With an increasing number of stories I write these days as arts editor, I keep straying into news territory. That is because a number of arts organizations that I cover are continually making news with their community building—and creative placemaking—activities.
In doing so, however, Indianapolis arts organizations are increasingly being called upon to address issues that expand beyond the gallery walls, as is were. Issues such as gentrification.
Innovative arts nonprofits abound in Indy that are willing to address such issues. But NUVO’s’ role is not to just rehash their press releases. We want to understand what they’re doing in the city, and in order to do so we also have to ask the right questions.
So, while I plan to continue covering the events and artists helping to create a vibrant arts community in Indianapolis with previews, reviews, and interviews, I’d also like to dig a little deeper in 2019 and answer questions about the arts community and broader issues.
It’s a hot topic in the Circle City these days. And often when people are talking about gentrification, they’re talking about the displacement of economically disadvantaged and/or long-term residents.
Some projects don’t always jibe with the mission statements of the organizations that helped break ground or renovate in the first place.
For example, Fountain Square’s Wheeler Arts Community Building seemed like a successful venture in nurturing artists by offering affordable housing to them. Until it wasn’t. That is, until its owner Southeast Neighborhood Development (SEND) sold it off in 2018, with the excuse that they needed to pay administrative costs for their move to another neighborhood.
The new owner is converting Wheeler’s apartments to market rate housing. As a result many, if not all, of its resident artists will have to find new places to live. Rents are going up, and the artists the Wheeler Arts building was intended to house will likely be unable to afford increase.
Another topic of discussion, particularly in the arts community, revolves around the notion of creative placemaking. That is, when artists—and arts organizations—get involved in working towards the betterment of the public places, and derelict spaces, in a community.
Underserved neighborhoods in Indianapolis might benefit from recent grant funding gifted to nonprofit arts organizations dedicated to placemaking—or not.
Say you’re living near a vacant lot where an arts organization starts building an arts park. Maybe you’d prefer a supermarket in that space because the only place to get food around your neighborhood is a Dollar General. How well are arts organizations balancing these needs in Indianapolis?
What questions do have about gentrification and the arts? What organizations or individuals do you know actively addressing the issue and looking for solutions?
Another editorial priority for me this year is the intersection of art and social justice. For example, at the Indiana Interchurch Center a number of advocacy organizations are eager to hold hands and sing "Kum bay ya" around topics like hate crimes legislation. What happens, though, when certain groups have irreconcilable differences over certain issues? Like, say the international Boycott Divest Sanction movement against Israel?
You might think there is no arts angle in a story like this. Local poet and visual artist Tatjana Rebelle—who runs the local VOCAB open mic series—might beg to differ. She is an activist who works on pro-Palestinian issues, who is allied with the American Friends Service Community, Muslim Youth Collective, and Jewish Voices for Peace.
For Rebelle, there doesn’t seem to be a line between her art and her activism.
Elysia Smith, owner of Irvington Books and Vinyl, is also both a poet and a community activist. For her the lines also blur.
“I write poems as a way to say, hey I learned a lesson, listen to my mistakes—that are often funny— and learn too,” says Smith. “Or at least, hold me accountable. I think it's really easy to make mistakes as an organizer—and as a person in general—and it's not helpful to stress so hard about messing up. Rather, an effective community leader is ready and willing to hear criticism when it comes and to own their words and actions as much as possible.”
Where do you see art and social justice intersecting in Indianapolis? Is that even something art should do?
We at NUVO also want to be held accountable, and want your input, consideration, and criticism. We also want you to collaborate on the stories alongside us.
Our M.O. is to include as many voices, from all sides of the issues, without necessarily drawing any conclusions. We do, however, want to create a template for further conversation. We want you, the reader, to become involved in the conversation and to point us down the roads you feel we should follow.
So let me know what questions you have about the arts in Indianapolis, particularly around issues of gentrification and social justice. What stories would you like me to cover in 2019?
You should see a question box on this page titled City Committee with a place for you to submit your questions and thoughts. If you have ad blocker or it doesn’t appear, you can go directly to the City Committee landing page to leave a suggestion or question; leave a comment below; or send me an email.
Let’s start the conversation.