Fashion

Cultural Startup Focused On Black Artists Wants To Push Barriers ‘Until There Are None’

Ganggang isn’t bogged down in superficial discussions about diversity, equity and inclusion. Instead, the cultural development firm promotes racial justice by investing in Black artists.

Founded by Indianapolis power couple Malina “Mali” Jeffers and Alan Bacon, Ganggang organized public performances by more than 500 musicians, dancers and spoken-word artists during the 2021 NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

Billed as the Swish arts and culture festival, the March Madness shows were free to attend and artists were paid thanks to a grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. People of color were represented in the personnel of 50% of the performers.

Jeffers says Ganggang views reparations as part of the nonprofit’s mission, specifically to pay back the culture that shaped the United States of America. Saying Black culture is the most influential and most copied, Jeffers is supported by Google search data collected from 2004 through July 2019: Black history makers were responsible for the most-searched speech (Martin Luther King Jr.), the most-searched guitar solo (Prince) and the most-searched “Star-Spangled Banner” (Whitney Houston).

“That’s what we brought to our country, but we don’t own the assets within the industry,” Jeffers says. “And the industry isn’t even respected in that way. It’s still seen as fluff and decorative. That’s how we talk about arts and culture, like it’s extra. We thought, if  we can bring light to that fact and pay back, literally, the culture that has shaped America, then we get to have a more vibrant America and a more equitable one.”

Equity, the practice of providing fair access and opportunities, guided Ganggang’s presentation of the first Butter fine art fair on Labor Day weekend. 

Designed to advance equitable models of selling art, Butter required no entry fees for artists and Ganggang collected no commissions on sales. Butter showcased the works of more than 30 Black visual artists, including Black Art in America founder Najee Dorsey and Chicago-based Kerry James Marshall – selected as one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in 2017.

“In the new world, I’d like to see more stand-alone fine art experiences in the Midwest that center on Black artists and offer a national platform,” Jeffers said when announcing the art fair. “We’re pushing the barriers until there are none, and together we will elevate the narrative on fine art in Indianapolis and beyond.”

Installed at the Stutz building, once headquarters for the 20th-century luxury car company, Butter complemented its artwork with live music, DJs and a colorful backdrop of graffiti and murals. Bacon says Miami’s Art Basel influenced the look and ambience of Butter.

“Butter was an elevated art experience,” Bacon says. “Some of these artists were selling their work out of cars or out of their homes or at different art fairs where their art is on the floor or the grass.”

Butter became the signature event of Ganggang’s first year of operations. Jeffers and Bacon unveiled their cultural startup in November 2020, making major life changes in a year defined by the pandemic as well as protests calling for an end to police brutality toward Black Americans following the murder of George Floyd.

Three months before Ganggang debuted, Jeffers and Bacon helped to coordinate 18 artists who painted a Black Lives Matter street mural on historic Indiana Avenue with Indy Chamber executive Stacia Murphy and the activists of Indy10 Black Lives Matter.

Jeffers, whose resume includes roles at the Arts Council of Indianapolis and the Madam Walker Legacy Center, and Bacon, formerly of the United Way of Central Indiana, fielded multiple requests from companies seeking assistance with diversity, equity and inclusion plans.

“Ganggang is almost a response to hearing, ‘Can you put some bullet points on paper and tell us what to do?’” Jeffers says.

“We said, ‘We’re just going to do the work,’” Bacon says. “We know what the data says. We’ve been talking in the diversity space for more than 20 years in our individual careers. Ganggang is a way forward that can really produce a lot of impact.”

Looking ahead to 2022, Jeffers says Ganggang is seeking projects that partner with high-profile companies. Meanwhile, future editions of Butter may not be confined to Indianapolis. “Already we’re being asked about having Butter in other cities,” she says.

Bacon, who played guitar in Indianapolis-based band Chamber Music, says Ganggang will follow its contributions to the Swish arts and culture festival with an artist development project titled “Season Two.”

An advisory panel will select 20 performing artists who will receive marketing support and additional aid from Ganggang. “Whatever it takes to elevate their craft,” Bacon says.




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