Julia Joins In

“An artist must be free to choose what he does, certainly, but he must also never be afraid to do what he might choose.”        

– Langston Hughes 

Downtown Indianapolis is usually distinguishable by its vibrant and busy streets. The electronic Dancing Ann sculpture sways back and forth as throngs of pedestrians travel from one local establishment to the next. Storefronts showcase their packed interiors, best-selling products, and the latest drink special. However, the past couple weeks things have looked a little different.

Businesses all along Mass Ave are boarded up and closed off to the outside world. In the wake of the racial injustices permeating our society, protestors peacefully took to the streets to call for basic human rights for Black members of our community. The protestors remained resilient in the face of tear gas and violence, but some people took advantage of the chaos to damage buildings and smash windows. Downtown covered its wounds with bandages of plywood. The once vibrant and colorful Mass Ave became a mirage of beige.

St’ArtUp 317, the Arts Council of Indianapolis, and PATTERN magazine has partnered with local Black artists to create powerful imagery and breathe new life into those damaged buildings. The collaboration with these Black artists and downtown business owners has become a catalyst for life and positive change in our city. The once-empty boards are being transformed into beautiful murals that celebrate the Black experience. Downtown has become a canvas for Black artists to inspire others, start a dialogue, and express themselves while getting compensated for their hard work.

I had the opportunity to head downtown to check out some of the artwork and actually speak to three of the artists about the project and the message they hope people get from their pieces. I’ve walked along Mass Ave nearly hundreds of times before in my life, but the energy and power that I felt from this trip was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.

A glance along the Cultural Trail reveals this city is no stranger to public art. But this time, the art is giving life to a whole movement—and the change is palpable. 

 

Israel Solomon

The Garden Table, a popular healthy downtown eatery, is usually packed with young patrons at all hours of the day. On this day, it was sparse with its outdoor seating area at half capacity. But nobody was paying attention to their acai bowls or green juices. Everyone was fixated on the vivid, massive mural coming to life in front of their eyes. George Floyd’s face stood large and regal surrounded by colorful geometric shapes. To the left of the mural was a mother cradling a child. And in front of all of this was local artist Israel Solomon. 

Israel has been making art for as long as he can remember. He recalled sitting in his childhood classrooms and watching hours pass by as he sat quietly and doodled a scene from Star Wars or his latest favorite cartoon. When he hit his mid-30s, he finally decided to dedicate his professional life to making art. Since then, he’s been creating and teaching art as his full-time job. 

The Arts Council chose him as one of the artists to help revitalize the downtown area. When he was selected to do a mural, he knew that he wanted to use this opportunity to present George Floyd in a positive way.

As he mixed his blue paints to formulate the perfect shade, he explained, “Everyone can relate to the fact that George Floyd was somebody’s child and he was also a parent. Everybody is somebody’s child. Most people in their adult lives become parents. Whether or not you can relate to him in any other way, we can all relate to that.” The piece powerfully demonstrates this, compelling every passing pedestrian to stop and admire his work. Israel intentionally used all bright colors to add to the positive portrayal as well as “spread some positivity in this difficult time we’re all going through.” 

His piece is a beautiful addition to downtown that speaks to the purest form of human nature. If you get a chance to admire it in person, I promise the impact it will have on you is beyond worth it.

Art by Fitz

I was able to catch this artist as he was walking around downtown, admiring the pieces coming to life everywhere around us. Art by Fitz has been drawing since he was a kid but painting for just four years. When it comes to his art, he really emphasizes originality and setting himself apart, creating unique character designs and cartoons. His mural project lives at a local Mass Ave boutique called Nurture Baby & Child. 

When he was chosen by the Arts Council for this project, he had a day to think of an idea before he had to come and create it. He was overwhelmed with all of the problems in the world right now and wanted to effectively address that in his mural. His piece has two titles: This Mask Won’t Keep Me Silent or No More Guns. Mood, the bunny in the mural, is one of his original characters who you can find sprinkled throughout his Instagram page in all different mediums, from comics to graphic designs. 

He made his piece relevant by focusing on how today’s pandemic is affecting everything else that is happening. Fitz used his character to emphasize “how we have to wear masks right now, and this is probably the worst time to be silent about anything. So it’s a contradiction with the mask keeping your mouth closed.” He also wanted to focus on gun violence and the harm guns have imparted on our society. The background is filled with names of black victims of police brutality with NO MORE GUNS written below them. 

Fitz’s piece is powerful, relevant, and so intricate that every second I spent looking at it, I found something new to think about. Looking at his work, it’s evident how important originality is to Fitz. Despite being surrounded by a sea of paintings, his art stands out and draws a lingering gaze. It’s exactly the kind of conversation starter that the community needs from art.

Boxx The Artist

Boxx the Artist attended Purdue University and holds a dual degree in Mass Communication and African American studies, as well as a certificate in entrepreneurship and innovation and political science. As if that’s not enough, she also developed her own creative arts company to represent herself and her artistic talents. She has been painting for four years and pursuing her art full-time for the past two. 

When she was contacted by the Indianapolis Arts Council, she thought it was a great opportunity to mobilize efforts of Black artists and ensure their voices were heard. She had felt the inevitable pressures and traumas of the movement and had been asking herself, “How can I use what I do and use my gifts and my talents to be a voice… and to protest in my own right, and show resistance in my own right, and show solidarity in my own right for a collective cause?” This mural gave her a canvas to share her talents and message in her own way.

The center of her piece is a character from Spike Lee’s film Do The Right Thing named Radio Raheem. He was often referred to as a “gentle giant,” which drew a parallel to the similar way people described George Floyd. The mural emphasizes the importance of balance through the symbolism of the protest signs and symmetry of the piece itself. Boxx described the piece in terms of reality saying, “One side is love, and one side is hate. And you know if there’s lightness, there has to be darkness.” 

Every detail in her piece represents something powerful. Even the triangles that fill the background space signify delta, a symbol of change. Boxx hopes her piece will spark conversation and change the narrative. She explained, “You know we have people in the streets yelling ‘I Can’t Breathe,’ but let’s change that rhetoric. We can breathe, so let’s speak and make sure that our voices are heard.” 

As of right now, the Arts Council is planning to preserve these pieces and relocate them when repairs are completed on the businesses. The impact and depth of each piece is timeless, and I urge you to go see them if you’re able. Walking down the streets of a place I know so well and seeing it lit up with this powerful art was an amazing experience. 

For more information on this project, please click the link below. https://indyculturaltrail.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/Murals-in-Downtown-Indianapolis.pdf

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