The University of Indianapolis’ Education Department sponsored a discussion panel on Feb. 23 with the Eighteen Art Collective, a group of 18 Black visual artists from around the Indianapolis Metropolitan area. Assistant Professor of Secondary Education and one of the course instructors for Education 290: Teaching and Learning in a Diverse Society Sarah Denney said she reached out to the collective in the fall to ask if they would be interested in speaking at the university as part of the course for students to engage in cultural experiences.
Denney said the idea to reach out to the collective came from when she was at the University of South Florida, where she did her doctoral work and worked with contemporary artists to create lessons for social studies classrooms. Exposing the students in her course to the experience of living and working as a Black artist in Indianapolis with the UIndy campus as the setting was part of exploring a different culture and experiencing something different, Denney said.
“Part of the course is asking our students to experience cultural experiences that they would not normally participate in,” Denney said. “Part of that could be going to an art exhibit, a new show, exploring a different culture that’s different from your home culture.”
According to the Eighteen Collective’s website, the group is a collective of 18 like-minded and civically engaged Black visual artists in and around the Indianapolis Metropolitan area. Visual artist and President of the Collective Deonna Craig said the group came together to paint a Black Lives Matter mural on Indiana Avenue in downtown Indianapolis, and from there joined forces to infuse art into the community and facilitate different workshops with children and adults to bring more art and art awareness to the community. The collective painted the mural in August of 2020, where it stayed for 15 months until construction began on the avenue, according to the Indianapolis Star. Craig said the collective’s mission is to present art to the public and get feedback as well as discuss their art to begin conversations surrounding art with like-minded individuals.
“We want to make sure that we’re not only putting pretty pieces up on the walls, but we are putting thoughts out there and getting feedback from people . . . ,” Craig said. “Whenever we get an opportunity to talk, we take it because you never know who you’re gonna meet. You never know what connections you’re going to make and we want everyone to know our message.”
The collective began a young artists program for students in sixth through eighth grade, Craig said. The program consists of nine students who expressed an interest in wanting to explore the arts as a career field and provides opportunities for kids to engage in studio art visits, gallery visits, self-reflection workshops, learning about the community and communicating how to be an entrepreneur, according to Craig.
“All the things about being a full-time artist is what we’re wanting to teach them so that they get an idea of what a typical career looks like; so that they know if they want to actually do that. We didn’t have that opportunity when we were children,” Craig said. “So we’re putting 18 mentors in front of them so that they can make an educated decision.”