The shootings in Broad Ripple this summer provoked a wide range of reactions from the community and media. But for me the best response was the formation of I Am Broad Ripple, created by Tatjana Byrd, Andrew Yagi, Corey Ewing, Courtney Chesebrough-Whister and Chez Roberts. The group formed with the dual purpose of promoting community-based arts and commerce, while confronting the negative portrayals of minority culture voiced in the aftermath of the shootings.
Tatjana Byrd is probably best known for her work as host and promoter of the long-running monthly open mic night Vocab. In our conversation this week, Byrd explains the origins of I Am Broad Ripple. The group will host a Christmas toy drive at the Sabbatical, featuring live music from The Breakdown Kings, Sphie and Chemical Envy, on Dec. 17.
NUVO: I understand that I Am Broad Ripple was formed around the idea of organizing a street festival celebrating the diverse culture of arts and commerce in the Broad Ripple neighborhood. How did that concept develop?
Tatjana Byrd: One evening after my open mic night Vocab, someone in the audience said, "Wow, you should really do this out in the streets." I started talking about that and thought we should throw a street festival. From there everything really started to snowball.
After everything with the shooting happened here, that was the moment we realized that there needed to be a positive response in the neighborhood. Why not throw a street festival in Broad Ripple to help bring people back in and show them it is a lot more than a strip of bars for 22-year-olds to drink at. There are musicians, artists and families here. We held the first I Am Broad Ripple festival on October 12th with several groups including Tony Styxx, Bashiri Asad, Jared Thompson, and many others.
It was kind of amazing how it developed. The community really wanted it. The more people got involved, the more we realized it was necessary to continue doing it.
NUVO: Where would you like to see I Am Broad Ripple go in the future?
Byrd: We're talking about making it an actual non-profit. But I'd like to see it become something that's like more of a movement than to be a specific group that does specific things. I would love to see it inspire people to do work in the community. I want it to be more of a philosophy than a group. I worry about us getting bogged down in the politics of it. Right now no one is getting paid; we do this because we want to. I also want to see the music festival itself grow.
NUVO: You've been in this neighborhood for a significant period of time. How have you seen the community change?
Byrd: I still remember being a kid walking around when there were pockets of skaters, straight-edgers and the bridge kids. I remember all the live music and art. As I've gotten older I see more and more of that stuff leaving. Not that there's necessarily anything bad about corporates coming in, but I remember this being a mom and pop neighborhood where it was nearly all local coffee shops and restaurants and everything was a community. We've gotten help for I Am Broad Ripple from some of the corporate business here and it's nice to see that.
There's been sort of an exodus from the neighborhood. Now when I say I'm from Broad Ripple, I hear people saying "I don't feel safe there anymore," or "I'd much rather go to Irvington." That makes me kind of sad. That's part of the reason why we're doing this. This is a great neighborhood and it's a shame we aren't focusing attention on the good things.
NUVO: Do you think there's still time for the local community to reclaim that grassroots image of the neighborhood, or has it already gone too deep into the corporate development and frat party culture?
Byrd: I don't know if it ever can be what it was. Deep in my heart I would love for that to happen. There's been a new movement of healthy things coming here like the Garden Table and Public Greens, so maybe things are turning to a new direction, which I like. I don't know that it will ever be what it used to be, but I have hope for what it's becoming.
NUVO: Tell us about the toy drive at Sabbatical on December 17.
Byrd: After the music festival people kept asking us to do more and more stuff. So it seemed appropriate to do the toy drive. But now it's becoming donation central, we're also doing a canned food drive and collecting clothing for Wheeler Mission. You can get in with a ten dollar donation or if you bring a toy of equal or greater value.
A Cultural Manifesto is now available on WFYI's HD2 radio. Tune in Wednesdays at 7 p.m. and Saturdays at 3 p.m. as NUVO's Kyle Long explores the merging of a wide variety of music from around the globe with American genres like hip-hop, jazz, and soul.