Art & Soul kicks off Black History Month ahead of NBA All-Star

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The 28th annual Art & Soul kicks off Feb. 2 at Gallery 924 & The Cabaret. (Photo provided/Indy Arts Council)

February is about to be a busy month for Hoosiers, but before Downtown Indy is taken over by NBA fans, the 2024 Art & Soul aims to showcase the talent of local Black artists.

For the last 28 years, the Indy Arts Council has taken the month of February to highlight the talent of Indianapolis’ multidisciplinary Black artists — whether they be dancers, painters, authors, poets or musicians — in a month-long exhibition with pop-up performances and events. This year, Art & Soul’s theme is “The Naptown Experience” to not only celebrate the four featured artists, but the long history of African American creatives in Indy.

“Every year, the Arts Council, they go by the theme of the national theme of the Smithsonian,” said Art & Soul producer Valerie Phelps. “So, I took that theme and I put the Naptown experience into it because that’s how we’re known nationally. Artists still refer to us as Naptown.”

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Indy-based poet jus Will said he started writing poetry in eighth grade but pursued hip-hop and rapping as a career first. However, as he got older, jus Will said the poetry scene in Indy started to expand, which led him to pursue it, writing and sharing his poetry more aggressively. 

jus Will, Indy-based poet, is the featured performance artist for the 2024 Art & Soul, which kicks off Feb. 2, 2024. (Photos provided/Indy Arts Council)

Also, as a published author with three recorded works available on streaming platforms, jus Will said his own personal style is honest and evolved into “edutainment.” Although his work is entertaining, there is often a deeper message included.

“A lot of times there’s a flip — like how it starts out — a lot of my work will have a twist where it’s not what you expected it to be,” jus Will said. “But at my age and my experiences, it’s pretty well-rounded. It kind of just depends on where I’m at in my life, what I’m dealing with, good or bad.”

This marks the first year that jus Will is a featured artist in Art & Soul. Having worked on quite a bit of projects in the city, being highlighted by the Indy Arts Council is “kind of one of those moments where the work that I’ve been doing seemed like it’s finally getting recognized locally.”

“There’s a lot of really, really good talent involved, and it’s talent that you would not necessarily get to see together,” jus Will said. “I think that’s what’s gonna make it special … the artists that they brought together for this event are artists that would not normally be on the same platform at one time.”

Boxx The Artist, originally from Gary, Indiana, has been a working artist for the last six years. Having graduated from Purdue university with a degree in mass communications and African American studies, she said art was not something she decided to pursue full-time until after graduation. Boxx The Artist focuses heavily on expressionist portraiture in the form of acrylic paint, digital art, photography and film as well as public art in the form of murals. 

Boxx The Artist, a visual artist originally from Gary, Indiana, is the featured visual artist for the 2024 Art & Soul, which kicks off Feb. 2, 2024. (Photos provided/Indy Arts Council)

Boxx The Artist first attended Art & Soul back in 2016 but is coming back now in 2024 as a featured visual artist, and said it was a full-circle moment to achieve something that “was once a dream” for her.

“As a young creative, there were so many different spaces that I’ve always wanted to be in,” Boxx The Artist said. “It definitely motivated me to learn everything that I needed to learn to be able to acclimate it, to build that acumen and not only practice my craft, but also [the] professionalism behind the craft to make this successful so I can be in all of these spaces.”

Growing up in Gary posed a bit of a challenge when it came to this year’s theme of “The Naptown Experience” since Boxx The Artist was not immediately familiar with the history of Black art and culture in Indianapolis, but this is where “Boxx The Artist” was truly born, she said. 

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“I know throughout my journey as an artist, all of the support that I’ve ever received has been from this city first,” Boxx The Artist said. “To believe in me, to pour into me and to be able to really just do what I enjoyed doing every day, it’s the craziest thing, but with that, you can kind of see the journey of my work.”

Schedule of events

Festival Kickoff at Gallery 924 & The Cabaret 

Gallery 924 & The Cabaret, 924 N. Pennsylvania St. 

Feb. 2, 5-9 p.m.

Free

The kickoff will include an exhibition and live painting with “Community Canvas” from Boxx The Artist. During the cabaret portion, guests can enjoy performances from featured musician Dexter Clardy of Shvdy Rollins, featured dancer Austin Day, jus Will and more.

indyarts.org/programs/art-soul

Featured Artist Showcase at The Jazz Kitchen

The Jazz Kitchen, 5377 N. College Ave.

Feb. 7, 5-7:30 p.m. 

Tickets start at $15

Guests will get to enjoy a pre-show live painting experience with Boxx The Artist, followed by performances from jus Will and Dexter Clardy with his band Shvdy Rollins.

Thejazzkitchen.com

Celebration + Naptown Tribute at the Indianapolis Artsgarden

Indianapolis Artsgarden, 110 W. Washington St.

Feb. 23, 5-7:30 p.m.

Free

The closing event will feature performances from the featured artists, an exhibition from Boxx The Artist and a Naptown tribute show to highlight the “iconic music of Indiana Avenue from past to present.” IPS will also host a Kids Zone on the upper level of the Artsgarden.

indyarts.org/programs/art-soul

For more information on Art & Soul, visit indyarts.org/programs/art-soul.

Contact staff writer Chloe McGowan at 317-762-7848. Follow her on Twitter @chloe_mcgowanxx.