A key part of our Cruft Street Commons work on a single block on the near southside of Indianapolis, our affordable artist housing project — known as the Artist and Public Life Residency program (APLR) — supports low-income artists who team up with neighbors (and others across the city) to strengthen our block, the southside, and the broader community through arts-based approaches.
The program — which is like nothing else in the city and has gained much national and international attention — includes (as of March of 2021) 15 homes with 20 artists and their family members currently living on one block surrounding Tube Factory. We have three homes, purchased in 2020, remaining to renovate. The other homes are already matched with artists through a process that includes existing neighbors in decision making and is focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion.
The APLR artists living in the homes — even during the pandemic — have creatively utilized their talents in ways ranging from Jarrod Dortch (of Solful gardens and one of the painters of the Indy Black Lives Matter mural) hosting an online/on-air exhibit highlighting Black artists during Black history month, to Justin Cooper — who was priced out of his longtime home in Wheeler Arts Community in Fountain Square — painting colorful murals on boards of vacant homes on to block, to Uzuri Asad hosting African dance and vegan cooking classes via Zoom. Of note: two APLR artists (Uzuri and Mariah Ivey) recently joined the board of the Garfield Park Neighbors Association where our block is located.
All artists in the program receive deeply discounted homeownership (houses for half of market value) or home rental (30-50% off market rate) that comes with shared resources such as access to our wood and print shops and audio studio at WQRT FM — as well as marketing and professional development support from our staff led by Big Car co-founder and director of programs and exhibitions, Shauta Marsh.
We also understand that artists — who rely on the gig economy — struggle with making rent and utility payments. For this reason, we created an interest-free emergency loan fund (made possible by a small grant from CICF) for residents behind on their bills. Supported by Indianapolis Neighborhood Housing Partnership (renovation of 5 houses) and Lilly Endowment (purchase of 5 additional houses and the renovation of 7), APLR utilizes a community-inclusive selection process. More than 200 artists have applied during four rounds so far for this very popular and in-demand program we launched in partnership with Riley Area Development and INHP.
We’ve worked, every step of the way, with input from existing neighbors (whom we are dedicated to retain). And all aspects of APLR match with goals of the quality of life plan for our neighborhood that focuses heavily on affordable housing, avoiding displacement, and bringing artists to the southside.
Our biggest goal with APLR is to create a perpetual system to avoid displacement of artist neighbors from affordable housing while they collaborate with other neighbors to boost the community’s culture, creativity, livability, safety, health, and economy. In both the co-ownership and rental options, costs are adjusted for affordability and the residency is linked to work — often together with other artists in the program — in support of the neighborhood and broader community. The APLR program works as sort of an exchange of work in the community (16 hours per month) via their artistic practice for deeply discounted housing costs.
The affordable housing component acts as an investment in artists who then reinvest in their community and city. Our currently unfunded needs with APLR include renovating the three remaining homes, covering programmatic cost of management, a budget for APLR artist-led public art projects, shared tools and resources for the artists (also often shared with the broader community), maintenance costs (paid to local artists on staff), and other costs related to elevating and supporting the residents as leaders.
Read local and international media coverage of the project here.
For the APLR 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.
In partnership with Riley Area Development and supported by Indianapolis Neighborhood Housing Partnership (INHP), the APLR program includes houses that 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 our first house to transform into what is now a lovely home for an artist across from Tube Factory. These homes are serving 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 boosted by the nearby IndyGo Red Line bus rapid transit, with a stop at the end of the block.
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 and several other Big Car staff members.
- Resident artists 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 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. This is an exchange for deeply discounted housing costs.
- Artists have opportunities to participate in Big Car-organized exhibition and collaboration opportunities. We encourage partnerships between resident artists, visiting artists, other local artists, and our staff artists.
- Qualifying artists have been selected by a panel of experts on community-focused art and housing (some from other cities) and neighbors on the block.
- Selected artists are able to become homeowners or renters 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.
- Because APLR is not linked, as is usually the case, to a limited timeframe of affordability, this is a way to keep housing affordable in perpetuity on the block.
- Government or corporate funds were not used to make this project happen.
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.
• Artists help create physical improvements that are part of improved social infrastructure.
• We support public transit (the nearby Red Line bus rapid transit), walkability, and bike access.
• We bought most of these previously vacant properties early before market forces began to influence price. And that’s very much how this was possible.
• 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.
• 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 and have responded in overwhelmingly positive ways to this aspect.
• We gather numbers, stories and input, revising and adjusting the program along the way.