The nature of the news business often involves drawing attention to the worst of Indy — injustice, pollution, political power trips are just a few of the all-too-familiar examples. But this week's Best of Indy theme offered an opportunity to take a break — if only for one issue — to focus on the city at its best.
While readers responded by the thousand to weigh in on their favorite candidates in scores individual categories, several groups citywide are working to build bridges across categories, to revisit old problems with new solutions, to appreciate the underappreciated and, in the process, re-imagine Indy in new and exciting ways.
Last week I took some time to visit with Elle Roberts, one of NUVO's new Voices columnists, and her friend Charlie Millard at the excellent Eastside coffee shop The Tin Comet, to discuss their hopes for SheHive, a project they launched (along with their friend Reese Burnett) in March to confront the widespread social problems associated with gender inequality.
They kicked off with a First Friday "women-powered, women inspired show" featuring musicians, poets, dancers and "roving illustrator" April Doner, who captured the evening's happenings in real-time on large sheets of butcher paper taped to the Tin Comet's windows.
They followed up with another show in June and are currently looking for feedback on topics the community would like to explore in future readings, workshops and performances.
The overall goal of all this, Roberts explained, is to "make organized safe spaces for people to really get at what those types of injustices look like in their own lives (and) hopefully create discomfort that makes dynamic change. "Contributing to the world that is right here in Indianapolis is the whole idea. We believe that improving the lives of woman and girls improves the lives of everyone. It's more humanist than feminist."
Deconstructing patriarchy carries additional benefits for men, Charlie added, in that male victimhood has traditionally been disallowed, which has forced many guys to suffer silently with the physical and psychological wounds they've received in life.
"As long as we treat people as people, as equals, these systems would no longer exist," she said.
Elle and Charlie both emphasized that they don't want SheHive to be limited to serving any one group of people, but rather to serve "just regular people who want to connect."
In envisioning the future of SheHive, Elle and Charlie both expressed the desire to, "to keep it as organic as possible."
"Our hope is to see what people are talking about and base what we do off that — to create a sense of ownership and engagement in that respect. Our plan is to get as many people involved in the network and gauging where programming and services should go."
In general they are guided by one simple idea: "How can we use our gifts and the resources that are available to us to make an impact and change the tide on gender-based injustice?"
And while SheHive uses gender inequality as it's central organizing point, Charlie and Elle are both excited about an upcoming Fringe show, Acceptance Beyond Race, which was funded through Peace Learning Center and will explore the theme of white privilege through a cross-cultural lens.
During the course of conversation it occurred to me that SheHive's efforts to inspire positive social change through collaboration and creative expression echoes similar themes that are giving life to a host of innovative projects around Indy.
Take, for instance, We Are City, a joint effort founded by the Center for Urban Ecology at Butler University and The Kinetic Project, "to inspire heightened conversation about city-building in Indianapolis, and to celebrate people and projects that exemplify smart, unique, and bold city-building."
The third annual We Are City Summit is set for Aug. 21 from Noon to 4:30 p.m. (with a reception until 6 p.m. follow) at the Indiana Historical Society.
Organizers promise "an eclectic mix of national and local speakers who work and play in the trenches and front lines of urban development, civic involvement and artistic engagement."
In an announcement celebrating this year's line-up of speakers, which will include local input and guests from as far away as Switzerland, We Are City co-founder John Beeler emphasized the summit's commitment to cross-cultural, cross disciplinary collaboration with the aim of improving communal quality of life.
"By combining and juxtaposing different points of view and disciplines, our hope is to inspire bold, innovate thinking and amplify city improvement conversations within the Indianapolis metro area," Beeler said.
Other examples of successful local collaboration include the ongoing 5X5 series, Indy Trade School, Food Con and a variety of community gardening projects that seek to tap into existing wisdom within the community to educate, inspire and foster creative innovation across the urban landscape.
The next 5x5 event, reMIX - Spinning Culture, Community and Place, will determine the winner of the $10,000 Arts and Innovation Prize Competition. The public is invited to watch the five finalists make their pitches on Friday, Aug. 1 in the Harrison Center sanctuary. Doors open at 6 p.m.; presentations are set to begin at 7:30 p.m. The overall goal of the project is "to foster community building and art-focused innovations in central Indiana."
Even city government is embracing the idea of creative community building with Old City Hall's rebirth as a collaborative workspace. In addition, "The Hall" is currently hosting an exhibit through the end of the month titled, "Dear Mayor: 50 Letters from Architects."
Based on a challenge the Indianapolis Chapter of the American Institute of Architects issued to its members "to think, discuss and propose ideas – big and small – that could improve the city," the exhibit captures a wide range of responses.
And, in partnership with People for Urban Progress, organizers are encouraging those who visit the exhibit to broaden the conversation by contributing their own ideas.
The Hall, located at 202 N. Alabama St., is open to the public weekdays from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m.