Our history of art and community in our neighborhood(s)

Our history of art and community in our neighborhood(s)

Big Car Collaborative started in 2004 as a way to support artists and the Fountain Square neighborhood where two of our co-founders, Shauta Marsh and Jim Walker, then lived. In 2011, Walker and Marsh found themselves priced out of Fountain Square when they needed a bigger house for their growing family. Fortunately, they found just the right home in Garfield Park — one neighborhood south of where they’d lived since 2000.

Welcomed by neighbors already leading important work in multiple associations (Garfield North, Garfield South, and Garfield East), Big Car began in 2011 utilizing its tools, experience, and network to support addressing things like:

• Identity and wayfinding signage for the neighborhood (these include a community gateway mural, the logo currently used by the Garfield Park Neighborhood Association and other murals),

• Safety and economic development and connectivity on Shelby Street (we co-led two Better Blocks and other events at what’s now the Garfield Brewery) and temporary safety improvements after the Red Line opened,

• Overall planning as a co-leader convening organization on the South Indy Quality of Life Plan,

• Cultural and community programming like Normal Coffee and hosting neighborhood meetings at our Tube Factory campus, and lots more.

Since 2011, we’ve joined neighborhood leaders like Bean Creek’s Bernie Price in advocating for safer streets here for those who walk and bike. This teamwork and the support of our elected officials has led to improvements like the hawk crosswalk flasher at Cruft and Shelby Street, better signals at Shelby and Southern intersection (which had no crosswalks just a few years ago), and speed bumps on Nelson Ave. We even worked with neighborhood artists and volunteers to paint street murals to make crossing safer in the park and at new stop signs in the blocks north of the park.

Another key outcome of neighbors working together on the Better Blocks in 2013 and 2014 was the Garfield North and Garfield South associations collaborated to each do a Better Block on each end of the neighborhood — volunteering to help each other as they tested out ideas for safer streets and temporarily filled vacant storefronts and lots with positive activity.

Neighbors soon realized it made little sense to be separate and formed a single association, the Garfield Park Neighbors Association, which our staff helped establish as a nonprofit with longtime neighborhood leaders like Jim Simmons and Ed Mahern. These things happened, also, with lots of leadership from current neighbor Aryn Schounce, a Big Car staff member at that time.

Along the way, we’ve been happy to support getting things started and see small businesses continue the work. For example, in 2018 Big Car also applied for and received a sizable grant to pilot the sunken beer garden for a summer in the Garfield Park Conservatory, paving the way for this ongoing favorite now operated by the Garfield Brewery. We’ve also enjoyed supporting impactful projects and programs in our neighborhood like the Garfield Park Farmers Market (with which we’ve partnered in multiple ways and often provided the mobile parklet to sit on under the shade sails since the market started in 2016).

People often ask how Big Car Collaborative landed with its home base in the Garfield Park and Bean Creek neighborhoods (our block is found within both official borders). Back in 2011, we had left our small gallery in Fountain Square and operated out of a pop-up for a few years we called Service Center for Culture and Community in the Lafayette Square area with a community space and large parking lot garden at an abandoned tire shop outside the mall. When that project ended in 2014 — and with us already having worked for four years in Garfield Park — we were fortunate to soon find both a great location and a fantastic partner in Tube Processing, who ended up donating much of the property they had on the block between Cruft Street and Nelson Avenue.

This work on the block, which began in 2015 based out of our Listen Hear space on Shelby (home of WQRT FM and once a place where we did an art show when it was an appliance store), now includes 21 buildings — including 18 long-term affordable homes for artists who are now vital and dedicated members of our community. One of these houses — fixed up by and named after neighbors Steve and Cari Guichelaar — includes a gallery that features artists from the neighborhood and two apartments for hosting visiting artists from around the world. Check out this video that shows what our campus looks like now.

While we have much more to come, Big Car has already brought several millions of dollars of investment to our neighborhood (mostly through foundation grants and donations). We employ 13 people on an ongoing basis — more than half of them neighborhood residents or people who grew up in Garfield Park.

All of our properties are owned by the nonprofit organization, Big Car Collaborative (other than some homes that are co-owned between Big Car and the artist residents as a way to ensure long-term affordability). That means none of these properties are owned or controlled by individuals or for-profit developers — insuring the long-term affordability for artists and use of these facilities as community assets.

At this time of transition in our neighborhood, it’s important to differentiate between mission-driven, non-profit-owned cultural spaces and properties owned by for-profit developers who may use the arts and artists as a way to increase traffic to their buildings and temporarily fill empty space — boosting the attractiveness and value of the property. While for-profit owners understandably want to make money and build value, we believe it’s problematic to use the arts and artists without really sharing wealth or opportunities for ownership. This move — experienced in cities around the world — is sometimes called art washing. And it is often a step in the process of gentrification and displacement.

We anticipated this cycle would eventually come to our neighborhood as we teamed up over the years with other neighbors to improve the quality of life for residents — making the neighborhood more attractive and valuable. So we designed and invested in an approach to have our nonprofit and artists own and preserve much of our block as a long-term place for art and artists.

This strategy is central, also, to our next project — taking the 46,000-square-foot long-vacant factory building behind the current Tube Factory and bringing it to life with museum-quality galleries, artist studios, a performing arts and event space, small business incubator storefronts, and a restaurant and culinary center that offers learning and workforce development opportunities.

This project alone will be a $7 million investment in the arts, our community, and our neighborhood. And this building is a long-term investment in artists and small business people who won’t have to worry about their rents skyrocketing under a for-profit building owner. And the artists in our building will know this owner won’t be cashing in and selling the place to someone else who wants to turn the studios and galleries into something more lucrative — resulting in their displacement once again.

At Big Car, we’re proud of our deep connection to both the Garfield Park and Bean Creek neighborhoods. We feel lucky our campus is located in an area where both boundaries overlap. We work tirelessly, as neighbors ourselves, to support this place we call home. And — with the long-term help of so many neighbors, artists and partners — we’re excited about so much more to come!


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