I have lived in Indiana my whole life and always felt fairly apathetic or even displeasure towards my home state. Growing up, high school, and through undergrad I never saw any real liveliness to Indiana. We have corn, soybeans, and narrow-mindedness. Unfortunately for me, I think this feeling of Indiana’s ineptitude to do anything great has hidden art and artistic initiatives from me that I discovered while attending the Indiana Homecoming Conference.
The Indiana Arts Commission Homecoming Conference was held in Fort Wayne, Indiana this year. This is the first year the event wasn’t held in Indianapolis and it plays into the theme of “Vibrant Communities” by encouraging collaboration throughout the state, but focuses on collaboration of the public, private, and non-profit sectors within their communities to increase livability by way of arts and culture. The breakout sessions were sorted into five categories: Vibrant, Places, Community, Solution, and Launch; and covered various topics focused on creative place-making, arts as a social justice tool, innovation in art forms and access, and of course, using creative thinking to benefit communities.
Of the 30 breakout sessions, I was able to attend six. All six of these sessions opened my eyes to the wonderful things Indiana is doing through use of art and culture throughout the state and really brought home the idea that on the arts front, Indiana is on its way to “getting it”. The sessions I attended focused on making art accessible for everyone and using arts to find solutions. The Solutions sessions were what excited me most because I could see that panelists and speakers all had the same mindset: Art is a tool and if handled well, can make a huge difference in our communities. The following are some take-aways from the Solutions sessions I attended.
Social Justice & Racial Equity are Arts Issues Too
This was probably the most influential session I attended as it was the first time I’ve heard the term “place-keeping” being used rather than “place-making”. It puts a large emphasis on the culture, history, and people of a place as to protect it, and it lets the people who live there be the co-creators and decision makers in what happens to their place. In a field where the term “gentrification” has been replaced by “revitalization”, but the results look very similar, it is extremely important to always be conscious of the people who already inhabit a community and make sure they are part of the process of change. Dialogues and collaboration among not just the arts organizations in a community, but the community itself is paramount.
Healing, Rehabilitation, and the Arts: A Town Hall on Addiction
Indiana is currently in the midst of a huge opioid use crisis, but it expands further than just opioid use and overdose. In looking for solutions to prevention, enforcement, and treatment the arts may offer a unique ability to help. In this session we were able to brainstorm ideas where the arts could be helpful in prevention and treatment of drug use and addiction. Creating safe spaces where users are able to express themselves through art without the stigma of “drug user”, creating awareness of the issues surrounding drug use, and using art centers for people struggling with addiction or in the recovery process can go to build both social and cultural capital were three big ideas brought forth during the discussion.
Veterans Art Programs Across the Country
This final Solutions session I attended focused on Veteran care and rehabilitation through use of the arts. An NEA and other federal institutions have funded “Creative Forces” that allows for active and veteran military to participate in community art classes and integrate clinic art therapy with their other treatments. This program is unique in that the NEA is able to track each individual involved in Creative Forces, so not only is it helping veterans and active military personnel, but it is also providing research and statistics that art therapy does work. This is beneficial as it opens up many more doors for funding of clinical therapy programs outside of the federal government and military.
These three sessions were only half of all the Solution sessions I could have attended. The others touched on arts and incarceration and other areas in which art therapy is being integrated. I did not have a chance to attend these, but I think having “solutions” as a session category speaks volumes about how art can be used as a tool in creating solutions to social problems in our communities. It is especially encouraging that all of these conversations and ideas are happening right in Indiana, a place I previously thought wasn’t capable of having such ideas.