How The Arts Can Fuel Positive Change

This isn’t about forgetting these things, but moving past them so we can continue to build a city that isn’t defined by them

In Indy, artists show you don't have to bulldoze the old to make room for the new.

Organized by the Harrison Center for The Arts, this past Saturday’s Pre-Enactment in Indianapolis, IN demonstrated how art can inspire, activate and rebuild a community.

According to organizers, the “Monon 16 corridor is one of the most disinvested areas of our community.” Almost all commercial properties and 30% of residential housing is unoccupied, and Monon 16 is plagued by hardship and inequality. The Harrison Center says it “hired the local theatre community to do what they do best, which is to tell a story and excite our imaginations.”

Atop cracked sidewalks where weeds are pouring through, and in front of tattered and forgotten buildings, the streets were lined with vendors, performances, and the façades of buildings that could be. People came from miles around, bringing their friends and families into the streets to depict an economically flourishing community that is a just and equitable cultural hub.

I bought a hot dog from one of the vendors, spilling with meat sauce. I met an urban farmer, local business owners and artists–each happy to invite me into their worlds. Quincy, a local artist who helped to beautify the Monon 16 streets says, “my goal is to create a dialogue so people can realize that we’re not that different.”

Too often, gentrification treats the land as a clean slate, displacing families and creating tension. He helped me understand how these public, collaborative performances help people to reimagine a neighborhood that is bustling, just and equitable. “Disturbing things–racism, for example–are part of our past,” says Quincy, “this isn’t about forgetting these things, but moving past them so we can continue to build a city that isn’t defined by them.”

Changes to the neighborhood are both temporary and permeant. Next to the façades of buildings that could be are new condo developments. But Monon 16 is committed to preserving economic diversity, and among these developments are smaller, more affordable houses that current and future residents can be proud to call home.

We observed a community who are excited to reimagine Monon 16. More importantly, we see a model of equitable investment in our communities and how the arts can inspire and activate change.

Lana Meyer