Last Thursday, IndyHub hosted the last of 2014’s 5x5 competitions. They were a series of contests hosted by the Harrison Center for the Arts, People for Urban Progress, Big Car and IndyHub, and they were funded by the Central Indiana Community Foundation, Christel Dehaan Foundation and the Efroymson Family Fund. Through these competitions, locals had the opportunity to win $10,000 for their grand ideas. Last October, I won the competition for my project, I Am An Artist.
My project completed 52 photo shoots with 52 alternative Indy-based artists and then enlarged them and posted the images on exteriors of window spaces from 46th and Post Road to 30th and MLK to South Street. A 6-foot-tall shot of a tattoo artist sat on the window at CVS on Ohio Street. A spoken-word artist lived on the window at the ISO on Monument Circle. A young acoustic guitarist was on display on a CityWay window on Delaware. And a photo of five ballet dancers still clings to a vacant, crumbling building across from a gas station at 30th and College Avenue. I Am An Artist circulated positive images of people of color, it exposed Indy to its artists and it challenged the idea of who can be an artist.
This year, IndyHub asked me to talk about my project from 2013, be a judge for 2014 and introduce this year’s winner. I’d already read through so many submissions and knew any of our five presenters would produce a stellar art project. The winner was the Redbud Project, submitted by John Moore of Urban Patch. The Indy Redbud Project is a community identity and environmental art project. It’s based on the fact that Indy's inner city has had a long and difficult past, with challenges involving housing, health, education, crime, jobs and wealth-building, and the environment itself. Once thriving communities across the city are now burdened with vacant lots, a degraded environment and limited positive community interactions. So they are attempting to beautify at least one of those neighborhoods with trees -- redbuds, as the name implies.
That evening, I posted the winning project on Instagram (@MalinaSimone) and received an interesting comment from Mr. Moore himself. “Frankly speaking, we were surprised we won since we are black and the winner last year was black. It gives us great hope that things are changing and Indy has a brighter future. It was a not too distant time ago, and in some cases still today, where the work, ideas and contributions of black people in the city would have been discounted and ignored.”
This was so interesting to me. Despite Moore’s project being the winning best, he thought it wouldn't stand a chance because a black person had won last year. I want to call it weird that he said that. I want to call it rare to consider. But I don't think either is true. For many black people, race is always a consideration. In this instance, though, it made me think about black artists in Indy and what projects have not gotten presented because of this notion that it won’t get chosen anyway. It’s certainly a different way to think about and celebrate the Redbud Project, but I’ll choose to applaud it just based on its own merit. Congrats to John Moore and the folks at Urban Patch for a great new art project that will change and grow Indianapolis.