps in our expertise)

• We aren’t concerned about profit for reinvestment in the next project

• We’re creating an open/porous cooperative cohousing community vs. a closed one that is for members/owners only (includes shared meals)

• We value active public and third spaces and help create them when needed and when invited

• Artists welcome the idea of supporting the community in exchange for affordable housing and studio affordability

• We track data and gather stories, revising and adjusting along the way

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Call for Garfield Park/Bean Creek Artists

Call for Garfield Park/Bean Creek Artists

Calling all Garfield Park and Bean Creek artists!

Set between lush trees and historic homes the Garfield Park neighborhood is a hub to a diverse community of sound, visual and preforming artists.

Localized is a juried exhibition in partnership with The Garfield Park Art Center and The Tube Factory Artspace to highlight artists of various mediums from the Garfield Park/Bean Creek neighborhoods. This exhibition will be on display during December 2019.

Join us at the Tube Factory Artspace on Saturday September 21st from 2-3pm to learn more about how to submit to the show.

Link to submit:

About Tube Factory:

Tube Factory artspace is a hybrid between a contemporary art museum and community center. It is open six days a week as a public place for culture, community, and creativity and features a contemporary art exhibition space and socially engaged art laboratory. It’s also home base for Big Car Collaborative’s work across Indianapolis and beyond. Tube Factory features rotating commissioned exhibits by international and local artists alike, interactive projects, space to hang out, a reference library and free books for teens and kids to take home, an outdoor gathering space, and more to find by exploring.

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American adaptive reuse art spaces that inspire us

American adaptive reuse art spaces that inspire us

Before renovating our Tube Factory artspace building, we visited many other adaptive reuse art spaces around the United States. Many of the strategies and approaches we saw informed and inspired our approach at Tube Factory and in our expansion into a second, larger building. This post explores these places. We suggest trying to visit them if you can.

In the Midwest
MOCAD in Detroit
Stony Island Art Bank in Chicago
Three Walls in Chicago 
Spaces in Cleveland
Transformer Station in Cleveland

RedLine Contemporary Art Center in Denver
Mattress Factory in Pittsburgh
MoMA PS1 in New York
Mass MoCA in North Adams, MA
Atlanta Contemporary Art Center
Charlotte Street Foundation in Kansas City

Lockerbie Pop-Up Public Place

Lockerbie Night Market from Big Car Collaborative on Vimeo.

In October 2017, our Indianapolis Spark Placemaking crew teamed up with CitiMark and Gershman Partners to bring short-term public programming to the Lockerbie Marketplace small park area between Alabama, New York, New Jersey, and Vermont streets in the heart of Downtown. This previously underutilized green space is surrounded by a grocery store and other office and retail spaces and is located just off of the Indianapolis Cultural Trail. Due to successful events and programming, we were invited back to the space in 2018 and again this year. Look out for the following events in 2019!

May 9 – October 17 / Thursdays
Lunch at Lockerbie Marketplace
Spend your lunchtime with us at Lockerbie Marketplace every Thursday (except July 4)! Stop by to enjoy the various activities that this hidden downtown green space has to offer along with a soundtrack provided by live musicians from right here in your city. Challenge a friend to a game of table tennis, play giant Jenga, and find your new favorite musician. At Lockerbie Marketplace green space, food truck from 11am-1pm and live music 12-1pm. Details

Monthly Musical Themes: 

  • May – Singer-songwriters
  • June: Ambient music
  • July: Classical music in partnership with Classical Music Indy
  • August: Hip-hop beats in partnership with Chreece
  • September: Classical music in partnership with Classical Music Indy
  • October: Classical music in partnership with Classical Music Indy

June 13 – October 10 / Second Thursdays
Commissary Cuppings
A cupping with Commissary will help you decipher the different notes, textures and aromas that the coffees we use produce. This will give you an understanding on how the regions and elevations that the coffees are grown play such an important role on the flavors you taste. At Lockerbie Marketplace green space, 12-1pm. RSVP

June 27, July 25, Sept 26, Oct 24 / Third Thursdays
Lockerbie Night Market + Sun King Beer Garden
Join us for an evening downtown, full of opportunities to enjoy the local Indianapolis arts, music, and food scene. Purchase goods from local artists and food vendors or relax and take in live music. The Carrington Clinton Trio will kick-off the event. Thanks to our friends at Sun King Brewery, beer will also be available for purchase at the pop-up beer garden located right off the Cultural Trail on Alabama Street. At Lockerbie Marketplace, 6-9pm. Details

July 2 – October 1 / First Tuesdays
Walking Tours
Visit historical and cultural sites in the neighborhood on these Lockerbie walking tours led by local experts. Start and end at Lockerbie Marketplace green space, 11am-12pm.

Monthly Walking Themes: 

  • June 4: Histories + Oddities of Mass Ave Details
  • July 2: Monumental Indianapolis Details
  • August 6: Restoration of Lockerbie Neighborhood Details
  • September 3: The Indianapolis Cultural Trail Details
  • October 1: German Lockerbie Details

Keep this page bookmarked for more event announcements and details.

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The Joyce Foundation 2019 Creative Placekeeping & Placemaking Summit

The Joyce Foundation 2019 Creative Placekeeping & Placemaking Summit

The Artist as Problem Solver II: Building the Capacity of Artists and Cultural Workers as Civic Leaders

March 21 & 22, 2019 at St. John’s Episcopal Church 2600 Church Ave, Cleveland, Ohio 44113

The Joyce Foundation’s Culture Program — with co-sponsors The Gund Foundation — hosts this event is free open to those actively working or deeply interested in the role of the arts in fostering and preserving equitable communities, neighborhood health and resilience, economic mobility, spatial justice, memory and heritage, and collective civic imagination. In addition to the themes addressed by our roster of national arts leaders, particular attention will be placed on placekeeping and placemaking case studies from Chicago. Cleveland, Detroit, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, and Minneapolis-St. Paul. 

View and download the full program here

View and download the full speaker bios here

Space is limited and available on a first-come basis. Register via Eventbrite to confirm your attendance. 

Opening Keynote & Reception:

Full-Day Panels & Workshops:

Video from the 2018 summit:


Check out photos from the 2018 summit here

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Call For Proposals

Call For Proposals

We are accepting proposals through March 31 from artists for our exhibition spaces at Listen Hear, the Guichelaar Gallery in our residency house next door to Tube Factory, and the Jeremy Efroymson Gallery in Tube Factory. All of these locations are found on the same block in the Garfield Park neighborhood just south of downtown Indianapolis and participate in our First Friday opening night each month.

