A New Kind of Artist Housing Is Changing Neighborhoods

Shared ownership model of artist housing transforming Indianapolis blocks from vacant to vibrant as artists and developer teamed up to develop affordable housing for working creative professionals.

Big Car also operates Tube Factory artspace on this block, a community art center that also serves as base of operations for Big Car’s citywide work to “bring art to people and people to art, sparking creativity in lives to support communities.” And Big Car also operates, at the end of the block, Listen Hear — a sound art gallery and home for its new community-and- art-focused FM radio station. Big Car owns the Tube and Listen Hear buildings, opening both in 2016. Artists living in the rehabbed homes will be able to access these facilities and be part of these programs to help further expand efforts in the neighborhood. “This is an effort to support and attract artists who use their talents and skills to drive positive change in the community,” said Big Car Collaborative CEO and lead artist Jim Walker, who lives in the neighborhood with his family. Indianapolis artist Danicia Malone is the coordinator of the Artists and Public Life Residency program for Big Car. “Our goal is to allow artists enjoyable and equitable home ownership while they work with other neighbors and boost the livability, diversity, safety, health, and economy of the neighborhood,” she said. “We’re also working with neighbors to weave culture and creativity into the fabric of the community.”

The transformation of Tube Factory artspace . Courtesy of Big Car

The houses used in this program previously sat vacant, some for years. No existing residents were displaced as the partnership acquired the houses. And these efforts 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. Big Car is no stranger to neighborhood revitalization efforts, having spearheaded the renewal of the nearby Fountain Square neighborhood. Those efforts were so successful, that Big Car’s cadre of artists were priced out of the neighborhood before long. Learning from those lessons, it was important to take a new approach that doesn’t rely on large real estate price appreciations associated with gentrifying neighborhoods. “We want to help make sure the existing residents and artists who are filling the vacant houses are both able to stay on the block, long term,” Walker said. “We want this to become a neighborhood known for art and artists — and stay that way.”

The transformation of Listen Hear. Courtesy of Big Car

Garfield Park Neighbors Association president Ed Mahern sees much value in this effort, and with bringing in artists. “For several years First Friday gallery walks have helped spark positive change in other areas of the city. Now, many artists are being driven out because of high costs for homes and studios. Now that we’re attracting artists to our neighborhood, we want to make sure we’re planning for ways to keep this positive, creative energy here for a long time — and we want to make sure the artists benefit, long term, for what they’re bringing to the community.”