One week ago I had the privilege of going to Simon Mall Properties' downtown headquarters to talk to its staff about Indy's arts and culture scene. To help provide some insight, I brought along Keesha Dixon, Kenneth Hordge, William Rasdell and Tony Styxx to tell their stories as local artists.
It's Black History Month, so invitations for talks like these are expected. We gathered in a conference room during the noon hour and some employees brought their lunch as they listened. The purpose of the hourlong conversation was to provide an eye into the life of an artist in Indianapolis and to give people a chance to ask questions about how they can get involved.
Keesha Dixon talked about how much she loves being a black artist, and that she wears her art with pride. She makes dolls and fabrics and also plays the drums. She teaches young black artists that they not only can perform but they can create. Kenneth Hordge is a finger painter. He draws celebrity figures using drywall, charcoal and only his fingers. Hordge has more than 11,000 followers on Instagram and just met Kanye West for the drawing he created of him. William Rasdell is a photographer that has traveled the world. He prefers not to be labeled as a black artist, but instead as an artist who just happens to be black. Lastly, Tony Styxx was the youngest of the bunch and talked about his life as a rapper and the stigmas thrust on him when he says he does "hip-hop."
As the conversation evolved and people began to ask questions, what I heard loud and clear was that this group has no idea how to get connected to the arts scene. Most of the people in the room were black and over 35. All of them have an interest in our cultural scene but none of them know where to start. I thought this was really interesting as it seems we're doing such a good job about spreading the word about art opportunities. There's First Fridays, the IMA, the IRT and a plethora of open mic nights around town. So how is the communication missed? And does this group represent the general population? Do many more people feel left out of the arts and culture "clique" and feel they are uninvited? I'm starting to think the answer to all of these questions is an unfortunate "yes."
"How hard do you try to find events and happenings? They're everywhere!" said Tony Styxx baffled that anyone couldn't find a performance to attend. "Have you heard of First Fridays? For a while there was a trolly that would take you to the various cultural districts," suggested Rasdell. Keesha Dixon could identify with the group. "Some people may start with Google and not even know what to search for. They really don't know where to start. They just know they have an interest," she offered. I reminded the group of resources such as indyarts.org and Sky Blue Window, and I told everyone about First Fridays, how this monthly event is a great way to get a high-level grasp on what's offered in Indy. Still, it seemed as if I were speaking a foreign language.
I walked away from the lunch having learned that our city has work to do and that sometimes we don't realize how small our bubble is. There must be more ways to engage the community into all that Indianapolis has to offer, especially when it comes to our robust arts scene. The group loved hearing from the artists and was so eager to find out how they could buy work and see the work of other artists. If we're living in a time where art buyers are down and galleries are closing, it seems we should work to cultivate a new market of supporters and those who may have interest. Maybe it's time to find and grow the demand versus increasing the supply. Just a thought ... What do you think?