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'Arts allow you to have that mental escape' | Art & Soul celebrates Black health, wellness

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Posted at 2:30 PM, Jun 03, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-03 19:19:53-04

INDIANAPOLIS — Art & Soul returns with a testament to Black health and wellness throughout June.

In its 26th year, the Indy Arts Council set an equitable example when it changed the where and when of Art & Soul, which is traditionally set downtown at the Indianapolis Artsgarden in February.

For the first time, the month-long celebration of Black and African American art and music will not occur during the winter, nor will it be secluded downtown.

"It was siloed to one space, around a specific time throughout the day. It wasn't conducive to everyone's schedule, and everybody couldn't really get downtown," Roland Smith, the president and CEO of Iibada Dance Company, said.

Art & Soul is more of an equally accessible festival in 2022, with weekend performances scheduled at various venues across the city.

Smith, who's been part of Art & Soul with Iibada since the early 2000s, is glad the annual celebration will be meeting the community where they're at.

"That access factor to me is very important. So having it on the far east side, having it centrally, having it in various locations around the city really makes a difference for everyone to be a part of it," Smith told WRTV.

"The fact that it's mobile now does give opportunity for various communities to interact with the actual program," Smith continued. "That to me speaks volumes as to how people are exposed to what we've been doing for years."

Shayla Williams says to look at her paintings is to see her own mental health journey.

"At the beginning, when I started doing portraits, you can definitely (see) a shift with my mental health and how it's changed over the years," Williams explained of her work, which kicks off Art & Soul on Saturday.

"They looked sad, and I think at the time, I was a little sad. Sometimes you don't recognize that till later," Williams continued. "And then as I started to grow as a person, and as a woman, and the portraits got a lot — I mean, the colors changed, the faces changed, the expressions changed."

A Wichita, Kansas native, Williams says it's an honor to be part of a traditional event as someone who moved to Indianapolis a few years ago. The painter shares that she moved to Indy because she loved the city's culture.

"I just always loved it. I was — oh my gosh — I remember coming down here as a teen, I think it was the Circle City Classic... I remember being like, 'Oh, my gosh!'" Williams said. "So, I was just like, you know what, I'm just gonna move to Indy."

Williams hopes that in viewing her exhibit, art-goers see the growth. Not just in her portraits but as a reflection of themselves.

"Maybe they can see themselves in one of the pieces. Even if they hate it, love it, like it, whatever, you know, just as long as it's something that touches them. I always love that. I love for that conversation to be had," Shayla said.

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Shayla Williams poses in front of her artwork.

Health — whether physical, spiritual, or mental — is an aspect of life that has been a point of disparity within minority communities, particularly the Black community.

Smith says that creating equal access to arts allows for more opportunities for minority communities to focus on the areas they struggle with, even when it comes to all aspects of health.

"Art is a good mechanism for obtaining a quality of life. Expression is key. Knowing how you can obtain or utilize that expression to have a better quality of life — whether it be mental health, physical health, or just being your best self — arts allow you to have that mental escape," Smith said.

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Roland Smith is the president and CEO of Iibada Dance Company.

Art & Soul lineup of events

Black Art Day
Saturday, June 4: 12-2 p.m.
Indianapolis Artsgarden, 110 W. Washington St.

The first event will include an art exhibit by Shayla Williams, a libations ceremony, a Black health and wellness panel discussion, a special tribute to the late Herman Whitfield III, and the Black National Anthem sung by Brandi "Books" Caruthers. Learn more about the event at indyarts.org.

Black Dance Day
Saturday, June 11: 12-2 p.m.
Madam Walker Legacy Center, 617 Indiana Ave.

Performances by Iibada Dance Company, Meraki Dance Company, and Epiphany Dance Collective are on the docket for Black Dance Day. A spotlight performance by Meraki's choreographer and artistic director, Karome Walker is scheduled as well. Learn more about the event at indyarts.org.

Black Theater/Poetry Day
Sunday, June 19: 12-5 p.m.
Warren Performing Arts Center, 9500 E. 16th St.

As part of the Juneteenth Eastside Celebration, there will be performances by Chantel Massey, Congo Square, Lasana Kazembe, Manon Voice, AshLee Baskin, Deborah Asante, Fay Williams. A special tribute will be done in honor of Indy's own Major Taylor. A call-to-action ceremony titled In Search of Hope and Restoration by Witherspoon Presbyterian Church will close out the event. There are more details at indyarts.org.

Black Music Day
Friday, June 24: 5:30 - 7:30 p.m.
Live at the Orange Bridge, 701 Canal Walk

Performances by Marrialle Sellars, Bashiri Asad, Yvonne Allu, and the Art & Soul Band, featuring Brenda Williams, Brandon Meeks, Richard "Sleepy" Floyd, Steven Jones, and Rob Dixon, are scheduled for the Orange Bride along the Downtown Canal Walk. Get more details at indyarts.org.

WRTV Digital Reporter Shakkira Harris can be reached at shakkira.harris@wrtv.com. You can follow her on Twitter, @shakkirasays.