INDIANAPOLIS — Walking the streets of her neighborhood in the Garfield Park community, Erin Harper Vernon sees endless possibilities.
"I look to what's going on in this neighborhood, the surrounding neighborhoods, Indianapolis as a whole. I try to think what projects can I do to connect people?" Harper said.
Harper is an international artist. She created pieces featuring her son while working in Sweden. Now that's she is back home, Harper Vernon is taking on a new opportunity with the Artist and Public Life Residency Program.
It is a chance to get affordable housing while also working with the public to drive positive change in the community.
"I'm still meeting people, trying to listen where need is here. I can empathize. Just because I am an artist, I am a mom. I live and eat and sleep here, too," Harper Vernon said.
Harper Vernon is one of three artists living in her home and taking part in the program, and applications are sought for three more.
The program is a partnership between arts nonprofit Big Car Collaborative, the Riley Area Community Development and the Indianapolis Neighborhood Housing Partnership, which provided a $75,000 grant to purchase nine vacant homes and a former church in the Garfield Park neighborhood.
The community organizations own at least 51% of each home, with the artist responsible for financing the balance through a mortgage. Big Car is raising funds to provide down-payment assistance for eligible artists in exchange for 16 hours each month of civic engagement-whether it’s attending public meetings or offering workshops.
"It is hard to make a living supporting your self and doing this work," Big Car co-founder Shauta Marsh said. "We wanted to create a program where artists could give back to the community through their work and have somewhere affordable to live."
Artists who apply for the program will co-own the home with Big Car and Riley. If they qualify, the artists will only pay a portion of the cost of their home. In exchange, the artist commits to working for six years in support of the community. Big Car raises funds to provide $5,000 in down payment assistance in exchange for 16 hours each month of civic engagement, whether it is attending public meetings or offering workshops.
"When we walked down Cruft Street initially, of the 20 homes down the street, half of them were boarded up," Marsh said.
Now they have 10 homes in the program with four still needing to be rehabbed. The goal is to give artists a home while they collaborate with neighbors to boost the culture, health and safety of the community.
"I am excited," Harper Vernon said. "I feel so graciously wonderfully invited here, and so does my son."