Nonprofit art organization, Big Car, connects art and community for the potential betterment of Garfield Park
“What can you do as an artist to make a community a better place?”
Members of Big Car, a nonprofit arts organization based in Indianapolis, delved into that question to develop a plan that would not only promote the arts, but make the Garfield Park community a better place to live, work and play.
“Sometimes art is really about an artist and expressing their own views,” said Jim Walker, executive director and founder of Big Car. “Part of our art at Big Car is expressing what’s going on in the community, connecting with the community and turning it around so it’s more a story of them. We’re really working very hard to be empathetic and say, ‘what if I was in their position?’ How would I feel and what would I want. That’s what we’re trying to focus on.”
Big Car was founded in 2004 in Fountain Square, hosting a Masterpiece in a Day festival and additional projects. In 2011, they began operating from an old tire shop near Lafayette Square Mall. Walker began working full-time for Big Car. In 2013 they brought some attention to the Garfield Park area by creating the ‘Welcome to Garfield Park’ mural near the Raymond and Shelby Street intersection.
Walker, whose background is in journalism writing and photography, moved from the Fountain Square to the Garfield Park area three years ago because he felt like this was an area in which he would enjoy living. But it’s in need of improvements as many businesses and houses on and around Shelby remain vacant.
Big Car has purchased a 12,000 square-foot building at 1230 Crust St. The structure which was previously a manufacturing facility has sat vacant, with broken windows, chipped paint and dust piling up. Construction has already started to transform the building into a community space called The Tube Factory art space featuring education, exhibition and workshop space. Walker said they hope to get the entire community involved, not just artists. They plan be a home to many cultural events aimed at engaging all residents of Garfield Park and people out of town.
“This place is in a really good position because it’s right by the park, it’s close to University of Indianapolis, it has a lot of people living nearby who can walk here,” Walker said. “You have a neighborhood across the street that’s really active. Then you have a neighborhood over here that has good people in it, but a lot of empty houses. We can help bridge gaps.”
Riley Area Development is purchasing five to seven vacant houses near the building for artists to move into the area.
In addition to the manufacturing building, Big Car has purchased a building on Shelby Street, which was previously K&S Appliance Store, to open a vinyl record store and FM Radio station called Listen Hear. The radio station will focus on a four-mile radius that in the Garfield Park area.
“Having this space here is going to help make life better by giving people an opportunity to get creative and connect with people, get businesses to come in and fill up vacant stores, people to move in and fill up vacant houses,” Walker said. “We’re working really hard to bring energy to this place, activity, and have it be creative and positive.”
The city of Indianapolis has awarded Big Car with a Community Development Block Grant for $466,000. They also received a Lilly Endowment grant for $50,000, a $25,000 façade grant from Local Initiatives Support Corporation and $75,000 investment from the Indianapolis Neighborhood Housing Partnership. The total investment is estimated at $1.5 million. The group continues to fundraise. Walker said their goal is to be open in October so that they can host the first scheduled event in November. There are currently eight full-time employees of Big Car and Walker said by the time they open, they will have 10.
“I’m looking forward to stability and a place where we can make a long-term investment,” Walker said. “We’re really trying to bring positive attention and positivity to the Southside. People already have a lot of pride in the Southside. We’re excited about helping reinforce the idea that there is so much going on here. It’s a great place to be and visit.”
For more information about Big Car and its work in the Indianapolis community, visit bigcar.org.