Art and Soul 2012: Celebrate African-American Art & Artists

Every February the Indianapolis Artsgarden is transformed into a massive celebration of African American artists in Indianapolis contributing to the fabric of Indianapolis culture. Presenting an eclectic mix of music, poetry, storytelling, dance and visual art, Art and Soul is a signature program of the Arts Council of Indianapolis. The best part: all of the Indianapolis events at the Artsgarden are 100% free. But the Artsgarden isn’t the only place to find amazing artists at work this February. Check out other Art and Soul events at cultural organizations across Indianapolis. Here is a preview of what to expect at your Art and Soul experience at Circle Centre Mall’s Artsgarden.

Art and Soul Events at the Artsgarden


Arts-Garden-downtown-IndianapolisKool’s Bazaar – Kool’s Bazaar brings fusion music to the stage influenced by jazz, blues, neo-soul, hip hop, trip hop, electronica and acid jazz. This Indianapolis band “expresses and encompasses the theoretical, emotional and aesthetic qualities of music, while staying true to its form.” Composed of five multi-instrumentalists, one vocalist and one lyricist, this Midwestern music group hopes to transform the Indianapolis music scene into one that embodies the true essence of live music and musical freedom.

Gregg Bacon – This Indianapolis native is a jazz legend in his own right. He’s been making bacon with his sizzlin’ saxophone for more than three decades. With a few tricks up his sleeve, including the ability to play three saxes at once, Bacon has played for notable Indianapolis people including the Mayor and Governor Mitch Daniels. But more impressive than that, he’s played along side greats like B.B. King, Joe Tex and Z.Z. Hill.

Arts-Garden-Glass-Dome-IndianapolisBrenda Williams – A sassy local singer, Williams offers a dynamic and vivacious performance. Singing favorites from American popular music, Williams encourages audiences to embrace life in every moment. This impressive local talent has a voice as smooth as a baby’s bottom. Her bluesy rhythms and enchanting personality will lift you and your lover to a different plane, where only the two of you exist in a world filled with her colorful chords. She’s performed at the Indiana Repertory Theater, Beef and Boards Dinner Theater and the Cabaret at the Columbia Club.

Bashiri Asad – This musician is working hard to define his sound as “Indy-Soul.” From classical vocal training to shoo-wop style singing groups, Asad’s style knows many different influences. Some of his heroes include Sam Cooke, Stevie Wonder and Otis Redding. He and his dynamic band, Xenobia Green, are stepping into the ranks of other indie-soul artists hoping to breath new life into the Indianapolis music scene.

John Harden Project – JHP garners influence from a variety of places: from Miles Davis to Heat Wave; Carloe Santana to Sonny Stitt; Erykay Badu to Ella Fitzgerald and others. This group has performed at Indy Parks’ Jazz in the Park series, Madame Walker Theater, the Governor’s Mansion, the Indiana History Center, the Indianapolis 500 Mini Marathon and other prestigious events around the city.

Governor Davis and The Blues Ambassadors – This five-piece blues band has been bringing rock, soul and funk to the stage for more than 20 years. Voted “Indy’s #1 Blues Band” in 2008 and 2003 by NUVO Newsweekly’s Readers Poll, these enigmatic performers have found a solid fan base in Indianapolis and across the Midwest. Don’t miss their high energy performance at the Artsgarden.

Theater and Spoken Word

Arts-Garden-Street-Scene-IndianapolisAsante Children’s Theater – This Indianapolis theater aims to give Indianapolis kids a chance to shine. Asante Children’s Theater has been programming entertaining performances starring kid actors. See them perform “MLK in a Hip Hop World” at the Artsgarden. Examining the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., this play puts his life and legacy to the rhythm and pulse of the streets. Rediscover Dr. King’s non-violent message with the help of Asante Children’s Theater.

Tasha Jones – As the youngest Indiana Poet Laureate nominee, Tasha Jones use her “way with words” to work as an activist, poet, author, educator, lecturer, musician and motivational speaker. This virtuosic performer has the acute ability to interlace complex threads with conventional wisdom. Hear her moving performance live at the Artsgarden.

Freetown Village – With the mission to educate the public about African American lives and culture in Indiana, the players of Freetown Village offer living history performances, preserve artifacts and present exhibits. See their live performance at the Artsgarden for free.

Spoken Word Day – For fans of Spoken Word, February 26 is your day at the Art and Soul celebration. Hear poets Rehema McNeil, Arron Pipkins and Pernell Jones perform uplifting, engaging and challenging spoken word poetry in a Slam like no other.

Featured Artists Showcase

Indianapolis-Arts-Garden-Circle-Center-Balcony-ViewLee’a Ro – This a’cappella, neo-soul, R&B star brings a whole new flavor to the stage. See this Hoosier homeboy perform live at the Artsgarden in the Featured Artists Showcase.

Tony Styx – Usually found performing with his group “Bringing Down the Band,” Tony Styx strikes off on his own for a rare solo performance at the Artgarden. Bringing hip hop, neo-soul to a new level with his experimental style, you’re not going to want to miss this Indianapolis all-star.