About Listen Hear gallery: Selected by curator Oreo Jones, preference is given to sound art proposals (750 square feet). Must have sound component to be considered for this space. 

About Jeremy Efroymson Gallery: Selected by the Big Car curatorial team, this space is ideal for emerging contemporary art solo or group exhibitions (1390 square feet and a video room). 

About the Guichelaar Gallery: Selected by the Big Car curatorial team, preference is given to small painting/photography shows, room size installation, solo and group proposals (486 square feet).

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2018 year in review + look ahead

2018 year in review + look ahead

This year — which ended with exciting news of a $3 million grant from Lilly Endowment for our work on the near southside (details here) — was one full of learning and sharing, bringing people together, and sparking creativity for thousands of people through our multidisciplinary art and cultural community development projects and programs.

As we wrap up 2018, our staff, board, and 200-plus participating artists thank our neighbors, partners, and funders for their ongoing support of our work bringing people together with social infrastructure that helps make places inclusive, equitable, and comfortable. This work — always a community collaboration — is about fostering opportunities for people of all ages and backgrounds to get creative, experience art, connect with each other, and build community.

Here’s a roundup of our work from 2018 with a look ahead to 2019.

Tube Factory commissioned exhibitions

We began the 2018 exhibition season with a building-wide exhibition fully supported by Efroymson Family Fund that featured commissioned work linked to a residency by Greek artist, Christos Koutsouras. Land Art (Telling Trees)was guest curated by Jeremy Efroymson with support from Tube Factory director of programs and exhibitions, Shauta Marsh. It opened in May with more than 700 people attending the First Friday evening that also featured an outdoor artisan market, live music, food trucks, and a new exhibition at our Listen Hear location (this Big Car campus-wide setup delighted guests each First Friday in 2018, with an indoor market in winter months). Visitors from around the city and neighborhood alike enjoyed Koutsouras’s extensive show of photography, drawings, installation, and video that remained up in the main gallery, upstairs and downstairs video rooms, and the larger, downstairs Efroymson Gallery until July. The exhibition also tied Samos and Indianapolis together with an installation made from trees harvested by Indy Urban Hardwood.

In the summer of 2018, we focused much of our collective staff energy on Juan William Chávez’s Indianapolis Bee Sanctuary and Mesa Hive exhibit and public art project in the main gallery and video room from August through October. This multi-faceted project involved much research, partnerships, and a long-term maintenance plan. Chávez teamed up with our staff artists and curator, Bee Public (local beekeeping company), Solful Gardens (urban gardening program), and young people from TeenWorks on the construction of the outdoor beer sanctuary — a sculpture with both ecological and social aspects. TeenWorks is a six-week summer program of employment and college readiness for high school seniors. The TeenWorks youth helped build and experienced several educational workshops that focus on ecology, plant biology, landscape design, beekeeping, and entrepreneurship. Public programming related to bees launched with the exhibition and programming continues over the next five years. On an ongoing basis, the public is invited to get up close to the bees in the Indianapolis Bee Sanctuary.

Chávez’s exhibit, Mesa Hive, was a multimedia installation that highlighted the process and construction of the Indianapolis Bee Sanctuary and tied it to his Peruvian heritage. Chávez presented the installation on a large Mylar survival blanket with carefully arranged objects and artifacts created and harvested during the construction process. These objects are juxtaposed with new paintings made by Chávez during the residency. The survival blanket is inspired by Chávez’s heritage. It references Mesa, a multicolored bundle containing sacred objects used for healing in Andean shamanic rituals associated with a Huaca monument or natural location representing something revered. Chávez lived in the residency house for eight weeks while working, each day, with the team to build the bee sanctuary and work on new pieces — including drawings and paintings of mesa blankets — for his exhibition in the front room of the residency house. He moved into the house two days after Koutsouras ended his visit. During the exhibit, which stayed up through late October, Chávez connected with community members and presented an artist talk, lunch, and tour of the project.

In November, we brought to the main gallery No USA Return, from Mexico City-based artist, Laura Ortiz Vega. We commissioned eight thread paintings, The Great Eight, and an installation, The Offering/La Ofrenda. For The Great Eight, Vega started with the now images of the eight border wall samples that President Donald Trump visited in 2017 while they were being tested along the actual border between San Diego and Tijuana. After listening to the speeches Trump has given about the wall and reading his tweets on the subject, Vega extracted the eight adjectives used most to describe the border wall project: great, biggest, impenetrable, physical, tall, powerful, beautiful, and incredible. Seizing the chance to subvert public perception of these messages, Vega presented the adjectives as graffiti on the border wall sample images she had painted, turning each section of wall into a billboard that advertised its own alleged attributes in hyperbolic fashion.

The Offering/La Ofrendais an altar made of plastic water jugs Vega inscribed with encouraging messages. The piece references volunteers who leave similar jugs filled with water in the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge in Arizona to help prevent illegal immigrants from dying of dehydration during the desert trek to the United States. Vega’s intention is for The Offering/La Ofrendato honor those that died attempting the crossing and those that made it but will potentially face lifelong separation from their relatives due to immigration policies. The show opened with more than 500 attendees at Tube Factory the same night that Trump was campaigning for Todd Young in the midterms elections at Southport High School located two miles from Tube Factory. In his speech there, he again promoted his proposed border wall as he continued to talk about the “threat” of migrants moving toward the border. Vega led an artist talk on the December First Friday, walking visitors through the exhibition and sharing in both Spanish and English.

Other than the three months of Land Art (Telling Trees) that filled all of the Tube Factory spaces, we featured a new exhibition each month in the lower level Jeremy Efroymson Gallery. With one exhibit — the Post-It Show in partnership with Sugar Space in January — featuring more than 100 local artists, and another — Flava Fresh curated by D. Del Reverda-Jennings — including 50 artists, and six other shows including 20 more artists, we were able to feature more than 170 local artists in this space alone in 2018. Some other highlights included: the University of Indianapolis Social Practice Thesis exhibit, Danicia Monet‘s Blue Blackshow of photos and performance art focused on African-American body image, the Freaks and Geekscollaboration between illustrator Aaron Scamihorm and writer Jason Roemer, and Absence Presence, photographs by Jedediah Johnson, Tiffany Pierce and Amanda Taves that also explored body image and the human physique.

