On March 17th, shoppers at Saraga International Grocery at Lafayette Road and 38th Street found more than the normal mix of exotic foods, spices and other items on their lists. They also found two men with a camera and a notebook.
It wasn’t part of an in-store marketing study, and the two weren’t from Saraga’s security detail: They were part of a two-month long art project called Share Square, and were asking shoppers to tell them about an object or wish that mattered to them.
The brainchild of Big Car Collective, a collective of artists, writers and musicians, the Square Share project gathered stories from children and adults who live in, work in or visit the Lafayette Square Area in order to create a diverse portrait of the neighborhood. Exhibited via a mixture of drawings, stories, photos and videos created in partnership with local arts groups Know No Stranger and Latino Youth Collective, the project opens for viewing at Big Car’s year-old Service Center for Contemporary Culture and Community on May 15, 2012.
Square Share is representative of Big Car’s ambitious goals with the Service Center, goals that include extending and modifying the traditional concept of an “arts organization”. Founded in Fountain Square, Big Car’s move to an empty tire store beside the downtrodden mall left some confused. But to Big Car and its leadership, the move actually brought the collective closer to its mission.
A New Definition of “Art”
“Our idea for art is that the community, the social capital, the connections – that’s what the product is,” says Jim Walker, Big Car Executive Director. “We want to give people a chance to experience all kinds of creativity and make sure nothing is exclusive or about the ‘right way’ to create something.”
Big Car’s vision is to “bring art to people and people to art.” That focus has taken a variety of forms in the organization’s eight-year history, including opening and managing its original gallery space, producing the 48 Hour Film Project and fostering neighborhood-based cultural events.
Launched in May 2011, with support from The Indianapolis Foundation and The Efromyson Family Fund, Big Car’s Service Center takes the collective’s approach one step further. From community gardens and large-scale murals to lunchtime yoga and drop-in drawing classes, the Service Center is a unique art space, where staff focus more on fostering community than creating works of art to hang on walls.
With 11,500 square feet to fill and a new neighborhood to connect with, the group has used the space to articulate a unique vision of “social practice art”. That term may sound academic, but the essence of its meaning could not be more egalitarian.
With community connections as a central goal, Big Car plans to bring programs to areas throughout Indianapolis. The group is currently working to finalize funding for pop-up “creativity stations” in local public spaces including The Indianapolis Cultural Trail: A Legacy of Gene & Marilyn Glick, Monument Circle and the Indianapolis City Market. Made for Each Other, a neighborhood-focused effort to foster community-building projects that connect residents to artists and art institutions, has allowed Big Car to work with diverse Indianapolis neighborhoods.
Murals: For, By and Of the Masses
One of the most visible results of both Big Car’s Service Center and their focus on community-focused creativity is the set of murals surrounding Lafayette Square Mall. Part of the Arts Council of Indianapolis’ citywide mural project 46 for XLVI, two murals are located at the Service Center. A third mural is on 38th street, just west of the I-65 exit. Big Car worked to involve the community in the mural-making process from conception to construction.
One mural composed of brightly colored squares is the result of a community collage session, in which residents used paint samples to create their own small compositions of concentric squares inspired by artist Josef Albers. Four of the group’s pieces make up a large-scale mural painted facing busy 38th Street. Groups of volunteers from the Lilly Day of Service painted both the Albers-inspired piece and the “Served” mural on the Service Center’s west side, designed by Columbus, Indiana-based artist Andy Miller.
A third mural, “Unite for Culture and Community” is a call to action for area residents, created by Clayton Hamilton, an Indianapolis resident who for more than 20 years has painted statements on a wall just north of 38th Street on College Avenue. Hamilton’s message runs along the southern side of the Service Center.
“The murals and our community gardens are the face of the Service Center,” says Walker. “Those things are letting people know that there’s not a distance between us and the community, and that this is a public space for the community.”
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Photos provided by Big Car.