Last week, Indiana Black Expo announced its plans for the 47th annual Summer Celebration, and one key change has the community talking. For the first time ever, admission to the exhibition halls will be free.
In 2016, close to 11,000 people purchased tickets for Expo. This number does not include those who attended the Corporate Luncheon and entered exhibit halls for free, or individuals with complimentary tickets. Tanya Bell, president and CEO of Indiana Black Expo, says offering free admission will increase the community’s access to the activities inside the Convention Center, including the Black and minority health fair, hundreds of vendors, celebrity performances, the fashion show, boxing and the celebrity basketball game. Free performances by Kool Moe Dee, Case and Earnest Pugh will also take place in the Exhibition Hall.
Bell views making Expo free as a way to give back to the community while putting a little extra change in the pockets of the exhibitors.
“We have been looking at the opportunity to make it free for a few years now. Summer Celebration is our major fundraiser, and one of the things we wanted to make sure we are doing is patronizing our exhibitors on the floor. The great thing about this is our exhibitors are excited about it being free, because of the likelihood of increased attendance. It also lets us give back to the community,” said Bell.
Many Expo attendees are excited about this change, including Renee Larson-Endsley, who says making Expo free is a great way to build the event’s presence in the community.
“I do really think this is their way to repay the community. I just feel like everybody deserves second chances, and this is an organization that will be 50 years old soon,” said Larson-Endsley. “I think that they feel they have messed up in the past, and it made national news. They are making it available to everybody, not just people with a lot of money. This is a chance to give them a second chance.”
However, some community members are not so convinced that making Expo free is the right move.
T. Michelle Atkins is a media strategist who thinks making Expo free will increase instances of violence downtown during the event.
“Law and order policies are in full effect, and free in the summer will bring teens out in droves, “ said Atkins. “We have police and Black kids. I am concerned about that, because they have a lot of issues with teens downtown. I can only imagine the image ‘free’ is sending the chief of IMPD right now.”
Larson-Endsley, however, feels differently.
“Understand that you have to keep the young people busy. Allowing them to volunteer at an Expo event to get experience as a high school or a college student will make them feel wanted and appreciated,” she said. “There are going to be folks bashing them and saying that young Black people can’t act and need barricades, but they are not animals. Black youth have already been degraded enough in the media. It’s about getting them involved and appreciated.”
Bell says Expo will be working closely with IMPD to make sure Summer Celebration is a safe event.
“We will work with IMPD to ensure safety at Expo. IMPD has done a great job in the past. Inside the Exhibition Hall we plan to wand the folks who are coming in. From a security standpoint, we are satisfied with what our security plan has been,” said Bell.
The one event that is not free is the Music Heritage Festival taking place at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Saturday, July 17. Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds will be joined by Grammy Award-winner Fantasia Barrino and Grammy-winning R&B Diva Chante Moore. Tickets start at $50 and are currently available for purchase at TicketMaster.com and IndianaBlackExpo.com.
Bell says Expo is working on some surprises for attendees who come out.
“There are some new things we are working on; one of those things is very exciting. Our focus is working with all of our exhibitors and partners to provide an interactive and engaging experience,” Bell said. “There are ample things to do from the cultural arts pavilion, to the celebrity basketball game, to the fashion show and the exhibitors. We just want the folks to come enjoy the experience.”