Tony Radford remembers the first Meet the Artists event like it was yesterday. After working with the African American History Committee at Indianapolis Public Library (IndyPL) to put his vision into action, Radford organized the first gallery in 1988. Nearly 150 people walked through IndyPL’s Central branch on opening day to see artwork by local Black artists — including Radford’s — as well as a fashion show featuring just enough people to fill the small stairwell in what is now the Simon Reading Room.
Now in its 34th year, Radford said Meet the Artists is a “Mecca for Black artists to share their work and talent” with the community. Every year, over 1,000 people filter through Central Library on opening day of Meet the Artists to see artwork in various mediums, meet local authors and take in a fashion show and other live performances. The opening ceremony has been postponed due to a rising number of COVID-19 cases in the state, but patrons can see the art in the Central branch now through April 2. Masks are required in the building.
This year, the gallery features work from members of Eighteen, a local collective of Black artists who created the #BlackLivesMatter mural on Indiana Avenue in 2020. One artist, Gary Gee, has several pieces displayed in the Simon Reading Room, including “Umoja,” which translates to “unity.” The painting, which portrays four people in front of a Pan-African flag, was also displayed in the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis on the first night of Kwanzaa. Meet the Artists, he said, is one of the biggest events of the year for Black artists — as well as aspiring artists — in Indianapolis.
“It gives the public a chance to see that art is accessible,” Gee said. “It’s a lot of good people coming together with positive energy.”
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The Meet the Artists gallery will be available to view through April 2 at IndyPL’s Central Library branch, 40 E St Clair St.
Other artists involved in the event include Rebecca Robinson, Kyng Rhodes, Kevin West and Ess McKee. Authors Eunice Trotter, Ariel Jorman, Antwan L. Houser, Qiana Ticker, K.R.S. McEntire, and Dr. Theron Williams will have booths at the to be determined in-person event.
“The talented creatives that make up the Eighteen are civically engaged and passionate about uplifting the community through art.”
Patrons can also see the art online at indypl.org. Despite COVID-19 throwing a curveball in the plans for an opening reception, IndyPL interim CEO John Helling said this year’s Meet the Artists showcases the resiliency of the arts community.
“The library and Meet the Artists hope to provide a place where artists can celebrate both their craft and culture,” Helling said. “For 34 years, we’ve found opportunities to celebrate the artists despite bad weather, building construction and a pandemic. We are excited to have the gallery available again in 2022.”
Contact staff writer Breanna Cooper at 317-762-7848. Follow her on Twitter @BreannaNCooper.