Alan Bacon: Intersection of arts, sports will drive All-Star Weekend

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Indianapolis has long been recognized as a basketball city, but now it’s proving it knows how to take that sentiment to another level. And it’s not just to another level of basketball aficionado but to a place that feels rooted and almost immovable—as if our most recent learnings confirmed something we already knew.

In early 2021, Indy realized that culture was a missing link to how it hosts experiences. After the double pandemic—COVID and racial inequities—we turned to the arts as a backdrop to host NCAA’s March Madness tourney. The city used arts and culture programming to ignite an economic recovery and provide a foundation for our hospitality. The collaborations between arts, sports, philanthropy and government were a strength that became critical to exercise in that moment.

GangGang curated more than 260 live performances for residents and visitors enjoying ‘the madness’ across four weekends. It was an early test of the belief that the relationship between sports and culture should be embraced, celebrated and funded. It is a special intersection that our city has in this moment to propel our love for sport to unimaginable heights.

More than 125,000 visitors are expected to descend upon Indianapolis for NBA All-Star Weekend. Here’s what they should know:

You are arriving in a city of legendary hoopers and a city of legendary artists. A city of dreamers and doers. A city that’s waking up to its history and realizing its destiny. A city with a renewed sense of confidence, where GangGang, a creative advocacy agency at the center of the action, can boldly proclaim Indianapolis is home to beauty, equity, and culture.

Globally, Indiana is making headlines for being vanguards of a renaissance that is spearheaded by Black culture. Locally, our artists are wondering why the recognition is so delayed, as they’ve had a continuous presence in the community and beyond. Indianapolis fosters an environment where renowned artistic talent and visionaries thrive.

The All-Star Arts and Culture Committee is converting the former Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery space into The Suite, featuring local food and entertainment. (IBJ photo/Lesley Weidenbener)

Our creative sector is standing on the pedigree of Indiana legends like Michael Jackson, Wes Montgomery, Mari Evans, Etheridge Knight, Freddie Hubbard, the Jackson 5, Janet Jackson, Babyface, Vivica Fox, Mike Epps, Coach K, Freddie Gibbs, Tiara Thomas and DJ Champ—our heroes, our guideposts, our griots, our messengers.

Globally, the Indiana Pacers are making headlines for being vanguards in defining the pace and style of play for this era of the NBA. Locally, our community knows that “We Grow Basketball” and we breed champions. Our basketball history is standing on legends John Wooden, Oscar Robertson, Larry Bird, Isiah Thomas, Reggie Miller, George McGinnis, Quinn Buckner, Shawn Kemp, Mike Woodson, Glenn Robinson, Alan Henderson—our heroes, our point guards, our post players, our pride.

GangGang is approaching NBA All-Star Weekend with a bravado that matches the swagger of our history in basketball and the arts. We do not underestimate the enormous opportunity to impact an unprecedented number of artists and to continue to raise the profile of Indianapolis.

The NBA Host committee, led by the Arts and Culture Committee, will launch us into the weekend with the first-ever opening ceremony for an NBA All-Star. Named “The Tip Off,” the idea is to offer the NBA a music-based marquee event for All-Star Weekend that incorporates the flavor of its host city.

This effort can spotlight the breadth of our incredible local arts ecosystem and share that platform with athletic legends—literally bringing sports and culture together on a global stage in the core of our city. It’s an opportunity to touch on authorship, a big mission point toward equity. We know that the arts, brought to the forefront by Black culture, are what draw us to the magic of the NBA brand.

At Tip-Off, much like at other GangGang programming, that idea will be on full display. We’re proud to have production expertise for Tip-Off from Deborah Asante, who is also organizing “A Touch of Glory,” a play being staged at Crispus Attucks High School.

From Friday through Sunday of All-Star Weekend, we’ll transform the block of Washington Street between Meridian and Illinois streets into the Cultural Corridor. Throughout the corridor, attendees will find Indy’s cultural brand landscape by way of retail, live performance, coffee, comedy and a (mighty) micro version of America’s equitable fine art fair: Butter.

The Corridor will consist of three repurposed locations on Washington Street: the former Pearings cafe, the former Rock Bottom restaurant site and the Indianapolis Artsgarden. All sites will be connected by free walking history tours led by Sampson Levingston.

Pearings will become home to Plaid and Pearls, a coffee concept by local entrepreneur Keri Hughes. The former Rock Bottom restaurant will become The Suite, where visitors can enjoy a Chreece-programmed Basement (shout-out Nap City), comedy curated by MadeMan Improv, a food hall by the International Marketplace, retail by Cargo Streetwear, visual arts and other performing art. The cherry on top is a two-level bar we are creating in the Corridor called Henderson’s for Indiana’s own Alan Henderson and the liquor brands he curates by other current or former NBA players.

While it is sports that will bring us together during All-Star Weekend, it is the arts that will keep us connected. It’s time, Indianapolis.•

__________

Bacon is co-founder of GangGang.

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