The Art & Soul Festival is kicking off Black History Month with its 28th annual festival this month. The festival, presented by Indy Arts Council, hosts events which celebrate Black visual art, music, dance and literature, according to the Indy Arts website. This year, the events will take place at various locations on Feb. 2, Feb. 7 and Feb. 23 with featured artists doing live performances.
According to Event Producer Valerie Phelps Art & Soul has provided a platform for up-and-coming artists to become known in Indianapolis since 1996. She said the importance of Art & Soul stems from its history of helping artists. Every year, artists are invited to apply to be featured at the festival, according to Phelps.
“It is so worth it if you make it, because all year they help promote you and do all these different things for you and to make you known in the city,” Phelps said. “And it’s just a great way for an artist, especially a new artist, to be known in the city for what you do. It’s a really amazing recognition, and had I been able to do something like that when I was just starting off, that would have been phenomenal.”
Boxx the Artist is one of the four featured artists chosen to perform at the festival this year. Boxx is a full-time visual artist based in Indianapolis and originally from Gary, Indiana. She said she has been practicing art for six years now and works with different mediums such as public art installations, murals, photography and film.
“I practice expressionist portraiture,” Boxx said. “So I just create versions of portraits through my own lens.”
Boxx went to Purdue University where she studied mass communication, African-American studies and political science, she said. She worked in project management and marketing after she graduated, but after experiencing two layoffs in three years, she decided to pursue art. She said the Indianapolis community has inspired her artistically.
“I like to draw faces, so that’s gonna always connect and draw me to people because that’s just the lane that I enjoy,” Boxx said. “… Indianapolis opened up a pathway for me really to connect with people and to really get out there so, I was hitting up open mics and doing local vending shows and the block fairs, the block parties, the fairs and festivals—everything on a grassroot level to connect with community and connect with people. So that really became an inspiration to my practice because they definitely received my work and became very encouraging. Just the opportunity to meet so many different new people, it adds to the catalog of the art that I can create.”
The theme of this year’s festival is “We Are One, The Naptown Experience,” according to Phelps. According to Indianapolis Monthly, African-American Indianapolis residents began using the nickname “Naptown” to refer to the city in the 1920s during the “Jazz Age.” Phelps said that she is honored to be able to bring that history to younger generations who do not know about Naptown.
“It doesn’t mean that we’re sleepy,” Phelps said, “Basically, what that means is that we’re really cool. We are really cool and to this day artists all around the world refer to us as Naptown.”
Boxx said the theme is about honoring the past. To her, it is a timeline traveling through the rich history of Indianapolis. The festival shows that the arts and culture in Indianapolis should not be overlooked, according to Boxx.
“[The theme] is really homage to the past, and really connecting to the arts and culture when it comes to Indianapolis and the history that has been established from just the overwhelming amount of talent,” Boxx said. “So with looking and honoring the past we kind of go down this timeline and get to learn and experience more about the present.”
Being part of Arts & Soul is meaningful because it means getting to contribute to its ongoing history, according to Boxx. The festival has provided an amazing platform for the Black art scene, including performing artists, musicians, singers, rappers, dancers and poets, she said.
“Being able to contribute to that history and to be a part of the legacy that’s being built with Art & Soul, it’s definitely in honor and I’m grateful to be able to contribute to that,” Boxx said.More information about Art & Soul can be found at IndyArts.org.