Artistic Inclusivity

At left, a Black man wearing blue jeans and an orange flannel shirt smiles while sitting in a green velvet chair. At right, a Black woman wearing blue jeans and a gray overcoat smiles while sitting in a green velvet chair.
“We’re trying to make Indianapolis the most inclusive city in America,” say Alan Bacon (left) and Mali Simone Jeffers (right). (Photo: Jay Goldz)

In the summer of 2020, three months into the COVID-19 pandemic and at the peak of the Black Lives Matter protests, the United States seemed more divided than ever before. Questions about how to heal and move forward as a country abounded. During these tenuous summer months, Alan Bacon, BA’03, and his wife, Mali Simone Jeffers, created a plan to make an immediate difference in Indianapolis using their shared backgrounds in the arts and music.

Shortly after, the pair launched GANGGANG, a cultural development firm focused on producing, promoting, and preserving equity and culture.

“GANGGANG is our vision of how we come out of 2020,” Bacon said. “If that year was about everything that separates people, [then] creativity and culture bring people together.”

That ethos also served as inspiration for the firm’s name. “The name is a nod to Black and hip hop culture, but it’s also a reference to an earlier definition of gang, which meant ‘a journey together,’” Bacon explained to WISH-TV. “Reclaiming the word aligns with our narrative of how we’re reclaiming Black culture.”

By positioning artists and culturalists to better contribute to and benefit from the creative economy, GANGGANG hopes to make Indianapolis more beautiful—and more equitable. “There’s a way to pay back Black culture for its contributions to American society,” Bacon said. “It’s equity work within itself.”

GANGGANG’s rise in Indianapolis has been meteoric. Its first project was coordinating the painting of the Black Lives Matter mural on Indiana Avenue in August 2020, employing 18 Black painters in the process. By March 2021, the GANGGANG team was serving as creative directors for SWISH, which comprised 250 musical performances throughout Indianapolis over six weeks during March Madness.

A mural painted on a building exterior features the words "Keepers of Culture" at top; portraits of Black figures feature at bottom.
Indianapolis’ first 3D mural, “Keepers of Culture” by Ashely Nora, was commissioned by GANGGANG for its fine art fair and features the city’s prominent arts and cultural figures. (Photo: Ben Meraz)

Bacon credits his experience as a student at Indiana University, where he double majored in African American and African Diaspora Studies and Criminal Justice and was a member of the IU Soul Revue, for equipping him to do his important work. “IU Soul Revue was an awesome experience,” Bacon said. “Being immersed in African American culture from a music and performing arts perspective has helped manifest what GANGGANG is doing now.”

As GANGGANG has expanded from Bacon and Jeffers into a six-person team, so too has the organization’s vision. In September 2021, the team organized BUTTER, a four-day art fair that attracted 3,400 patrons and netted over $240,000 for local Black artists. In March 2022, in partnership with the City of Indianapolis, the Indy Arts Council, and Live Nation, GANGGANG launched the Next Up Fellowship, investing $100,000 in career development opportunities for nine Marion County-based performing artists, culminating in a showcase at The Vogue Theatre.

GANGGANG has no plans of slowing down any time soon. “We have some pretty dope creatives here in Indy,” Bacon said. “The city is alive and we’re going to work our butts off to build a better ecosystem to absorb more talent, events, programs, and productions.”

This article was originally published in the 2022 issue of Imagine magazine.

Written By
Ryan Millbern