If you've been down to Massachusetts Avenue recently, you just might've seen artist Michael "Alkemi" Jordan up on a scissor lift while putting the finishing touches on the 30 foot high mural on the side of Mass Ave's historic Davlan Building.
The mural, newly finished, depicts renowned poet and artist Mari Evans, one of the founders of the Black Arts movement. Evans was born in Toledo, Ohio, in 1919, and has lived in Indianapolis since 1947.
Jordan avoided the summer heat by painting at night and in the early hours of the morning.
He's been pleased at the reactions of people walking down the street: people who might not know Evans' work.
"Oh man, it's a great reaction, people are just thrilled to see her," says Alkemi.
The mural has been completed within sight of a mural of another iconic literary figure, Kurt Vonnegut.
The mural painting project was facilitated by the nonprofit Big Car Collaborative (in close consultation with Mari Evans) and funded by a grant from their Indiana Arts Commission. Big Car purposely chose the mural site in part because of its proximity to the Vonnegut mural, according to Big Car Collaborative chief curator Shauta Marsh.
"Vonnegut's also a writer I love,"
says Marsh. "A lot of people know about Vonnegut but not a lot of people know about Mari."
Marsh hopes that the mural will spark the curiosity of passersby: "I believe everybody should know who Mari Evans is and what she stands for and what she means for our community and really for the world generally," she says.
Marsh had first encountered the work of Mari in 2004.
"I was working at NUVO and [NUVO columnist and editor] David Hoppe did a story about Mari," she says.
That's when she started reading some of Evans' essays.
"For me personally, I've always thought of her as the ideal woman, just thinking about her history and what she represents and the values that she represents and her strengths," says Marsh.
More than a decade later, her husband Jim Walker, the executive director of Big Car, happened to come across Mari Evans in Shapiro's. He told Marsh about it, and this got her thinking of possible projects that she might pursue with Evans. It was early in 2015, and Marsh had just left her position as executive director of the Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art.
Marsh met with Evans and started contemplating projects that would raise awareness of her work, under the auspices of Big Car, and the mural project was born.
"I wanted to make sure when working on this project that Mari had full say in everything," says Marsh. "Mari selected Alkemi and he has a studio at Broadway Church — it's a Methodist church on
But for Marsh it wasn't enough to put a mural up.
"I felt that we needed to have an exhibit," she says. "Because it's a way of raising awareness."
So on November 5, Big Car's Tube Factory Artspace will host an art exhibit featuring a work by Indianapolis-based artist Carl Pope — featuring excerpts from Evans' essays.
The exhibit will feature pictures of her writing and the editing process.
"When I met with Mari, she allowed me to scan in pictures of her," says Marsh.
Marsh also has plans to show video from a television show that Evans had on WTTV (Channel 4), called "The Black Experience" if she can get her hands on the old films.
In the end, Marsh thinks Evans deserves a wider audience, through her exuberant poems such as "Celebration" and her frank and thought-provoking
essays that are just as relevant today as the time when she wrote them.
"Mari's work may have been intended for a black audience but I really feel that it brings us all together and helps us understand each other better," says Marsh. "Or at least helps me understand better. And I will never fully understand but I'm listening. And I think that it's time that we all listen to each other ... We need to listen to people like Mari and what she has to say, because ... the only way that we're going to come through this race issue we have, as a nation, is acknowledging that there's a problem."