Affordable artist housing

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 — now with 11 homes with more than 20 artists and their family members living on one block — is an innovative and experimental approach to supporting artists who use their talents and skills to help drive positive change in the community.

Our goal with APLR is to create a perpetual system to avoid displacement of artist neighbors from affordable housing while they work, in part, to collaborate with other neighbors to boost the culture, creativity, livability, safety, health, and economy of the local and greater community.

Through this program we are working to address these key issues: 

  • Affordable housing is vital but scarce in neighborhoods, especially near Downtown and on the Red Line transit corridor
  • Often the working poor, artists are being priced out of “arts districts”
  • Affordable housing is often short-term vs. perpetual (for instance homes and apartments developed as affordable in Fountain Square are now market rate)
  • The need for neighbors to experience creativity, connect with each other, and find solutions to challenges
  • Indianapolis struggles to retain talented workers — including artists

The near southside struggles in many areas as homes and commercial buildings sit empty, crime remains a challenge, educational attainment is low, and many households struggle for financial security. Our work addresses these challenges by linking artists and residents as co-leaders. Artist residents are now strengthening the neighborhood with free programming like public art, African dance classes, radio broadcasts, and community meals. 

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 utilizes a community-inclusive selection process. More than 100 artists of all disciplines have applied during three rounds so far with those selected matched with one of 11 affordable homes to purchase or rent. In both the co-ownership and rental options, costs are adjusted for affordability and the residency is linked to work in support of the neighborhood and broader community. 

We’re now teaming up with resident artists who see their work with the public — and their work for the benefit of the community — at the core of their practice and production. Artists residents all want to make a difference as neighbors. And they see this work in support of the community as truly part of their art.

The APLR co-ownership 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 — most have been costing the artist $50,000 or less (half of current appraised value).

The artist home buyers 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 from Big Car (with the support of INHP) — the artist residents commit to contributing to the community via their practices for six years. 

If the artist should move out of a co-ownership house 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.

Big Car has also added affordable artist rentals to the program, giving families 30% off the rental rate in exchange for their participation in the program. This was in response to challenges in financing home ownership for some artists. Or they may not be ready for owning and prefer renting. Three of these rental homes were fixed up by Two Chicks and a Hammer for the HGTV show Good Bones. 

The APLR houses 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 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 is managed by Big Car Collaborative co-founder and director of programs and exhibitions, Shauta Marsh.

More details:

  • 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.
  • 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. This is an investment by both owners/renters in our 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 will help create physical improvements that are part of improved 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. Tube Factory with Normal Coffee and Listen Hear are two examples on the block

• Artists welcome the idea of supporting the community in exchange for affordable housing and studio affordability and have responded in overwhelmingly positive ways to APLR

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