Listen Hear and WQRT FM

We continued to bring experimental live sound art, and cultural conversations to both our Listen Hear sound art space and WQRT, our radio station at 99.1 on the FM dial. This work includes things like a live 24-hour noise-a-thon, performances by touring and Indianapolis-based sound artists heard on air also attended by audience members at our Listen Hear gallery space, and monthly exhibitions with 21 local and regional artists in 2018 — many featuring sound-oriented works. WQRT also hosts a variety of regular and one-off music, and cultural talk programs (20-plus different ones airing in 2018  — ranging from local rock and hip-hop to country, jazz, and classical music to art and community talk to film reviews) created and hosted by community members and Big Car staff artists.

Also at Listen Hear, we commissioned a bathroom installation by Danielle Joy Graves. At the onset of the #metoo movement Marsh began looking at Indianapolis-based sex-positive, body-positive feminist artists to support. This led to the commissioned bathroom installation, Virgin Mary Vaginathat includes carved foam, paint, LED light strips, and mirrors that allow visitors to take selfies in this symbolic heaven and hell.

Engaging public programming and public art

This side of our work brought together thousands of people across Indiana with arts-based social experiences. We created a nearly month-long pop-up public place at the Indiana State Fair and worked with the community to paint a collaborative mural there. We partnered with the Indianapolis Parks Foundation and Indy Parks on programming in city parks including a weekly beer garden with public programming at Garfield Park. Our work at Indianapolis City Market’s plazas continued and expanded with support from Southwest Airlines.

We activated the urban green space outside of Needler’s Market in the Lockerbie neighborhood with seating, games, and cultural programming — including live music, a collaborative writing project, and three night markets featuring local artisans. Our work in Fort Wayne continued as part of the community engagement team with the Electric Works project redeveloping a massive former General Electric factory campus. We also helped launch similar work in Indianapolis as a program partner with Waterside at the former GM Stamping plant. And we started work with the Jewish Federation of Greater Indianapolis to support planning for rethinking the campus that includes the Jewish Community Center.

We also completed our Ready for the Red Line project in partnership with Transit Drives Indy and the Arts Council of Indianapolis that brought awareness to upcoming location locations for new bus rapid transit stations on the southside through pop-up programs like an outdoor movie screening, interactive art experiences, art fair, and a mini festival. We followed this with public-art kiosks sharing information and gathering input at three locations. Additionally, we worked with Rolls Royce employees to paint a mural designed by Big Car creative director Andy Fry that will go up under the tracks on Meridian Street in 2019. And we worked with visitors at the Spark Festival in Fishers to paint a collaborative mural based on artwork by a Fishers high school student that now adorns a building in the city’s downtown park.

Two of our staff artists, Carlie Foreman and one-year artist in residence, Conner Green, teamed up to create a new exhibit on the Wagon of Wonders, our mobile art museum. Their piece presents nine color-coded cassette tape recorders the public can use to record and make sound art pieces sourced from the environment — categorized by people, water, and flora. Additionally, we commissioned self-taught artist Michael Jordan to paint a series of 20 small oil-paint portraits of Indianapolis artists and creative thinkers throughout history. Visitors can take the portraits down from the display wall (where they hang with velcro) and read biographies on the back. The Wagon visited many schools, community locations, city and state parks (including a weekend at Turkey Run State Park funded by an Indiana Arts Commission grant), and stayed at the Indiana State Fair most of August.

Sharing our work, connecting with the world

In 2018, staff members participated in several conferences — invited to present as speakers at placemaking, art, and city-centric conferences. We also took art scouting and connecting trips to other cities with different artists from our team — often linking these to conference participation. Midwest locations included Minneapolis, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Kansas City, Milwaukee, Chicago, and St. Louis. Three of us also visited artist-run spaces and contemporary art museums and galleries in San Francisco and New Orleans (the trip to New Orleans funded by Southwest Airlines to attend a conference there and share about our work). Marsh and Walker traveled to Germany and Belgium — with support from the German government — to attend the IMPACT conference, a weeklong gathering of artists and thinkers from around the world (only one other of the 30 there resides in the U.S.). During this two-week trip in early November, Walker and Marsh also visited many contemporary art spaces — most of them very unique adaptive reuse projects — in Berlin, Essen (the location of the conference), Düsseldorf, and Brussels.

In 2018 Big Car staff also pursued partnerships in the Midwest and abroad and were able to experience citywide contemporary art exhibitions: FRONT International in Cleveland and Open Spaces in Kansas City. We made great connections with peer organizations in these Midwest peer cities where we will further collaborate and exchange ideas, art, and artists.

In April of 2018, Marsh accompanied a version of the Big-Car-commissioned Mari Evans exhibit to the Virginia Commonwealth University Gallery in Qatar. She curated the original project at Tube Factory with Carl Pope and Evans in 2016. In Qatar, Marsh helped with the exhibition install, met with undergrad and grad students and faculty — including making studio visits, connected with staff from museums there, led private tours of the exhibit, and conducted a public lecture before the opening.

Looking ahead to 2019

With Tube Factory commissioned exhibitions — which stay up for three months — on Feb. 1, Chicago-based photographer and sociologist David Shalliol opened a photo and video exhibit based on four years of research centered around the Garfield Park and Bean Creek neighborhoods where Tube Factory is located. He also interviewed and photographed residents of the neighborhood, with a focus on Bean Creek — located east of Shelby Street adjacent to the Garfield Park neighborhood and including Tube Factory. He will eventually create more with this research. Yvette Mayorga will be next in the main gallery at Tube Factory in May. She employs confection, industrial materials, and the American board game Candy Land as a conceptual framework to juxtapose the borderlands of the U.S. and Mexico, contrasting the immigrant’s utopian visions of the American Dream with living shrines to real life individuals, some of whom have died at the border. This is followed by New York-based Saya Woolfalk’s commissioned exhibit is next in August of 2019. Woolfalk and Marsh share an interest in artificial intelligence, utopian ideas, and how ritual is and will be integrated with technology. Woolfalk has items in production and has created a video that will be projected onto the south wall of the main gallery over painted walls. Kipp Normand: Snake Oil is scheduled for November. The exhibit by this Indianapolis-based artist will explore advertising and pharmaceuticals as metaphors for religion and mass hysteria through a narrative-based immersive and kinetic installation.

On the public programming side, we will be returning to the Indiana State Fair and Lockerbie, plan to continue working with City Market and Indy Parks, and will expand our efforts in partnership with the Jewish Federation of Greater Indianapolis and Waterside/GM Stamping Plant. We’ll also work on community engagement efforts with Electric Works in Fort Wayne and the South Indianapolis Quality of Life Plan (SoIndy) in our home area. Big Car is the convening organization and fiscal agent for SoIndy.

