The idea to help other artists and beautify a street near Brookside and Spade parks came to Lobyn Hamilton after moving into a former neighborhood grocery store where he spent the first years of his life.
Hamilton, an internationally renowned artist known for creating portraits and sculptures from scrap vinyl records and album covers, purchased a repairman built in 1910 that required months of HVAC and plumbing work.
“I knew the neighborhood was safe because we kept six windows open at night,” said Hamilton, who used the building as a living/working space from 2017 to 2019.
According to IUPUI’s Polis Center, the Near East side’s poverty rate was 34% in 2019. Nonetheless, Hamilton has seen property values increase in areas between his home and the city center, and he predicted that the trend would come soon enough to East Brookside Avenue, south of Massachusetts Avenue and west of Rural Street.
As someone whose artwork has been featured on multiple seasons of the TV series “Empire” and who resides in the collections of rappers Kanye West and Nas, Hamilton had the financial wherewithal to influence the future of his neighborhood.
“You go out and you think, ‘Wow, there’s so much potential here, and there’s still time to do something about it,'” Hamilton said. “I didn’t want to be on the opposite side, sitting on the sidelines and saying, ‘Aw, man, I wanted to buy this building. “”
So Hamilton purchased two more structures and founded the B-Side Creative Campus.
He left the old grocery store at 2030 E. Brookside Ave. and renamed it The Studio. The 1,240 square foot space has been reserved as a combined living/working space for an established artist paying market rate rent to B-Side.
A building that housed religious congregations and a candy store, 2129 E. Brookside Ave., has been renamed The Ozone and enlivened with a multicolored exterior paint job. Artist Tasha Beckwith moved into the 3,025 square foot Ozone this month, and her rent and utilities are fully subsidized by B-Side.
The next step in the renovation program is a dilapidated house at 2211 E. Brookside Ave. which was renamed The Tenet. Hamilton said the 4,000-square-foot building will become a literary residence next summer for screenwriters, novelists, thesis writers and poets who pay B-Side a below-market rate.
“It’s a neighborhood project that I came to,” Hamilton said of the creative campus. “We just got to do what a lot of people do on a regular basis, which is take care of your community.”
Hamilton estimates that he invested over $350,000 of his art sales in B-Side. Overall, he said, $600,000 has been spent on personal and partnership funds over the past six years.
The B-Side team includes urban planner and strategist Danicia Malone, who is pursuing a doctorate in geography and urban studies at Temple University, and development specialist Rishard Allen, head of equity initiatives for the Indianapolis Foundation.
Although Hamilton speaks modestly of the project, its financial history alone is remarkable. “Black creative capital,” in Hamilton’s words, covered the costs of accumulating the Studio, Ozone, Tenet, and two greenspace lots from November 2016 to April 2020.
“The Brookside and Spades Park area just needed love and care,” Malone said. “Lobyn provides that. He’ll say it’s normal, but it’s honestly quite unique. I hope to see more models like this continue to emerge.
Tenant and friend
A large-scale artistic project is being set up at the recently renovated Ozone. Beckwith is creating a mural of entrepreneur Madame CJ Walker that will be placed outside the Martens Building at 315 N. Senator Ave. downtown.
Because the building has historical protections, Beckwith said, a mural cannot be applied directly to its brickwork. She is preparing 55 aluminum composite sheets that will form a large image that reconfigures a temporary Walker Beckwith mural installed at Indianapolis International Airport’s Civic Plaza in 2021.
Beckwith, a 2000 Manual High School graduate, said Hamilton, a 2003 Franklin Central High School graduate, promised she would be the first B-Side performer to live in the subsidized space.
“The burden is lifted when you don’t have to worry about finances or a place to live,” said Beckwith, who previously lived with her mother in the far west.
In 2010, Beckwith and Hamilton showed their respective work in the annual Flava Fresh exhibit at the Indianapolis Artsgarden. Hamilton has described Beckwith as a valuable collaborator in his art.
“I didn’t get to this point without her,” he said. “I believe that you must first recognize those who have helped you.”
