Behold, the Starship: A Safe and Inclusive Place for Creative Expression

To the average passerby, the small blue structure on the northwest corner of 10th and Oxford Streets can appear austere and uninviting. However, thanks to the efforts of several Near Eastside community members, that assumption could not be farther from the truth on many Friday and Saturday nights, when the site becomes a safe space and focal point for casual community gatherings.

Star Adita, one of the Starship’s founders and organizers, was between a full-time gig and work as a youth program coordinator with the Julian Center and John H. Boner Center when the Pogue’s Run Grocer closed in June 2018. Noticing that substance abuse near the abandoned storefront was a cause for avoidance of the site, Adita wanted to see the space become a free, all-age place where community members could feel safe and welcome. In collaboration with two other Near Eastside neighbors, Simina Mansfield and Christian Torres, Adita negotiated with the property owners so that the block would not become neglected by the public and fall into disrepair. Chuck Heintzelman, a principal at Milestone Ventures, recalls meeting Star at Rabble Coffee to discuss how the Starship could become a venue for local people, particularly youth, to express themselves, and being impressed with her vision for (and later execution of) programming in the space.

“Star has transformed this vacant building into a catalyst for artistic expression and peace in the neighborhood. I have enjoyed watching the impact the Starship has had on the Near Eastside,” he says.

Without any nonprofit, religious, or other institutional backing or grant funds, Adita, Mansfield, Torres and the other Near Eastside neighbors that they bring together use the building, now known as the Starship, to host open mic nights, classes, and arts-based social events such as the Free to Express Fest, which featured a youth talent show, tarot card readings, live music, vendors, yoga, and meditation. The activities hosted at the Starship are especially noteworthy for being financially accessible to everyone, as events are free of charge.

The independently funded and operated Starship is also advantageous to the Near Eastside as a nighttime safe space where restrooms and feminine hygiene products are made available to people who need them. In the absence of other public shelter in the area, this is especially important for neighborhood safety, particularly for women experiencing gender-based harassment. Through the services and activities made available by the Starship collective in the absence of an established business, the former empty storefront has been transformed to enhance neighbor engagement and wellbeing on the blocks surrounding the intersection of 10th and Rural Streets by providing activities and resources that keep people out of harm’s way while creating an atmosphere of trust and care.

In spite of the Starship’s characteristically safe and inviting environment, there is occasionally tension in the space’s immediate vicinity because of disputes over whether illicit substance use and homelessness among some Near Eastside neighbors are criminal or epidemic in nature. In order to address that dispute, people from communities and institutions across the Near Eastside have organized and participated in a series of discussions. One of the most noteworthy forums on public safety, the Safe IndyEast committee, convenes neighbors, community leaders, health professionals, and police officers at the John Boner Neighborhood Centers to develop a progressive approach to addressing violent and nonviolent disruptions to public health and safety. A related initiative, Indy Art Peace, is a joint effort between the Arts Council of Indianapolis and Near East Area Renewal (NEAR) that has commissioned four artists, community members, and police officers, each, from the Near Eastside to collaborate over the course of 18 months to facilitate public art projects that improve public safety along the Rural and 10th Street corridors.

Another issue is the lingering question of how long the Starship will be useful as a safe space and center for public art and community-building on the Near Eastside. Weather and the physical integrity of the Starship will determine the duration of the space’s usefulness, since winter is approaching and the building has not received attention from anyone who would been able to maintain it.

If all goes well, the Starship will continue to gain support and remain an asset to the Near Eastsiders who benefit from the solace that it offers.