Our biggest effort in 2019 will be a major expansion of our Garfield Park Creative Community/Cruft Street Commons work. With the support of the $3 million Lilly Endowment grant and with the resolution of details with our partnership with Riley Area Development, we will see renovation work finished on five houses that will be sold at affordable prices to artists and five more renovated as affordable rentals houses for artists and neighborhood leaders. Two other buildings — our current residency house/Guichelaar Gallery next to Tube Factory and a small former church on Cruft Street — will serve as program spaces, with the house serving as a gallery and hosting short- and longer-term artists in residence.

We’ll make progress on the larger factory building behind Tube Factory and continue work on the commons green space and sculpture garden (home of our community garden, the Indianapolis Bee Sanctuary and, soon, the Chicken Chapel of Love). Likewise, we’ll add a community-focused commercial kitchen to the campus and a coffee shop at Tube Factory.

Please tune in (at 99.1), drop by, and think of us when considering sponsorships or nonprofit donations. We’re thriving and growing but need your help to continue doing so. Here’s to an exciting 2019!

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Lilly Endowment grants $3 million for Cruft Street Commons

Lilly Endowment grants $3 million for Cruft Street Commons

On Dec. 5, Lilly Endowment shared news of $48 million in grants for 17 projects as part of its Strengthening Indianapolis Through Arts and Cultural Innovation initiative. Designed to “encourage community building and celebrate creativity,” this one-time competitive grant program supports a broad swath of projects and initiatives across the city — including $3 million toward Big Car Collaborative’s ongoing efforts to support its home block just south of Garfield Park on the near southside.

Big Car CEO and lead artist Jim Walker explains the project this way: “Cruft Street Commons is a collaborative effort to develop a socially cohesive, culturally focused city block where artists and other leaders work together to support stronger communities across Indianapolis. We’ll bring people together to build social cohesion and address civic and community challenges in our city.”

The $3 million will make it possible for Big Car to work in partnership with Central Indiana Community Foundation and several others to:

  • Renovate four vacant houses as affordable rentals for artists (three on Nelson Ave. and one on Cruft Street)
  • Repurpose a vacant 40,000 square-foot former factory behind Tube Factory artspace for studios, exhibition space, performances, and other public programming
  • Complete a public gathering area in the greenspace between Big Car artist housing on Cruft Street, Tube Factory, and the large building to be renovated
  • Work with partners including South Indianapolis Quality of Life and The Learning Tree to support social cohesion in neighborhoods through social art strategies
  • Team up with Indiana University Public Policy Institute (IU PPI) on data tracking, evaluation, real-time feedback, and short and long-term strategy
  • Document the project and community impact with, video, photos, and stories that will be shared online and Big Car’s communityradio station, WQRT, along the way.

Other partners on the project include: Garfield Park Neighbors Association, Bean Creek Neighborhood Association, Indianapolis Neighborhood Housing Partnership, Riley Area Development, University of Indianapolis, Solful Gardens, the City of Indianapolis, Rundell Ernstberger, Deylen Realty, Blackline Studio, and Pattern.

More about Cruft Street Commons

As the project develops this group of artists and leaders working and living in this micro community will focus on supporting this currently challenged block located in the Garfield Park neighborhood, the near southside, and neighborhoods around Indianapolis. This ongoing and consistent work will focus on inclusive, informal arts practices that share the joy of creative expression in engaging ways, bring citizens together, and boost quality of life for people of all ages and backgrounds.

Cruft Street Commons builds on $2 million-plus in public and private investment already on the block at Tube Factory (home of a community gathering and exhibition space and workshop), sound art gallery Listen Hear (home of Big Car’s FCC-licensed FM radio station), and the fully funded affordable homeownership program on Cruft Street in partnership with Riley and INHP.

With this next phase, Big Car teams up with experienced and dedicated partners to create a socially, economically, and environmentally sustainable micro-community that supports equitable, collaborative, and positive macro-level change throughout the city. This plan is what Australian scientist Bill Mollison would call “social permaculture” and what sociologist Eric Klinenberg calls “social infrastructure.” Big Car, an artist-led organization founded in 2004, is saving and repurposing visible structures — buildings and outdoor gathering spaces — to develop equitable and inclusive social infrastructure.

Cruft Street Commons is located less than a block away from Garfield Park, a new Red Line station and an existing BlueIndy electric car share hub. Its location offers a bike-friendly route to the Indianapolis Cultural Trail in Fountain Square via Pleasant Run trail 1.5 miles to the north and a quick trip to the University of Indianapolis 1.5 miles to the south. Cruft Street Commons is located within overlapping neighborhood boundaries. One is the well-organized Garfield Park neighborhood adjacent to the city park full of amenities. And the other is Bean Creek — a community making great strides despite challenges as a low-income neighborhood.

On this uniquely mixed-use block between Shelby Street and I-65 and bordered by Cruft Street and Nelson Avenue, Big Car enjoys a rare opportunity to repurpose and build an equitable, inclusive pocket community that will serve as a sustainable and affordable catalystfor quality of life in the surrounding neighborhoods, the southside, and around the city — while avoiding displacement.

“We’ll secure long-term affordability for artists while supporting neighbors in staying to enjoy a socially cohesive block,” said Walker.

This happens, in part, by establishing bonds between new and existing neighbors. “What drives us from places is the lack of connection to others. It is in connection that we build safe, functional, cities,” psychologist Mindy Thompson Fullilove wrote in her 2013 book, Urban Alchemy: Restoring Joy in America’s Sorted-Out Cities.

This idea directly addresses primary goals in the South Indianapolis (So Indy) Quality of Life Plan created by residents in eight southside neighborhoods, including Bean Creek and Garfield Park. Certified by the City in 2017, the plan is now in its implementation stage with full-time staff and neighbors leading the way. Related So Indy goals include increasing mixed-use and quality rental housing, boosting job opportunities with an emphasis on trades, focusing on healthy food and gardens, increasing small businesses, and fostering social connectivity with affordable public programs.

“We’ve been closely involved in this from the start and serve as So Indy’s convener and umbrella organization. We’re very dedicated to supporting its work in the southside community,” Walker said. “And, together with So Indy, we’re dedicated to equitable and inclusive community development with thoughtful approaches to keeping existing neighbors involved and informed. And we’re working hard to avoid displacement while building an even more diverse and resilient community on the south side.”

