GANGGANG is promoting culture and equity in Indianapolis.

During the month of March Madness, Indy came alive with music, art, and our region’s culture. The SWISH Arts & Cultural Festival proved that Indy is far more than just a sports city, even during a once-in-a-lifetime sporting event. Dancers took over the sidewalks. Art and poetry installations lined the streets. And people listened to the sounds of the city with performances from local musicians. But none of that would have been possible without the leadership and creativity of GANGGANG.

GANGGANG is a cultural development firm in Indianapolis—a new business model that directly invests in culture. Partners and co-founders Malina Jeffers and Alan Bacon created GANGGANG to produce, promote, and preserve culture as a means toward equity. So, they help amplify the region’s culture and diversity by creating opportunities for local artists.

“I’ve been in the Indy arts and culture scene for about 15 years. And the arts scene has grown leaps and bounds in the past decade,” said Malina. “But there still needs to be a focused, intentional drive for culture… with a lens towards equity and reparations. If we’re not being intentional about that—if there’s not an organization dedicated to that mission—then it won’t happen.” 

In other words, GANGGANG is a creative approach to equity in action. They help broker opportunities between creatives and paid, meaningful gigs, so more artists can be paid to create culture!

While GANGGANG supports all “people of culture,” they’re focused on promoting equity and repaying people of color. During its first three years, GANGGANG plans to invest at least $100,000 in cultural startups, with the majority going towards Black entrepreneurs.

GANGGANG helps bring people together.

Malina and Alan were inspired to start GANGGANG around June of 2020. At the time, the United States was stressed and strained by the growing global pandemic. And then, George Floyd’s murder sparked a momentous racial justice movement. It was the perfect storm of tension and determination, driving the question: what can we do in this moment?

As they wondered how to move forward, Malina and Alan came up with the idea of a cultural development firm. After all, culture is the unifying factor that connects humanity. It’s how we experience our heritage and celebrate each other. But on top of that, American culture has been significantly shaped by people of color—especially Black people. So, cultural development is both a path toward equity and a way to give back to those cultures.  

“Everything in 2020 was focused on what separates us. But a cultural development firm, by highlighting art and the creative sector, is something that brings us together,” said Alan. “We were trying to look forward. What does the pathway look like towards equity? And the answer was culture. So, the answer was GANGGANG.”

A group of art installations on the Circle in Indianapolis

What’s in a name?

After coming up with the idea, Malina and Alan set to work brainstorming a name for their organization. Alan paced the room, listing words that related to their vision. Until eventually, he said “gang”—and then said it twice.

Malina could already see GANGGANG in her head, so they went to the dictionary and did their research. They discovered that the original definition of gang was “a journey or a way.” And in Middle English, the word meant “a set of people who go someplace together.” The name GANGGANG was also a powerful nod to hip-hop and the influence of Black culture on American culture.

“[The word gang] is beautiful. It’s people on a journey together,” said Malina. “But the way it’s used now in contemporary society, it’s used to criminalize groups of Black men. And that’s false. That’s not what gang means. So, we’re reclaiming that beautiful word and encouraging people to join the gang with us.”

With a name in mind, Malina and Alan put their plan into action. Now, GANGGANG is growing in both reputation and impact—and already changing the game in Indianapolis.

“Equity will happen organically and naturally throughout the process as we continue to increase the opportunities and work for artists of color. You’ll see equity as a result of that. And you’ll also see a more vibrant city as a result as we continue to diversify what Indianapolis looks like.”

- Alan Bacon, Co-Founder of GANGGANG

Indianapolis has embraced the GANGGANG spirit.

“Since we launched GANGGANG, there has been a whirlwind of energy and activity and such an overwhelmingly positive response,” said Malina. “That’s exactly why we did this, you know? For artists to have hope that they can have viable careers in their industry.”

One of the first projects that GANGGANG was involved in was the Black Lives Matter mural on Indiana Avenue. Across the country, cities painted public streets with 30-foot letters that proclaim Black Lives Matter. So, GANGGANG partnered with Indy10 Black Lives Matter and local artist and advocate Stacia Murphy to organize Indianapolis’ contribution to the national movement. 

Together, they commissioned 18 Black artists from Indy to create the mural. And because of that project, those artists have had other opportunities like commissions and exhibitions. GANGGANG is proud to have made that impact—both for the community and for local artists.

“That is the most refreshing component of the work that we do,” said Alan. “Just being able to support local artists and creatives on a daily basis is really the joy of the experience for us. And it’s something we believe is a necessity for Indianapolis.”