Cynthia Layne – This contemporary R&B, funk, pop and soul singer offers a quintessential fusion style. Of her debut album, “Beautiful Soul,” reviewers had this to say, “Her vocal musing will touch listeners and the instrumentation is so cool that it will unwind listeners into a state of complete tranquility.” And “One the whole, Layne’s voice will transport listeners to a world they can relate to that speaks of both heartbreak and elation.”

Visual Art

Michael Jordan: “I Am” Series – As an Indianapolis native, who shares a name with one of the most iconic basketball players of all time, Jordan offers viewers images that stimulate the mind and influence action. A graduate of the Herron School of Art and Design at IUPUI, Jordan has a unique approach to realism, which he brings to life through a variety of mediums including painting and sculpture. See his Indianapolis art exhibit for Art and Soul 2012 at the Indianapolis Artsgarden.

Citywide Black History Month Events

The Test: An Exhibition About the U.S. Military’s First Black Aviators – Just in time for the release of George Lucas’ Redtails, which chronicles the experience of the Tuskegee Airmen’s courageous efforts during World War II, the Indiana War Memorial offers an inside look at this historic event. Screen the documentary film “The Test,” which takes real footage from the Tuskegee Airmen during their heyday and splices it with interviews from the surviving members. Before you see Hollywood’s version of this amazing feat, hear it from the men themselves.

Take the Indiana Black History Challenge – The Indiana Historical Society aims to put your brainpower to the test. Investigate black Hoosiers in the Civil War using their prepared Study Guide. Then print a copy of the 2012 game card, answer the questions and return it to the Eugene and Marilyn Glick Indiana History Center. The first 5,000 entrants will receive two tickets to the Indiana Experience and a Donatos pizza coupon. Get all ten questions right and be entered to win the Family Fun Pack Grand Prize, which consists of a stay at the Indianapolis Marriott Downtown, four tickets to the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, a $25 gift card to the Indianapolis Colts Grille and a family membership to the Indiana Historical Society. Take the challenge and be a winner!

Represent: Celebrating Indiana’s African-American Artists – The Indiana State Museum’s latest exhibit celebrates African American history and heritage as expressed through the work of Hoosier artists featured in “REPRESENT: Celebrating Indiana’s African-American Artists.” Enjoy inspiration performances from gospel choirs, move to the rhythm of high-energy dancing and learn about different cultural organizations. Plus, create your own adinkra cloth as you celebrate Black History Month with a day of family fun.

Follow the Drinking Gourd – Many spirituals sung by slaves during pre-Civil War times were actually coded messages. The famous song “Follow the Drinking Gourd” is an example of a clever hidden message easily passed along. By singing the song, they shared important information about how and when to escape to the north. Each line of the song holds a different hidden meaning. Discover the secret now at the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis.

Levi Coffin and Madame CJ Walker Performances – Meet the iconic figures from Indiana history as you celebrate their achievements at the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis’ Lilly Theater. Levi Coffin was the “president” of the Underground Railroad, helping people find freedom from the bonds of slavery. Madame C.J. Walker was the first black female millionaire and an astute business woman who changed the face of the cosmetics industry.

Black History Month at Conner PrairieConner Prairie Interactive History Park invites you to join the celebration of Black History Month. Test your knowledge of famous African American business leaders, politicians, civil rights leaders and others. Discover your inner artists at the Craft Corner as you pay tribute to African-Americans. And join in a rousing game of Bingo, based on historic events for African Americans.

American Spiritual Ensemble – This group claims some of the finest classically trained singers in the United States: ten hold doctoral degrees in music, three are on the roster for the Metropolitan Opera and one is a Tony Award Winner. These prized singers are on a mission to keep the American Negro Spiritual alive with their American Spiritual Ensemble. With a dynamic repertoire that ranges from spirituals to classical to jazz and even Broadway, this group sings American favorites. Selections include “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” “Go Down, Moses” and “The Battle of Jericho.” Hear them at Warren Central High School.

Leymah Gbowee: 2011 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate – This Liberian peace activist was recognized by the Nobel Prize committee last year for her commitment to a women’s peace movement that brought an end to the Second Liberian Civil War. The Nobel Prize committee described her  recognition as being “for her non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work.” Hear her speak at the Madame Walker Theater.

Taking the Mystery out of Living History – Join Henry B. Crawford, curator of history at the Museum of Texas Tech University. In his lecture “Taking the Mystery Out of Living History,” Crawford shares his experience choosing African American characters to represent in his areas of expertise including: American fur trade, freighters, buffalo hunters, Texas in the 1830s and 1840s, the Civil War and the postwar frontier. At the Eiteljorg Museum.

Freedom Train – The remarkable story of Harriet Tubman lives on in this theatrical presentation. Though she was born a slave destined to live in a dire situation, she took control of her fate and the fate of those around leading more than 300 runaways to safety. Her incredible story as a conductor of the Underground Railroad has inspired generations of children to greatness. Hear an account of her self-sacrifice, dedication and endurance at Clowes Memorial Hall.

Celebrate Black History Month all February long at these amazing Indianapolis events. Afterward, continue the discussion over dinner and drinks at any of these Indianapolis restaurants or Indianapolis bars. Stay tuned to Fun City Finder for all the latest on fun things to do in Indianapolis. We cover Indianapolis shopping to Indianapolis sports and more! Get out in Indy and find some fun!