Another key component of the Cruft Street Commons project is providing Indianapolis artists and owners of creative businesses a long-term home neighborhood they can afford — one directly owned by a nonprofit committed to keeping rent prices low for residential and studio space. After Fountain Square’s Wheeler Arts Community went market rate in 2017, Indianapolis no longer offered any affordable housing specifically for artists. And, due to market forces, artists and creative small businesses like galleries have moved from neighborhoods they once sparked with energy.

This cultural migration and disbursement not only makes things difficult for the artists; it also alters the authenticity, quirkiness, and cultural vibrancy of neighborhoods like Mass Ave and Fountain Square — the very kind of quality places that help Indianapolis retain young talent, a key issue according to studies by the IU Public Policy Institute. Data from its 2015 Thriving Communities Thriving State report shows that Indianapolis has been losing residents for 15 years, with 10,000 people leaving Marion County in 2015 alone.

Continuous displacement of those in the creative industry has the potential to increase the net out-migration. That’s why IU PPI emphasizes the importance of finding sustainable solutions to retaining talent. Several of the report’s suggested steps resonate with our strategies here. The report’s overarching recommendation for quality of place in Indianapolis: “Ensure adequate resources to preserve our heritage, develop amenities, and create unique places in a way that promotes a high quality of life.”

Building a place for artists and community

This multifaceted project is an expansion of Big Car’s existing work — also on the same block — that includes five affordable artist-owned homes developed as the Artist and Public Life Residency (APLR) in partnership with Riley Area Development and supported by INHP. The APLR project — which will begin taking a second round of applications soon — is fully funded and artists will occupy homes in 2019.

Cruft Street Commons is linked directly with APLR as well as our program with two existing artist residency houses Big Car owns and manages separately on Cruft Street. These houses, currently occupied by short- and long-term artists in residence — border the green space thatincludes our community gardenand chicken coops.

The greenspace is also home tothe Indianapolis Bee Sanctuary, a public art and ecology project created by St. Louis artist Juan William Chávez and the Big Car team. Big Car has hosted several artists in its short-term residency program and four in our one-year residency program in these houses since 2016. And the two houses have both been utilized for exhibitions and other cultural programming — both inside the houses and in the greenspace. Artists who purchase affordable houses in the partnership with Riley or live in or visit Big Car’s affordable rental or residency houses on the block will be engaged in neighborhood cultural work through the same program as the Cruft Street Commons studio and home renters.

As part of building common spaces for artists, neighbors, and visitors, Big Car is also renovating additional flexible programmatic and community space. This includes 20-25 flexible art studios at the 44,000-square-foot second former Tube Processing factory building along Nelson Avenue. This building is located directly behind our short-term residency houses and just southeast of Big Car’s existing community and cultural space, Tube Factory. In addition to these long-term affordable artist studios (something our city is lacking due to changes in neighborhoods like Fountain Square), Big Car plans to add exhibition space, a flex black-box performance and event area, office space for creative/cultural nonprofits, shared shop and repair area, and additional community workshop space.

Cruft Street Commons residents will receive access to shared resources and performance space. Artists and nonprofits in the discounted studios and office space will also be involved as part of the team working in support of the community.

Polina Osherov, executive director and editor in chief of Pattern — a cultural and economic development nonprofit that works to retain talent and support creatives in Indianapolis and a partner as a potential tenant in the studio space — has been seeking a long-term home for 10 years. Pattern also conducted citywide research and determined a strong need for space for artists and entrepreneurs when it was launching a maker space. “There’s huge pent-up demand for creative space in Indianapolis for artists,” Osherov said. “I have first-hand experience through surveys and talking with many many members of the community about the need for space. One of the challenges we face is financial. We don’t see more artists forming clusters of communities because they can’t afford it.”

Osherov sees ownership of Cruft Street Commons by a nonprofit as vital to long-term security for artists and organizations often pushed out of space. “The interests that developers have and the interests that a nonprofit organization like Big Car have are quite divergent. Big Car wants to support artists and keep them in place and allow them opportunities to grow and for the community to grow. Developers want to make money. So when the opportunity arises to make more, the artists fall by the wayside.”

Brian Payne, president and CEO of CICF, agrees that creating a sustainable home for artists is vital for Indianapolis and a crucial element of what draws CICF to Cruft Street Commons. “We’ve always been very aware that artist major catalysts for neighborhoods. And when neighborhoods make progress, artists get rushed out, get displaced. This project is a way for artists to stay in place and be part of a neighborhood for the long term and even build equity and personal financial stability.”

Drew Klacik, senior policy analyst with IU PPI — the evaluation partner on Cruft Street Commons — sees strength in keeping artists in place while also supporting existing residents. “Another really important element of this project is that intersection between art, artists, community and creating great neighborhood cohesion and sustainability,” he said. “One thing that makes this effort so interesting is how can we — with a combination of art, artists, and community — help everyone raise their level without actually driving folks out of the community. So the focus is on enabling a capacity building within the neighborhood — strengthening the neighborhood and its original residents.”

Artists in support of public life 

As part of the program, Big Car will ask artist and community leader residents — all of whom receive discounted, below market-value housing, studios, and access to shared resources and spaces — to get involved as part of a bigger civilian service corps teaming up with community members to work as problem solvers and community connectors/builders for stronger social cohesion. This structure for artists supporting the community, already part of our artist homeownership program, will also be linked to a shared-equity rent program. This will allow artist renters to take some money with them — possibly for down payment on a home or other uses — when they move out of the program.

The civilian service corps exchange is something residents selected for the program will formally agree to do (with shared equity dollars linked to participation).

“We’re confident the artist residents will want to do this and will consider it a key component to their practices. We’ll help ensure this by utilizing a selection process like the one for the first round of the homeownership program on Cruft Street. With this, we sought residents who consider community collaboration vital to their work. We know there’s interest in this idea as we had 66 artists reach out, 45 apply, and 14 complete the full process,” Walker said. “When we interviewed artists during the process, they told us that they didn’t view the requirement of giving back 16 hours to the community each month as a potential burden. In fact, they said that being part of this effort was a big part of what attracted them to the program.”

Building community through art   

With the South Indianapolis Quality of Life Plan’s goals and broader societal and civic challenges in mind, Big Car is building Cruft Street Commons as a sort of micro cohousing community with arts-based social connectivity as its core mission. Cohousing communities are places found around the world where neighbors know each other, enjoy common spaces, and work together on shared goals.