Then, in fall 2020, GANGGANG hosted a six-week outdoor concert series called The Kickback with local musicians and DJs. The Near Eastside neighborhood in Indy invited them to come and activate a vacant space in the area. It was an old garage that had been abandoned, and they immediately realized it’d be a perfect outdoor concert venue.

So, GANGGANG worked with 10 East Arts to create a concert series that was laid back, inspiring, and safe. The Kickback was powerfully successful, bringing a vibrant energy to the local neighborhood. And one day, the Indiana Sports Corp (ISC) stopped by to see the show.

SWISH celebrated March Madness with local artists and performers.

When March Madness came to town, the Indiana Sports Corp remembered The Kickback and wanted to bring that energy citywide. So, they brought GANGGANG to the table with the Arts Council of Indianapolis to see if they could do something like that again—but on a much larger scale.

Of course, GANGGANG was up to the challenge. They became the Creative Director for the SWISH performance series and set to work organizing live performances around March Madness. The SWISH Arts & Cultural Festival was a three-week long celebration of Indy’s artists and creators. With visual art, live performances, poems, and more, SWISH brought together artists from all across the Indy region.

“SWISH has had an incredible impact on our local artists scene here in Indianapolis,” said Alan. “We’re able to put our artists on a different stratosphere when it comes to amplifying their talents. And this is the way that Indianapolis should handle these events and lead with art and culture first.”

A DJ works during a Dance Off for SWISH
Band plays in front of BRU Burger for SWISH

SWISH showcased Indianapolis’ vibrant culture.

Over the course of the month, GANGGANG organized over 260 performances featuring more than 600 local artists. But most importantly, they approached SWISH with an intentional focus on equity in the arts. Their nine-member curatorial team included seven persons of color. And over 50% of the SWISH performances featured artists of color. 

This opportunity has had an especially profound impact on the participating artists. For the past year, COVID-19 has forced many artists to cancel events, lose income, and put their art on hold. But SWISH gave artists a chance to perform for a major national event while paying them for their talent.

“This has been a breath of fresh air, especially for folks who need to be on a stage, and need to be singing, and need the energy from an audience. This has been incredible,” said Malina. “So, it has been quite the undertaking but quite amazing. A way to pay artists… to connect them with platforms, and to highlight our creatives who are amazing and are not seeing the attention they deserve.”

Walking through the streets of downtown Indianapolis, visitors and residents alike saw how GANGGANG brought the city to life. Dancers and musicians made music along the Cultural Trail. The city’s main walkways had art galleries along the sidewalks. And each and every piece of art brought attention to the creative minds that call Indianapolis home.  

GANGGANG is creating a brighter, more equitable future.

While SWISH made a significant impact on the Indy arts scene, GANGGANG’s work is just beginning. For Malina and Alan, GANGGANG is all about collaboration—big and small. They’re always on the lookout for ideas that support culture and build equity. And their mission to produce, promote, and preserve culture drives them to uplift local artists and celebrate their stories.

One story they’ll be celebrating in the coming weeks is the success of 81355 (pronounced “bless”). 81355 is a local Indianapolis hip-hop group that recently signed on to 37d03d, a record label co-founded by Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon. Their debut album This Time I’ll Be of Use drops at the end of May, and they asked GANGGANG to host a listening party as part of a bigger push to celebrate their success.

Join the gang and support our local culture.

GANGGANG is also gearing up for their first signature event this upcoming Labor Day Weekend. They are planning to host a brand-new annual event called BUTTER, Indy’s newest art fair. BUTTER will feature prominent Black artists both from the local arts scene and around the world. This event will be the first of GANGGANG’s future lineup, creating new Indy traditions.

“Ten years from now… [Indy is] going to look different. Culture and creative arts increase the quality of life,” said Alan. “And that in turn is going to do a lot when it comes to tourism and attracting talent and conventions here in the city… We’re going to make Indianapolis a place, a destination outside of the sporting brand that we have here in the city. And ten years from now, I think we’ll see a lot of great things coming from our city.”

In the meantime, GANGGANG believes that one of the best things people can do is support local artists. Everyone can do their part to support GANGGANG and promote equity in the arts simply by paying people to create. After all, in the creative economy, artists are often underpaid or not paid at all. But their work is valuable and vital to the culture of our city. So, collaborate with GANGGANG. There are so many ideas to be realized, and many of them are just looking for the right partner!

Dancer competes in the dance-off with other dancers looking on