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Indianapolis Arts Council looks to enhance equity

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Since opening Cargo Streetwear Boutique in 2015, Cahmelan Porter has noticed a shift in the arts community in Indianapolis. 

“I think it’s more celebrated,” Porter, 31, said. “Before, if you said you were an artist, people were just like, ‘Oh, you don’t make any money and you draw.’”

However, Porter said a lack of equity and diversity for artists of color in the city is still very apparent. 

“There’s a lot of inequity in how they allocate and disperse things,” the fashion designer said. “If you know, you know, and if you don’t, it’s really hard to navigate the programs and resources available to you.”

That’s where the Arts Council of Indianapolis hopes to step in. Applications are now open for the Equity Ambassador’s Program, a $20,000 grant for Central Indiana artists. The number of grant recipients will be determined after applications are received.

Rishard Allen, director of grants and services for the Arts Council, is overseeing the program. He said it’s a way for the council to not only assess the need for equity in Indianapolis, but to plan a way to address it. 

“While the arts council has always existed to serve the entire community, our 2016 equity statement was to address racial equity more formally with strategic goals and objectives,” Allen said. “We want to center all we do around equity, including staffing, board membership, and it’s really important for us to make sure that the work of equity was imbedded in everything we do and not looked at as a side project.”

Throughout 2021, selected ambassadors will do an “audit” of the arts council to determine blind spots when it comes to equity in its programming, galleries and resources for artists in the Indianapolis community. 

“We want to work with artists directly instead of hiring consultants,” Allen said. “The concept was born out of that need. … We thought this would be a great program to pursue with that rather than creating more programming. We thought it would be more important to ask [artists] ‘What do you need? What elements of current programming might be hindering your ability to participate?’”

Both Allen and Porter agree: When equity and diversity are prioritized, the entire community benefits. 

“More diversity in art just means it reflects the local community, not just one facet of it,” Porter said. “Art is an expression. If you’re silencing others, you’re silencing a huge part of that community.”

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

Apply now! 

Applications for the Equity Ambassador’s Program will be accepted until Oct. 2. Apply at indyarts.org/grants.

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