“Functioning much like traditional villages, Cruft Street Commons will build on innovations from cohousing projects in the United States and Europe that we’ve studied,” Walker said. “We see cohousing — with its shared common spaces and regular opportunities for social interaction — as a powerful way to address how modern city design and changing lifestyles have led to isolation and a resulting decline in quality of life.”

As sociologist Robert Putnam shared in his 2000 book, Bowling Alone, almost half of Americans say they have no one, or just one person in whom they can confide. “Social isolation just may be the greatest environmental hazard of city living,” Charles Montgomery wrote in his 2013 book Happy City,an examination of the impact of social cohesion on happiness. “The more connected we are with family and community the less likely we are to experience colds, heart attacks, strokes, cancer, and depression.” He also shared that, if 10 percent of Americans had someone to count on in life, this would have a greater effect on national life satisfaction than giving everyone a 50 percent raise.

It is well worth noting that Indianapolis ranks 133rd of 186 cities in the 2017 Gallup-Sharecare Well-Being Index, the leading study of American happiness and health. “In response to the challenges caused by unhappiness and social disconnect in our home city, we’re building this pocket neighborhood to promote social cohesion for those who will live and work there, all neighbors, the broader community, and visitors from anywhere,” Walker said.

Cruft Street Commons will foster sense of place, prioritize people over cars, and share resources like lawn mowers, appliances, and tools among artists in the program and other neighbors as well. Like other cohousing communities Big Car has studied, this will be a place where people care about each other and shared physical spaces — and support neighbors.

Regular community meals, shared workshop and gathering space, and community collaborations will help incubate ideas and form ongoing bonds and collaborations between artists living and working here. Cruft Street Commons will feature outdoor and indoor spaces where neighbors connect with each other spontaneously or at planned activities like shared meals at Tube Factory — already a central civic commons for the southside and broader community.

“Connecting neighbors through meals and other approaches to community engagement is crucial to quality of life and individual happiness. And we’ll start on our block and bring this kind of approach, with leadership from the community of artists, to neighborhoods across the south side and the entire city,” Walker said.

“People who say they feel that they ‘belong’ in their community are happier than those who do not,” Montgomery wrote in Happy City. “And people who trust their neighbors feel a greater sense of that belonging. And that sense of belonging is influenced by social contact. And casual encounters are just as important to belonging and trust as contact with family and close friends.”

Dan Buettner, author of the 2017 book The Blue Zones of Happiness, is an expert on places where people live long and happy lives. In the early 2000s, he began studying “Blue Zones,” areas of the world where a high percentage of people live to be more than 100 years old. His book, published in 2009, shares that a cornerstone of a long and healthy life is living in a happy, socially connected way. And he writes that communities can be retrofitted to encourage happiness and social cohesion. Combined with other factors, such as encouraging healthy eating and activities like walking and biking, Buettner believes creating mini “Blue Zones” is a realistic approach to boosting quality of life (and longevity) for people.

Buettner also shares that individual happiness is affected by how close members of social networks live to each other. When a friend who lives within a mile becomes happy, you are 25 percent more likely to become happy yourself as a result. But the happiness of a friend who lives further away has no impact — more support the strength of a micro-community like this one where neighbors bond over shared interest and purpose.

Orienting outward and bridging divides  

Most cohousing and micro community projects are built with an internal focus on the people who live within the property boundaries. Cruft Street Commons will function as a more inclusive kind of community that is porous and invites all neighbors in — including those outside of the program — to develop deeper relationships and better know and support each other. This approach is something our research indicates is not happening in many other cohousing projects. “It’s an act of outward-looking leadership, a leadership that is concerned not only with the well-being of the institution itself, but also with the well-being of the greater community it seeks to serve and represent,” Rip Rapson, president of the Kresge Foundation, said of this kind of cultural development in a 2016 speech.

Strong connection between neighbors and artists at Tube Factory is already happening as Big Car staff artists are in constant communication and collaboration with nearby residents. Attendance at Tube Factory events is often more than 50 percent neighbors. And residents on the Cruft Street block participated in the selection of artists chosen for the home ownership partnership with Riley.

“We’ll build on these relationships as we continue to bring new residents into this block that was half vacant for many years. Our programmatic focus for resident artists, in the foreseeable future, will be to work with neighbors and utilize cultural strategies to bring people together and form strong social bonds,” Walker said, noting that Big Car will accomplish this by facilitating and supporting public participation in what is called “informal arts” created together with the community. “That’s the kind of work we do all of the time.”

And Big Car will team up with community leaders, when invited into neighborhoods beyond our own, to support and program “third places” — like community centers, coffee shops, placemaking plazas in parks, etc. — where people can connect with others beyond home or work. Sociologist Ray Oldenburg wrote in his 1999 book The Great Good Place: “To comprehend the importance of the informal public life of our society is to become concerned for its future. The course of urban growth and development in the United States has been hostile to an informal public life; we are failing to provide either suitable or sufficient gathering places necessary for it. The grass roots of our democracy are correspondingly weaker than in the past, and our individual lives are not as rich.” One of the jobs of creating great third places is offering places for people and places for interaction, conversation, and learning between generations. “Third places provide a means for retired people to remain in contact with those still working and, in the best instances, for the oldest generation to associate with the youngest,” Oldenburg wrote.

People of all ages and backgrounds are hungry for opportunities to socialize with others. According to the National Endowment for the Arts 2015 study When Going Gets Tough: Barriers and Motivations Affecting Arts Attendance, 73 percent of people view socializing as their top motivation for attending arts programming. In our data from Spark Monument Circle in 2015, we found that — far and away — the top attractor for people was being around other people. We also found that 85 percent of Spark visitors talked with someone they didn’t know — something 30 percent of them said they don’t usually do. The Chicago Center for Arts Policy at Columbia College studied community theater groups, choirs, painters, quilters, musicians, writers, and others practicing art in informal settings and in collaborative ways in 22 Chicago communities to create its 2002 report: Informal Arts: Finding Cohesion, Capacity, and Other Cultural Benefits in Unexpected Places. These activities — the kind of work artists in this program will do — had these results: “over 80 percent of respondents to the survey indicated that making new friends was one of the significant benefits of interacting with diverse people in the course of art making. Close to 70 percent stated that they gained a greater understanding of different people.”

