Episode 12 – What cities can learn from socially-engaged art

Episode 12 – What cities can learn from socially-engaged art


Jim Walker is CEO, cofounder, and lead artist at Big Car Collaborative, an Indianapolis-based art and design organization "brings art to people and people to art, sparking creativity in lives to support communities." Jim and Jordan talk about the role of artists in making neighborhoods more loving, vibrant, and homelike—and the ways partnerships are always messy but always necessary in making good things happen.

Here’s a further sample of our conversation topics:

  • Why community building is about the personal connections between people

  • Big Car’s role as a “neighbor-to-neighbor” project, as well as its role as a hub for arts, cultural events, making things, and as an example of putting an old place to new use with minimal infrastructure

  • Pop-up testing sites as a way of exposing the City of Indianapolis to new ideas

  • Why and how Big Car Collaborative started out in the bathroom of a (former) nunnery

  • How artists make a neighborhood desirable and often end up getting pushed out—and how Big Car is trying to buck that trend by building a long-term home for artists in the Garfield Park neighborhood of Indianapolis

  • Why “socially-engaged art” is about "making things happen," rather than just “making things"

  • What it means to invest in the people in a neighborhood

  • The Tube Factory – an example of adaptive building re-use that flexes to be what the neighborhood wants it to be

  • Partnering with the City, philanthropic organizations

  • Where the name “Big Car” comes from

  • Why collaboration (both internal and external) is messy but essential to making something happen – and how it leads to unexpected places

  • Why so many partnership difficulties revolve around money

  • Partnerships generally happen between people, rather than entities

  • What it’s like partnering with a City through changes in administration

  • Demonstrating that artists can (and should) be voices at the table in city decision making

  • How to make sure pop-up placemaking turns into “placekeeping” that benefits people in the neighborhood

  • How Jim thinks you can start something like Big Car in your own community (hint: it should be fun)

  • The importance of working on projects with friends – and the opportunities to find a friend group through community work

  • Jim’s book recommendations!

  • Why a place can be a home instead of just a house

  • How planning and design could be different if we spent lots more time out in the physical places we’re working in

Follow Jim on Twitter: @walkerjj 

Learn more about the seriously kick-ass Big Car Collaborative at bigcar.org. And check out the Tube Factory Artspace at tubefactory.org. (If you are planning to host an event in Indianapolis, this is the place to be!)

(The music in this episode is from Custodian of Records.)

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