Monday, April 30, 2012

A Cultural Manifesto: Indy's Westside

Posted By on Mon, Apr 30, 2012 at 9:35 AM


A few weeks ago I reviewed a concert by Mexico's sensational electronic music trio 3Ball MTY. I saw the group perform at The Venue, a gigantic nightclub and flea market located on Indianapolis' Westside. Housed in the shell of what was once a Value City department store, The Venue is in many ways a quintessential Westside creation.

As corporate entities have fled the economically depressed area, our city's immigrant community has poured in. Conventional Hoosier wisdom (and stereotypical thinking) might assume that this scenario would plunge the neighborhood into ruin. But, on the contrary, it has led to a great renaissance as the area has transitioned from a dying shopping district into the cultural heart of Indianapolis.

The Venue is one of many abandoned Westside spaces that have been repurposed in exciting new ways by our city's immigrant community. Saraga International Grocery might be the best known example of this. Saraga is the product of two industrious South Korean entrepreneurs, who converted a vacant K-Mart storefront into a thriving marketplace of world foods. Saraga has quickly earned its place as one of the most important and beloved cultural resources in our area.

Food is often the main attraction on the Westside, particularly the vast assortment of restaurants offering international cuisine. But music is becoming an increasingly important feature. The last couple years have seen several major concert halls open in the neighborhood: the aforementioned Venue, plus Chispas and Flamingo. Collectively, these facilities have hosted some of the most culturally significant musicians in North America - artists like merengue superstar Elvis Crespo, the "prince of bachata" Frank Reyes and Mexico's icons of norteño music, Los Tigres del Norte.

That list barely scratches the surface, as the Westside scene features a constant rotation of live music weekly, and not just Latin music either. The Venue has promoted concerts by American funk legends like the Ohio Players, Con Funk Shun, Slave and Cameo. In addition to that, the India Community Center often features South Asian concerts, and Abyssinia restaurant occasionally hosts Ethiopian music performances.

The neighborhood is also a treasure trove for cinema fans. The Georgetown Cinema multiplex regularly screens the latest Bollywood hits from India. You can also find a massive library of of classic Indian DVDs at Om Plaza, including everything from vintage Bollywood classics, to selections from India's regional Tamil and Telugu cinema scenes.

Around the corner from Om Plaza, the African Caribbean Market provides a decent selection of the latest Nigerian B-movies. There's also an abundance of Mexican film available at the various flea markets and neighborhood groceries, where you can find everything from Luis Bunuel's 1950 classic Los Olvidados to the notorious kitsch films of Mexican wrestling star Santo.

There is also an abundance of options for club goers and dancers too. On a typical weekend night you can take your pick from an overwhelming array of dance music options, including Indian, Arabic, African, Caribbean, Central American and any number of regional Mexican styles.

Unfortunately, many Indy residents still cling to false stereotypes that paint the area as a dangerous and unstable destination, and there is not enough media support to contradict these (false) claims. Over the years, I've spent countless hours on the Westside and I've never been the victim of a crime, or even witnessed one. In fact, compared to the madness of Broad Ripple, a night on the Westside can appear rather tranquil.

The Westside has never been portrayed as an arts district like Mass Ave or Fountain Square, but that needs to change. The thriving cultural scene can no longer be ignored.

Kyle Long creates a custom podcast for each installment of A Cultural Manifesto. This week's edition features a mix of tracks one may find at shows on the Westside:

NUVO - Cultural Manifesto Podcast - Kyle Long by culturalcannibals2

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