Bridging divides is central to the resilience of our society. Carol Colletta, a senior fellow with Kresge Foundation, is a co-founder of the Reimagining the Civic Commons five-year, $40 million initiative in Akron, Memphis, Detroit, Chicago, and Philadelphia. This program is reversing division by creating places for people to connect — could be formerly vacant lots or buildings, libraries, neglected parks. The approach, much like our own, is built around creating new centers for democratic activity, talking, and gathering. Colletta wrote in The Hill: “We strongly believe in the power of civic assets to break down barriers between citizens and to knit together communities. We need to gather together — differences and all — and start the conversations that will usher in a more unified future.”

And Big Car will turn talk into action with artists and neighbors in the lead addressing challenges. A 10-year study by the University of Michigan of-Flint, Michigan shows that neighbors making their streets “busy,” cleaning and beautifying abandoned properties, and turning some into programmed pocket parks led to drastic drops in crime — assaults decreased 54 percent, robberies 83 percent, and burglaries 76 percent between 2013 and 2018. This is the kind of work our crew of artists will help make possible — together with neighborhood leaders — on the southside of Indianapolis and around our city.

The power of partnerships 

This is certainly a large and multi-faceted and challenging effort. But Big Car has taken steps toward owning and managing property and working with larger groups of artists. And it is teaming up with some of the city’s best experts in all aspects of this work. For instance, this is not an excessively large project for key partners including CICF, Deylen, Rundell Ernstberger, Blackline Architecture, and Indiana University Public Policy Institute. Leaders from each of those entities express full confidence in the project and in the team assembled to get it done.

“With CICF, we worked on the design of the Indianapolis Cultural Trail — clearly a transformational project. And we think this project — with the top-notch group of community partners Big Car has assembled — has the possibility of creating that kind of impact,” said Kevin Osburn, president and managing partner of REA, a multidisciplinary firm that will design the greenspace and streetscape. “What’s interesting is this combination of vision that comes from the creative side of the team as well as the experience and the seasoned experts at not only getting these types of projects off the ground but the detailed work of design and implementation and construction — and beyond that — management and sustaining of these types of projects.”

IU Public Policy Institute will lead the development and implementation of strong research design, complete necessary data analyses, and write and disseminate research findings over three years with the project and its programs. “We’ll be doing real-time evaluation of both process and outcomes and effort. So we will be able to intervene both when things are going well so we can maximize those opportunities and when things are going less well and we can intervene and help improve the process,” said Klacik of IU PPI. “We’ve done research for a long time that suggests that the status quo is actually a bad outcome. So supporting innovative ideas like this one becomes really essential in helping Indianapolis and all of the neighborhoods within it compete within the Midwest, across the nation and globally for talent and to increase opportunities to develop the latent talent within our community.”

The Learning Tree — an ongoing partner in multiple ways, including an INHP-funded home repair project and exhibit of neighborhood art on discarded doors — will facilitate connecting artists with inclusive community-driven work elsewhere around the city. The Learning Tree is a grassroots association of neighbors specializing in asset-based community development and education. “Knowing people and having connections starts with our biggest currency, which is trust,” said DeAmon Harges, founder of The Learning Tree.

The South Indianapolis Quality of Life Plan organization — which includes a paid full-time director, volunteer board, and representatives from eight neighborhoods and seven action teams (community building, connectivity, education and workforce, health and wellness, housing, Madison Avenue, and Shelby Street corridor) — will connect artists and leaders in Cruft Street Commons with projects and initiatives.

The University of Indianapolis is a key partner with So Indy QoL as its original convener — before handing this off to Big Car in 2017. And UIndy will team up with us on Cruft Street Commons and expand partnerships like we have with the Social Practice and Placemaking graduate program, now in its second year and a full partnership with Big Car utilizing Tube Factory as a base of operations for classes, community interaction, and exhibitions.

Why Big Car, why now?

As a nonprofit arts organization and collective of artists and community leaders, Big Car Collaborative has worked for 15 years strengthening and supporting Indianapolis, its neighborhoods and its people through equity-focused, arts-based approaches.

“Our work is built on community engagement, co-creation, and collaboration with many citizens, artists, organizations, and entities. This focus of being part of solving problems as artists has been at the core of our mission all along,” Walker said.

Big Car began as neighbors and artists bringing creative energy to the mostly vacant Fountain Square commercial district in the early 2000s. In 2009 at the height of the recession, the organization received a Great Indy Neighborhoods Initiative (GINI) Imagine Big grant that connected its artists to eight neighborhoods. Here, Big Car followed its mission of bringing art to people and people to art by collaborating with neighbors in West Indy, the Near Eastside, Near Westside, Southeast, Martindale Brightwood and more.

From that time forward, working with people in communities on participatory art was at the heart of Big Car’s practice as artists. “It’s not an outreach program. It’s our art. And our mission then, as it is now, was to support people of all ages and backgrounds as a way to strengthen Indianapolis. This work was, is, and will always be what Big Car does,” Walker said. “Our mission statement says: we bring art to people and people to art, sparking creativity in lives to support communities. Our work emphasizes working as artists to reach people who lack access to creative experiences in their lives, people who are outside of connections to social capital, people who feel that art and community development efforts are for someone else. We work for everyone because we believe too few people experience the joy of creativity; cultural events should be for everybody, everywhere; and all people should get to imagine, make, and play. These central beliefs and our focus on reaching all people make Big Car unique in Indianapolis and around the world.”

While working on the Imagine Big project in Lafayette Square in 2010, Walker spotted an abandoned tire shop that seemed perfect for a cultural community center. With no up-front funding but with lots of volunteer support, Big Car’s artists and volunteers transformed this eyesore into a 12,000 square-foot hub for culture and community with a massive raised-bed community garden that doubled as a park where people could gather in front of Lafayette Square Mall.

In 2015, Big Car worked with the City of Indianapolis — with $400,000 in funding from the NEA, the City, and CICF — to spark Monument Circle with daily, human-scale activity and comfort while testing plans for the Circle’s redesign. And, now, we’re in the midst of reinvigorating a forgotten and neglected block in the Garfield Park neighborhood where we first began work with a collaborative gateway mural as a gift to the community in 2012.

Big Car’s idea for Cruft Street Commons grew out of much experience, from years of talking with neighbors, attending community meetings, creating neighborhood logos with fourth graders, digging sweet potatoes out of the dirt next door to Don’s Guns, painting creative crosswalks, taking boards off windows of buildings vacant for 15 years, and helping give voice to people across the city who’ve been left out for too long.

