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Art & Soul Fest goes virtual

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The Art & Soul Festival, hosted by the Arts Council of Indianapolis, is usually a chance for artists and Indianapolis residents to come together to celebrate Black artists and kick off Black History Month.

This year, due to COVID-19, there will be no gatherings, but plenty of music.
Starting Feb. 2, all performances will be available virtually. To prepare, however, the arts council and local artists, including headliner AshLee Baskin, are recording sessions now.

Baskin — stage name Psywren Simone — planned her set before the death of George Floyd and subsequent protests that occurred around the nation. However, as she performed and recorded at the ArtsGarden on Jan. 7, she realized how relevant her song choices were.

Several Nina Simone songs — including “Four Women” and “Sinnerman” — as well as Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are a-Changin’,” reflected a startling similarity between the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and modern events.

“I think an artist has a duty to reflect the times,” Baskin said. “It’s your responsibility to have something to say. It’s unfortunate that we’re still having to have these same conversations, but I take very serious my responsibility to reflect these times, so I’m going to keep speaking.”

Throughout her set, Baskin discusses issues such as police brutality and segregation, along with the triumphs of Black Americans through history. The Indianapolis native said it’s important to her to tell both the story of struggle and resilience.

“When we tell our story, oppression and hardships are necessary to talk about,” Baskin said. “But I also think it’s important to show and talk about, in spite of that trauma, how we’ve been able to rise up. How brilliant we are, and so I wanted to reflect that in the show, too.”

The Arts Council of Indianapolis is still finalizing performances and when certain recordings will be available to stream. The organization is partnered with WISH-TV to present the festival. Performances will also be available to watch on the organization’s YouTube page.

“Art & Soul is like having an annual Black arts family reunion each year,” Ernest Disney-Britton, vice president of community impact and investment at the arts council, said in a press release. “It’s more than a series of concerts. It’s like having 28 days of family time with your favorites. We won’t be in person this year, but the virtual experience will still connect us to incredible music talent and make us even more excited about being together again next year.”

For the 25th anniversary, the Arts Council of Indianapolis is urging those who have participated in previous festivals to share their photos and memories to indyarts@indyarts.org.

Contact staff writer Breanna Cooper at 317-762-7848. Follow her on Twitter @BreannaNCooper.

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