Culture Mashup

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Last Friday, on my last night of incarceration in the Vonnegut Library for Banned Books Week, we held a beatnik night.

Actress Constance Macy read from Allen Ginsberg's seminal poem Howl, while Aric Harris noodled out a rhythm on his standup bass. Sitting on my blue futon folded into a couch, I tentatively beat out accompaniment on the small conga drum Aric had handed me, both enrapt by the performance of the poem and reticent to upstage her words. This performance sat against a backdrop of artworks portraying local artists' re-interpreted visions of banned book covers and in front of the retaining wall of challenged tomes.

Constance Mary reading at the Vonnegut Library. - CINDY DASHNAW
  • Cindy Dashnaw
  • Constance Mary reading at the Vonnegut Library.

The tableau of disparate disciplines incorporated literature, poetry, visual art, music, and later, film.

I started thinking about how more of our cultural events around town could benefit by integrating other facets of artistic expression into their programming.

A few years ago, the head of an artists' collective in Columbus, Ohio, invited me to experience Independents Day, a weekend street festival held in September. What I witnessed was that multifaceted arts and cultural experience on a grand scale. Its intent is "to celebrate and develop independent culture, commerce and creativity."

Checking in with this year's event, the 2013 incarnation had expanded to three days with four stages of music, comedy, and dance. There were food trucks, emerging restaurateurs, and home cooks. A fashion show, record stores hawking vinyl, a sidewalk chalk competition, local comic book creators, a showcase of professionally produced radio-ready songs created by teens, screenings of locally produced films, and something called a Crafty Deathmatch.

If some of the great local arts non-profits from across the spectrum pool their resources, I can see Indy really taking this idea and running with it. Heck, we've already done it to celebrate the grand opening of the Indianapolis Cultural Trail back in April.

My incarceration corner.
  • My incarceration corner.

The recipe seems simple enough: Take elements of Spotlight Indy, Oranje, Art Squared, and Indy Fringe and add in elements of IDADA's First Friday, Dig IN, Record Store Day, and INDIEana Handicraft Exchange, and you just might have the ultimate showcase of local talent and culture.

In lieu of that grand dream, if you're organizing your next event, think about adding another element to it. Work with an organization specializing in that talent and provide the space and time to plug that element in or integrate it. While you still need to stay true to your mission, branching out can help promote your upcoming events. Say you're a theatre non-profit. Adding small drop-in performances while you're dark can help promote your regular season.

Especially since the Great Recession hit, funders in grant requests increasingly ask what partnerships your organization enjoins. Sticking with the theatre group, you might benefit from letting a visual arts non-profit add an element to your programming, and in return, integrate a performance into a First Friday gallery opening.

Such synergies make the event experience that much richer for the event-goer and help lighten the often exhausting work of planning an event.

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