Behind the Warhol Foundation's Recent Give to Indianapolis' Big Car

Perhaps it isn't  good idea to take parenting advice from John Waters, the cultish director of such films as Hairspray and Pink Flamingos. Nonetheless, we once heard him impart some words of wisdom that, believe or not, are applicable to our purposes today.

Here's the wisdom: If your teenager, Waters said, has a passion for, say, tattoos or basket weaving, it may not be a good idea to relentlessly force them to become a lawyer or a heart surgeon. Instead, encourage and cultivate their love of creative pursuits. And if they become a fulfilled and financially secure tattoo artists, is that really the worst thing in the world?

"Work with what you have," he said.

This advice came to mind while stumbling across news out of Indianapolis, where arts organization Big Car netted an $80,000 grant from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.

If you ask programming managers or executive directors at arts organizations about their biggest challenges, may will speak of — to paraphrase George H. W. Bush — "the vision thing." Some directors who operate in small towns may want their organization to echo the programming offerings of the big city. They want to import big names or model their offerings based on their counterparts in Los Angeles, New York, or San Francisco.

There's nothing wrong with that approach, of course, but sometimes these organizations find that it doesn't always work. There's a kind of aesthetic disconnect. What resonates in Miami may not resonate in, say, Iowa City. In short, organizations need to work with what they have — namely, the interests, industries, and demographic considerations relevant to their areas.

Big Car works with what they have, and then some. It's using the grant money to expand its program offerings, further its artist-in-residency program, and offer additional opportunities in Indianapolis for local and national artists. It also has fun with the car motif. For example, playing on its name, the organization will partner with the Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art — no slouches in their own right — on "We Build Excitement," a show involving Pontiac cars.

It also plans  to focus more attention on a partnership with the Indianapolis Public Library, pairing its mobile art experience unit with the Library's Bookmobile for visits to apartment buildings in under-served areas of the city.

Of course, Big Car has much more to offer than automotive-themed offerings, but the organization, which anticipates a total budget of $700,000 in 2015, seems to have a knack for what makes the city of Indianapolis run (get it?) which, in turn, doubles as keen branding. This approach makes the arts more tangible, relevant, and approachable to average citizens. In fact, in a way, Big Car's everyman approach reminds us of a certain pop artist who blended the commercial with the artistic.

You can probably guess who we're thinking of, but in case you need a hint, it's not John Waters and it's most certainly not George H. W. Bush.