Recorder Rewind: The best of Indy’s arts in 2023

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Kyng Rhodes painting a mural for the Philadelphia Flower Show
Local artist Kyng Rhodes spent the last month painting a 75-foot mural for the 2023 PHS Philadelphia Flower Show. (Photos provided by Newfields)

Artists and creatives around Indianapolis have had a fairly significant year, from The Bicentennial Unity Plaza to Mike Epps’ “Buying Back the Block” to Butter, OnyxFest and Midwest Fashion Week. Here are just a few things we want to highlight as 2023 comes to a close.

Local muralist at Philadelphia Flower Show

In March, Kyng Rhodes, a member of the Eighteen Art Collective, was chosen to design and paint a 75-foot mural for the 2023 PHS Philadelphia Flower Show as part of Newfields’ featured garden display.

Newfields contacted Rhodes in December 2022 following the work he had done with the Eighteen and his paintings in “We. The Culture.” Rhodes said it was Newfields former CEO Colette Pierce Burnette who wanted to incorporate art with nature at the Philly Flower Show as a way to introduce themselves to a larger audience.

“I’m going to be honest, there was a moment where I had to just step back, and I really was proud of myself,” Rhodes said. “It’s just one of those moments that we all have where you’re a little nervous going into it because I felt like the odds were kind of stacked against me [with] the amount of time that I had to do it; the work that they chose.”

Entitled “Newfound Fields,” Rhodes said the mural was symbolic of the relationship Newfields had with its artists and the community — as the institution worked under Burnette’s leadership to build back trust with its board and unrepresented artists in the community.

Indy’s first Black theater company

Naptown African American Theatre Collective became Indianapolis’ first Black theater company and kicked off its inaugural season with Austin Dean Ashford’s “Black Book” on May 13 and Dominique Morisseau’s “Detroit ‘67” on Aug. 24. The rest of the season will continue in the new year with “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” on Mar. 8, 2024, and “The Light” on May 3, 2024.

The cast of NAATC’s “Detroit ‘67” sitting for the first table read. (Photo/Jordan Leigh Artistry)
The cast of NAATC’s “Detroit ‘67” sitting for the first table read. (Photo/Jordan Leigh Artistry)

The NAATC is an equity theater covered under Actor’s Equity Association, LaKesha Lorene, founding and producing director, told the Recorder in a previous interview. Lorene said she wanted NAATC to be able to provide full-time and substantial part-time opportunities to Black artists working in the arts, both onstage and behind the scenes.

“The theater is supposed to be the place where you can see yourself in anyone,” Lorene said. “The goal for NAATC is for people to see themselves in these Black bodies on this stage … And when you see yourself and you see it played out in real time, it hits different.”

Producing shows that reflect the world African Americans live in — from the actors on stage to the directors, choreographers and everyone behind the scenes — is just as

important as finding shows that speak to the palette of a city that continues to grow culturally, Lorene said.

Etheridge Knight mural unveiling

The two-story mural of poet Etheridge Knight was unveiled at the Chatterbox Jazz Club on June 30. The unveiling was part of the City of Indianapolis’ Bicentennial Legends series and featured live music and a poetry reading from Knight’s longtime partner Elizabeth Gordon McKim.

A rendering of the mural honoring Etheridge Knight, which will be unveiled at the Chatterbox Jazz Club on June 30, 2023. (Photo provided/Indy Arts Council)
A rendering of the mural honoring Etheridge Knight, which will be unveiled at the Chatterbox Jazz Club on June 30, 2023. (Photo provided/Indy Arts Council)

Best known for his first published volume of poems “Poems from Prison,” which was released in 1968, Knight began writing poetry during his eight-year incarceration in the Indiana State Prison System, Hanako Gavia, spokesperson for the Etheridge Knight family, told the Recorder in a previous interview.

“I think that instead of just seeing him as just a resident, it really shows how influential he was in the poetry community nationally and internationally,” Gavia said. “And also gives us pride as an Indianapolis resident that he was a native here and that he has ties here in Indianapolis.”

Following his release, Knight became an influential part of the Black Arts Movement, and Chatterbox Jazz Club became the venue for many of his Free People’s Poetry Workshops, said Julia Muney Moore, director of public art for Indy Arts Council.

“Etheridge Knight knew and he understood that what you experience every day is art,” Moore said. “That is who you are, and that art can help you understand what your reality is.”

IndyPL’s first autism certified branch

The Indianapolis Public Library made history on Aug. 19, 2023, by opening the first autism certified library branch at Fort Ben. The newest branch offers sensory-friendly amenities, programming and events catered to individuals with autism and other sensory processing disorders — which branch manager Shelby Peak said earned the library international accreditation for autism through the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES).

The Fort Ben Branch, located at 9330 E 56th St., is the first autism certified library in the state of Indiana and officially opened to the public on Aug. 19. (Photo/Chloe McGowan)
The Fort Ben Branch, located at 9330 E. 56th St., is the first autism certified library in the state of Indiana and officially opened to the public on Aug. 19. (Photo/Chloe McGowan)

City-County Councilor Ali Brown, founder of the Indy Autism Project, said Fort Ben is also one of very few libraries in the country to be autism certified and is also working toward a Certified Autism Center (CAC) designation.

“Being trained in how to work with people with autism or sensory sensitivities kind of helps bridge that gap to make sure that those people who are different feel welcomed and accepted,” Brown said. “That’s what we want in Indianapolis, and we want in Lawrence, is to make everyone feel included or valued and welcomed because they are, and we have to be intentional with that.”

The branch is also designed to be bilingual friendly, as approximately 16% of the population of Lawrence speak Spanish. In addition to bilingual signage, the world languages collection includes more than 1,500 items for children and adults in Korean, Spanish, French and Haitian Creole.

Local author Leah Johnson opened Loudmouth Books, a store dedicated to challenged and banned books. (Photo/Braxton Babb)

Loudmouth Books opens

In the fall, local author Leah Johnson opened Loudmouth Books, a bookstore specifically for marginalized authors, as a way to highlight aggressive book banning legislation that would affect public schools and libraries.

“Earlier this year, we had a wave of anti LGBTIA legislation in the state like we’ve never seen before,” said Johnson “It directly coincided with a nationwide rise in book banning, and I had a dream of owning a bookstore the same way any nerd dreams of owning a bookstore; but it felt urgent this year in a particular way that it hadn’t ever before to have a space that was curated with an eye towards these books that people were so afraid of.”

Johnson, whose own novel “You Should See Me in a Crown” has been challenged, told the Recorder in a previous interview that the three most popular books at Loudmouth Books are all written by Black queer writers, including Ashley C. Ford and Kosoko Jackson. Loudmouth Books serves the community as one of few independent bookstores in the city, and as a special interest store, Loudmouth Books places an emphasis on giving people access to books and unique stories by authors whose work otherwise might not be seen while promoting literacy, Johnson said.

To read more of The Recorder’s arts and culture coverage from 2023, visit indianapolisrecorder.com/category/local-news/arts-culture/.

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