Paddle8 is excited to announce a new collaboration with Idiom, an online magazine of artistic and cultural practice, that will bring previews of Idiom articles to Paddle8′s Scroll each week. We are starting this week with a preview of Ben Valentine’s article on a new art space model form Indianapolis, Indiana. Hailing from Indiana, Ben Valentine moved to Brooklyn a year and a half ago. Now working for Tara Donovan and Allan McCollum, interning for Creative Time and Hyperallergic, Ben has immersed himself in the contemporary art world. Be sure to check back next week for our next article from Idiom!
Preview: Jim Walker’s Social Practice
by Ben Valentine for Idiom
When considering the art world the question quickly becomes, what is the role of those left out? Should ‘secondary’ art cities and their creatives in Austin, Chicago, Detroit, Indianapolis, etc strive to become the next London? The Next Big Thing? Should artists in those cities be shooting for solo-shows in Chelsea, NY, like everyone else? Although they have every right to do so, artists are in a unique position to create the career they choose, maybe Social Practice work offers us another path. Maybe there could be a new definition of success for the creative minded in smaller communities. Maybe these cities and the creative class that chooses them should strive to serve their own, to be centers for local dialogue and benefit instead of global hubs.
Jim Walker, Director of Big Car and Founder of the Service Center and his wife in Indianapolis chose to embrace his community artistically instead of the ‘art world’ writ large. Art can be for the people, and an arts institution can be solely for those living around it.
Walker is not against the art world: he was in charge of Big Car Gallery, which ran for 7 years in Indianapolis and housed readings, performances, art shows and more. Walker’s wife, Shauta Marsh, is the Director of the Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art. This power duo is an undeniable force continuing and elevating the contemporary arts discourse in Indianapolis. But they wanted more.
Although Big Car was dedicated to widening the gallery audience by offering a variety of art and performances, the audience remained small. Somewhat disappointed, Walker wanted to dedicate his energy anew to Indianapolis, not just the arts community, and wanted more concrete results for anyone interested. Artist’s used his gallery space as a place to hang out with one another, not to build a new community.
So in 2011 Walker and Marsh started the Service Center. Located in Lafayette Square, a rundown, strip mall area known for parking lots and its ethnically diverse restaurants, the Service Center slowly took form in an abandoned car repair shop and it’s surrounding parking lot. The location becoming a kind of challenge; how can art and community activism transform an architectural and public space wasteland such as Lafayette Square to serve the surrounding community and create something exciting, interesting, beneficial and beautiful? This was not another alternative space in another soon to be hipster locale, this is something entirely different.
Although I didn’t grow up in Indianapolis, I was an hour east in Richmond, and I am familiar with the type of setting the Service Center now grows in. Kids spend hours hanging out in parking lots, bored and unsure of where to go or what to do. In some Midwestern towns, Walmart is actually a hangout for under 21 year olds with a lack of options. Boredom and disengagement is a cancerous mix for a community.
What does the Service Center have to offer this area of Indianapolis? Together with many volunteers and a handful of employees, Walker and Marsh have equipped the old garage with an impressively wide range of tools and services for the local community. After talking with Walker for an hour and touring the facilities, the question became the opposite – what didn’t the Service Center offer? Walker said the real goal lies in “helping our city see that art can build community, can help transform neighborhoods and can help make people happy.” With 10,000 visitors in the first year, the Service Center is off to a great start. Walker elaborates:
We reach all kinds of people there — kids, senior citizens, young people who ride fixed gear bikes out, raw food lovers and the international community. That area of the city is the most diverse with people moving there from all over the world, lots of international business owners with a slew of ethnic restaurants and markets, and a very diverse customer base coming to support those businesses.
As you pull into the parking lot, the most obvious change is the outdoor community garden. Wooden planks partition off different sections for various foods, outdoor sculptures, and even a chicken coop. One worker was busy watering and weeding the vegetables. There are benches for resting and enjoying the plants, previously foreign to the setting. The urban garden sets the Service Center radically apart from the neighboring businesses.
Once inside, there is a sunlight-filled room with large tables and chairs for community meetings, reading and art making. The few walls that aren’t windows are covered in art made by the neighborhood’s children. In the corner there is a donation-made library, which I noticed had a wide variety ranging from children’s books to the latest books covering Social Practice, urban planning and experimental art. What a wonderful thing to be introduced to these books at a young age. There is a small media room tucked to the side for screening movies and listening to CDs donated from indie record labels often featuring many local musicians. The furniture was in good repair for being mostly salvaged from the recently closed Borders bookstores.
In back there is a giant raw space where cars used to undergo various repairs. Now, left open to remain responsive to the dynamic community, this area houses concerts, installation art, public assemblies, and more. Keeping it raw makes it responsive to the community and easy to maintain. One day there could be welding and large installations here, and the next day, maybe a dance — the space is open for whatever and whoever.
The Service Center wanted to become the antithesis of what you imagine most social service buildings to be — cold, unwelcoming, and largely unsatisfying experiences. The architecture and location was not in their favor, but they have managed to turn the Service Center into an inviting hub of activity that responds positively to suggestions and community direction. This is a space a high school student or an academic scholar could propose a project, and be met with open arms and assistance.
Although many citizens keep high art at arms length and visits to social service centers save only for the dire occasion, the Service Center offers a small answer to the struggles we all face, specifically for its community. It lives as a model of growth that is smaller than major institutions, but maybe more beneficial in the long run to a community. This is a model for every city to learn from, but it’s an institution that is only for Indianapolis.
Be sure to check out Idiom tomorrow for the full article!