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For six months, an abandoned, boarded-up house, one of several on North Tacoma Avenue in the Near Eastside neighborhood, was transformed into a hub for an array of art forms by Herron School of Art and Design faculty and graduate students, along with Indianapolis residents and artists. The one-story structure was home to the 2017 House Life Project.
From May to October, the house hosted drawing, painting, and creative writing sessions; meals; workshops; and weekly porch parties with the goal of “public creation and discovery, resulting in tangible outputs such as dialogical artworks and interactive art installations.” Much artistic exploration has gone on inside and in the yard of the old house. While most neighboring houses are long abandoned, the 2017 House Life Project brought in more than 100 kids, veteran artists, and everyone in between.
“It’s really a neighborhood-driven, community-oriented project,” said Laura Holzman, an IUPUI assistant professor of art history and museum studies, curator for House Life Project, and public scholar of curatorial practices and visual art. “We had at least 120 people come to the (Aug. 26) open house. On a week-to-week basis, we usually had 15, 20 people here including kids with their families and neighbors who show up and participate.”
The House Life Project concept was created in 2015 by Meredith Brickell, a local artist who lives on the Near Eastside.
There is no running water or electricity in the house, but when it was open, it brimmed with life. One of the first transformations made to the former home was via the boarded-up windows. Project volunteers attached hinges and locks to the window frames. The boards that were once meant to keep things out became small doors of light all season long. Of course, the boards are colorfully painted by local artists Zavier Garth, Bernny Owens, and Christopher Williams. Garth and Williams became involved with House Life Project in 2016, when they lived next to a previous project site. The many portals of natural light activate fresh creations by artists like Andrea Jandernoa, a Herron graduate student with an emphasis on integrated studio work and social practice.
Jandernoa was one of the first artists to respond to a spring callout to help with House Life Project. The community-minded initiative fit perfectly with her passion of using art to build and help communities. “I see myself almost as a public servant,” said Jandernoa, who previously taught art at Emma Donnan Middle School. “To me, as a social projects artist, it’s really important to situate yourself within a community where you are creating ‘with’ and ‘for’ and ‘because of.'”
Now, House Life Project has moved out of 605 N. Tacoma Ave. The tables, chairs, art supplies, magazines and other creations made within the old walls are packed up. The painted boards and siding remain, and so does the legacy of the work Holzman, Jandernoa, and the rest of the project’s team and neighbors put in for the name of community fellowship and creativity.
“To an outsider, this street might look abandoned,” Holzman said. “But it’s really about saying ‘There is community that exists. There is creativity that exists here.'”
Even now that the front door is padlocked, the work isn’t finished. Print materials are planned to document and discuss what went on for six months at 605 N. Tacoma Ave. “We want to share the work our writers have been doing and to share more broadly the art we’ve created,” Holzman said. “We’re based in a house, but we’re nomadic in nature.”