The House Life Project is located at 804 Eastern Ave. in the St. Clair Place neighborhood on the Near Eastside of Indianapolis. If you care about inner-city Indianapolis, you may want to stop by tomorrow 5-8pm for the weekly Social Hour to meet the artists who have been working in this house.
The empty house is owned by Renew Indianapolis, the local land bank. The project, led by Meredith Knapp Brickell [also responsible for the nearby Cloud Observatory] is described thus, “Artists, architects and designers are working with local residents to explore new ways of seeing and experiencing vacant properties, which are often defined narrowly by their current state of decay.”
The project is called a “creative place-making initiative” which, to someone who reads a lot about the current state of cities, easily sounds like an cliché, or a euphemism for gentrification. Having spent time in this house over the past couple of months, and having had the privilege of getting to know some of the artists and neighbors, I’ve come to really respect this endeavor as the genuine article. There’s no ruin porn here, and no artists descending on the ghetto to make their mark and get out. The community engagement has been open, honest and broad-reaching.
The hope is that this house will be purchased from the land bank, rehabbed and put to use again as a home. The social gatherings have given it a bit of extra attention and have started a dialogue among a cross-section of people regarding the plight of a structure like this, and of a neighborhood like this.
For me as an outsider to the area, this experience has afforded an opportunity to learn more about the history of the Near Eastside from people I otherwise would probably not have met, including one neighbor who has lived on her block for longer than I’ve been alive. That was humbling, and even a bit intimidating: mental calculations — my age, her age, the age of this house, the age of this neighborhood. There’s nothing in my life that really compares to her staying put for this long.
I’ve had a chance to wander through this house, examine its details and ruminate on the many meanings of home. The Tuesday night chatter on the lawn has enlivened the place, but there is also life in the silence of the darkened rooms, in the patina of age and inattention. I’ve contemplated stasis and change, the past and future of this place as a container for memories.
Here’s where things take a turn for the bizarre and beautiful: one day, I was chatting with Meredith on the porch when two older women stopped by. One’s father had grown up in the house, and the other once lived across the street. We showed them around, and they told us about the Irish immigrant community that originally settled here, the former neighbors and businesses, and their childhood exploits. There was a lot of walking and bicycling, and extended families living in close proximity. Our two visitors exposed the ghosts embedded in the home; this cynic got goosebumps.
Aside from tomorrow’s Social Hour [and every Tuesday for the next couple of months], there will be an open house this coming Saturday, 10am-3pm, when you’ll be able to tour the space and see all the art that has been created. In addition to Meredith Knapp Brickell, the artists involved include Brent Aldrich, Shelley Given, Katie Hudnall, Wes Janz, and Wil Marquez. There are also two upcoming events with Public Matters.
So, how can you gauge the success of an endeavor like this? Hopefully the art will be amazing, thought-provoking and well-received. Hopefully tons of people will come to check it out. Hopefully the house gets bought and rehabbed. Hopefully something like this happens again.
In some ways, though, this project has already been successful — it inserted itself into a dense residential area and has served as the site of interactions that may not have otherwise been possible. It’s easy for me to feel like a stranger in a strange land right now, and this self-imposed weekly social obligation has provided a welcome pretext to meet neighbors. Having flyers to hand out has made it easier for this socially awkward misanthrope to approach local business owners and talk to strangers on the street.
If any of this intrigues you, come on down to 804 Eastern Ave. and see what the hoopla is about.