Change the City: For Art's Sake

Jim Walker can be hard to pin down. As the founder and CEO of Big Car Collaborative, he has helped initiate the First Friday gallery open house series in Fountain Square, Spark activity programming on Monument Circle, dozens of public art projects, and the Tube Factory space in Garfield Park. Walker doesn’t mind if the eclectic résumé leaves people wondering what exactly Big Car is. “It’s okay to be puzzled by something,” he says. “If everything is so easy for people to figure out all the time, it’s pretty boring.”
Big Car started 12 years ago as an organization for artists, and since 2009, it has shifted to working with community leaders to connect neighborhoods through art. Last year, for example, Big Car planned the inaugural West Michigan Street Festival on the border of the Haughville and Hawthorne neighborhoods, the first time in recent memory the sometimes-neglected near-westside community had experienced an event like that. Area gallery Indy Convergence will take it from there.
It was a pretty conventional effort compared to the off-the-wall ideas we’ve come to expect from Big Car. Host a battle of the bands with instruments from Goodwill? Sounds good. Build a pocket park where neighbors can grow ingredients for home-brewed beer? We’ll drink to that. Curate a pop-up exhibit in an old appliance store, showcasing appliance-themed artwork? Now you’re cooking!
“If your plan is to try a lot of things, see what works, and know that some things aren’t going to work quite as well,” Walker says, “that’s a strategy.” Big Car’s new-ish pop-up gallery on the south side, Listen Hear, is not the project they originally envisioned. Initially, it was supposed to be a shop proffering locally made goods. But some vendors didn’t pan out, and a year later, Big Car found itself with a nice but empty space. So they switched gears and invited New York artist Pablo Helguera to fill the building with his project Librería Donceles, a traveling Spanish-language bookstore. It still met Big Car’s overarching philosophy: to connect people in the neighborhood and create something that brings joy. The ultimate goal isn’t necessarily to put a specific art piece in a specific place—it’s to create an Indianapolis with happier, healthier communities.
Big Car recently resurrected an idea-pitch series called Pecha Kucha, a worldwide craze that had a short run in Indy until 2010. Anyone can apply to present 20 PowerPoint slides for 20 seconds each, and Pecha Kucha, which means “chit-chat” in Japanese, is a great sounding board. Attendees are encouraged to talk as an antidote to death-by-PowerPoint syndrome—and the heckling that defined the events the first time around is discouraged now. If you can get your point across in six minutes and 40 seconds, you might find a collaborator in the audience. Pecha Kucha takes place the third Thursday of the month. Pass the wireless clicker.