“This idea comes from years of research, reading dozens of books and articles and bringing artists and leaders to Indianapolis to share their work with the community. We’ve also travelled to visit sites and speak with colleagues about their work — asking many questions and learning much — from Project Row Houses in Houston to Heidelberg Project in Detroit to Stony Island Arts Bank in Chicago to the Mattress Factory museum in Pittsburgh,” Walker said. “Our idea for strengthening Indianapolis through arts and cultural innovation grew thoughtfully and carefully from giving much of our lives and all of our hearts to this challenging, messy, beautiful, rewarding, and vital work.”



Reading list:

  • Buettner, Dan. The Blue Zones of Happiness: Lessons From the World’s Happiest People. National Geographic, Washington D.C. 2017.
  • Fullilove, Mindy Thompson. Urban Alchemy: Restoring Joy in America’s Sorted-Out Cities. New Village Press. 2014.
  • Helliwell, John. “Trust and Well-Being.” International Journal of Wellbeing, Vol. 1, No. 1, pp. 42-78. 2010.
  • Indiana University Public Policy Institute. Thriving Communities Thriving State. Indiana University Press. 2015.
  • Klineberg, Eric. Palaces for the People: How Social Infrastructure Can Help Fight Inequality, Polarization, and the Decline of Civic Life. Crown, New York. 2018.
  • Mollison, Bill. Permaculture: A Designers’ Manual. Tagari Publications, Tyalgum, Australia. 1988.
  • Montgomery, Charles. Happy City: Transforming our Lives through Urban Design. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 2013.
  • National Endowment for the Arts. When Going Gets Tough: Barriers and Motivations Affecting Arts Attendance. NEA Research Report #59, January 2015.
  • Oldenburg, Ray. The Great Good Place. Da Capo Press, Cambridge, MA. 1991.
  • Putnam, Robert. Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. New York: Simon & Schuster. 2000.
  • Solomon, Daniel. Housing and the City, Love Versus Hope. Schiffer Publishing, Atglen PA. 2018.
  • Wali, Alaka. Informal Arts: Finding Cohesion, Capacity and Other Cultural Benefits
in Unexpected Places. Chicago Center for Arts Policy at Columbia College, June 2002.



2018 CNU Place Summit Cincinnati Debrief

Over the first weekend of November, two of our staff members Adam Rakestraw (researcher and placemaker) and Elizabeth Nash (community outreach and development) had the pleasure of attending the 2018 Congress for New Urbanism Midwests (CNU) Place Summit. This is a recap of their presentation, reflections, and key take-aways from the conference.

About the midwest CNU chapter and their goals:

CNU Midwest is the regional chapter of the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) serving the states and cities that border the Ohio River and beyond—the nation’s first corridor of westward expansion. Once the home of the industrial revolution, Midwestern towns and cities are well positioned to grow in our current urban renaissance. As a leading voice in this renaissance, CNU Midwest is a diverse group of professionals dedicated to promoting the value that results from great placemaking through traditional and new approaches to:

  1. Reclaiming public space for people,
  2. Reactivating and reconnecting neighborhoods as the vibrant building block of towns and cities, and
  3. Championing urban development that is enduring, adaptable, and human scaled.

The event invited regional urbanist thinkers, designers, planners, and placemakers to discuss topics facing the midwest. Each speaker was given 7-10 minutes to discuss new urbanist trends, ideas, and inspirations on how to address the current issues. After sequence of three presentations, breakout sessions were held in which small groups formed to further discuss topics and investigate points of intersection between the present ideas and new ones. Some of the small breakout group topics include: City Soundscapes, Legacy Cities, engaging with Climate Change deniers, CNU networking, trees as infrastructure, addressing homelessness, and designing for art, placemaking. The small group discussions presented a format that was more intimate and tired to push ideas into the realm of exploration, and for us, inspiration.

Adam and Elizabeth co-produced and presented on Repairing Social Infrastructure: Programming and Research. The presentation  unpacked Big Car’s organization, projects, programming, and research to make a case for placemaking initiatives in our region.

Their thesis is that the decline in social infrastructure (sociability) leads to feelings of loneliness, isolation, and should be treated as a public health concern. Their lecture augured placemaking and the Arts can act as a catalyst to spark conversation around the decline of social bonds and social infrastructure. Which is placed under the urban redevelopment debate; What if All Community Development Started with Local Arts and Culture?. Broadly speaking, their presentation was to open discussions around the intersection of urbanism, the Arts and placemaking, and social issues. As well as, to bring an outside Arts-focused perspective in framing issues within urbanism and problem-solving.

Fundamentally, they and Big Car argue if we what stronger communities; there needs to be a bridge to the Arts.

Some key take-aways from the discussions;

  • Key Indianapolis issues are massive job and population loss, service job growth in suburbs and downtown but significant decline in most neighborhoods, need for more public transportation, and automobile-dominated transportation system
  • The lexicon in New Urbanism needs a be reaching a boarder, simpler rhetoric in the public and local sphere.
  • Key topic to address for New Urbanism is how to address the decline of manufacturing to 21st-century production in emerging economies in automation, the service economy, and the gig economy.
  • Climate change will bring about mass migration, especially from the south to safe haven cities in the Midwest within the next 100 years.
  • The Midwest has the physical Infrastructures to support larger communities. Mostly in the form of abandon and vacant post-industrial building from the start white flight (1960’s) to the decline in manufacturing (1980s – 2000s), and the recent economic recession (2008).
  • Legacy Cities Initiative is a central focal point in spurring equitable revitalization in former industrial cities
  • Can CNU strengthen its existing networks by not reinventing organizations across the midwest, but rather operate under already existing organizations that are indirectly involved in New Urbanism.
  • Arts, design, and New Urbanism go hand-in-hand with the arts and culture focused on the social space of communities networks and bonds; and design focused on the physical space — hard infrastructure, amenities, planning. More metropolitan departments and urban planners should be hiring socially-engaged artist and placemakers into their practice.   

Adam and Elizabeth were very pleased to present on Big Car’s work. In their own words, “[we] thoroughly enjoyed the weekend and the company with CNU.  More so, we very much enjoyed the conversations and the depth of them, as those dialogues Big Car always wanted to participate in and recognizes the importance of such”. Big Car Collaborative is very humble to have been invited to CNU Midwest 2018 Place Summit. We look forward to future involvements with CNU Midwest and keeping to New Urbanist ideas!

If you would like to know more about CNU:

Midwest Chapter: www.cnumidwest.org

Facebook: www.facebook.com/cnumidwest/

National Organization: https://www.cnu.org

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