How Art Can Renew a Community

Children at an event put on by the Big Car Collaborative in Indianapolis
Children at an event put on by the Big Car Collaborative in Indianapolis (Courtesy of Jensen Productions and New America)

About the author: James Fallows is a contributing writer at The Atlantic, and author of the newsletter Breaking the News. He was chief White House speechwriter for President Jimmy Carter, and is a co-founder, with his wife, Deborah Fallows, of the Our Towns Civic Foundation.

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

This is No. 2 in a series of three videos from our friends at New America about the realities of community revitalization and economic recovery in the much-discussed Industrial Heartland of America. It’s based on an Indiana tour that Deb Fallows and I made this spring, co-organized by New America Indianapolis and Indiana Humanities.

Installment No. 1 was about an innovative, inclusive job-training program called Build Your Future. This one is about the topic on which Deb and I have most changed our minds—or, really, had our eyes opened—during our travels over the past few years.

That topic is the role of public arts, “place making,” cultural festivals, and other arts-based means of generating civic connections and promoting economic development.

A Big Car Collaborative arts event in Indianapolis (Courtesy of Jensen Productions and New America)

Half a dozen years ago, before we began these city-by-city travels, if you’d asked me about “the role of the arts,” I would have said something like: “Yeah, sure, arts are great! Everyone should like art [etc.].” Now we have a vivid place-by-place sense of the difference that ambitious public-arts programs can have. For instance:

The film below is about one of Indianapolis’s (many) answers to the question of how arts can renew a community.

Children at a Big Car Collaborative event in Indianapolis (Courtesy of Jensen Productions and New America)

The video focuses on the Big Car Collaborative, which is a multibuilding art space and civic-engagement organization in Indianapolis. Among its events are its First Friday gatherings and art tours. Check out the video for more.

Thanks to the videographer and editor Michael Jensen, the executive producer Fuzz Hogan, plus our other friends at New America.