In addition to subsidizing rent and utilities at The Ozone for a year, B-Side gives Beckwith access to “creative care” amenities such as memberships to the North Mass Boulder Gym and the Kan-Kan Cinema and Brewery. Kan.
Hamilton said amenities are offered rather than monetary benefits because he wants the services to be used.
“I know if you give me $10,000 and say, ‘Come on, take care of yourself,’ I’m going to spend it on a computer and things that actually provide me with more work and not necessarily more rejuvenation” , did he declare.
There are no conditions attached to being a B-Side tenant. Artists do not commit to exhibiting new work or filing progress reports.
“It’s really about relieving the artist, recognizing that in the creative industry, artists are one of the most overused professional groups,” Malone said. “But they receive so few benefits.”
“Let’s try to treat our creatives a little better in Indianapolis, just a little bit,” Hamilton said.
Beckwith, who plans to make sculptures of the female form after completing Walker’s mural, said The Ozone represents the first legitimate studio space she’s had in her career.
She described the living/working space as a “dream come true”.
“I hope I can reach the heights that Lobyn has reached in my career, and I would love to pay it forward by creating programs or even a residency for other artists to come to town,” Beckwith said.
seek to grow
An artist who paid rent to the Studio for three years left the space after a motorist drove into a front corner of the building, Hamilton said. Once the building is repaired, B-Side plans to open applications for a new resident artist.
Meanwhile, B-Side negotiates to purchase a fourth building.
“The seller knows my position in the neighborhood, so he’s trying to charge me triple,” Hamilton said. “It’s complex. We create our own price in this particular way. But we also create more value and pride in the neighborhood. It’s contagious.
As part of B-Side’s mission statement on restorative creative development, the campus aspires to challenge “blight, housing insecurity and financial immobility”.
According to online real estate broker Redfin, homes near B-Side have estimated values ranging from $66,000 to $130,000.
“Can we subsidize housing that now costs $160,000 and needs $100,000? No, we can’t,” Hamilton said. “But there was a time when you could get spaces and packages low enough to make those purchases.”
Cassie Richardson, Associate Broker at Pursuit Realty, works with Hamilton when he sources desirable properties for B-Side.
She said it’s positive that Hamilton has been a visible presence in the neighborhood for more than five years.
“People question your motives because Indianapolis is an affordable place for investors,” Richardson said. “A lot of people in Indianapolis are aware of that. We’re not going to undermine or deceive people, but we also want to pay fair market value. We’re not trying to disturb the neighborhood. We try to add more. »
Hamilton said he understands why residents were skeptical of B-Side.
“You don’t want the neighborhood to be a specific way, so you do something,” he said. “But it encroaches on the others. No. 1, they don’t think the person doing this is from the neighborhood. #2, they definitely don’t think the person is a creative.
More than “seedlings”
Hamilton isn’t the first artist to buy property in an effort to help other artists. In Chicago, artist Theaster Gates started the Rebuild Foundation in 2009 with a focus on providing affordable space in underprivileged communities.
In Indianapolis, Big Car Collaborative renovated 16 homes in the Garfield Park neighborhood for its artist residency and public life.
Malone, who served as program manager for the artist and public life residency when it debuted in 2017, said the Big Car project emphasizes financial fairness for artists who want to own a home. , while B-Side is built on the concept of providing creative care for artists. .
Hamilton said he wanted to know if an individual artist could design a place for other artists. But he said he didn’t believe the city’s cultural community watchmen were keen on the idea.
“Nobody wants that,” said Hamilton, who then offered a recap of the rejections he’s encountered: “We need you for a specific task. We don’t see you as being in those traditional ownership spaces, and certainly no design. There are architects for that. You are supposed to be here as fertile land and seedlings. Someone else is supposed to come by and reap the harvest.
Hamilton said he had a positive experience with the Herbert Simon Family Foundation, a rare outside contributor in B-Side’s history so far.
“It took a few phone calls and a development plan,” he said. “I asked for a number. We received this exact number, and they did not ask us to be at the request of the funder.
Similar to his unconventional career in which he breaks vinyl records to create art, Hamilton bypassed traditional systems and institutions to establish B-Side.
“I’m going to be here on my own and I’m going to have to build what I don’t see here,” he said.•