Art and Community: ft. Robert Negron of Indy Convergence

My work at Metonymy running The Green Room has had me on a mission to find like-minded peers to share resources with and support. After attending The Resist Indy Art Show at Indy Convergence in early April, I reached out to co-owners, Robert and Caitlin Negron because I was inspired to see their hard work and dedication to local residents and local art. Today, I was able to chat with Robert a little bit about his upcoming workshop, “What We Do and How We Do it,” this Saturday from 3-4:30 pm at their Near West End location and I wanted to share the conversation and help support their wonderful initiative.

From humble beginnings at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival to a fully operational, brick and mortar building in The Near West End of Indianapolis, Indy Convergence is a community flex-space and gallery intent on supporting local artists as they engage with their neighborhoods. Currently, Robert and Caitlin are in the throes of their annual summer residency program where they host artists from around the globe and Robert’s workshop is part in a series of residency workshops free and open to the public. These will be taught by both local and visiting artists and focus on beginner skills in a range of fields, from dance to painting to video to guerrilla radio.

When I talked to Robert, I tried to get a sense of his thesis for “What We Do and How We Do It,” and here’s my takeaway.

What We Do

The work that Indy Convergence practices has philosophy. That philosophy is perhaps best espoused in an article written by Lou Harry for the Indianapolis Business Journal where Robert explains that instead of buying a space and immediately filling it with programming, Indy Convergence has taken the approach of listening first. What they do is for the community and if they don’t take the time to hear what the community wants, how can they properly do anything for the community? Robert and Caitlin understand this. They’re striving to take the giver/receiver relationship out of the mix when it comes to community development. When I asked Robert to elaborate, he explained, “When one person gives and another receives and that’s all there is, it creates an immediate power dynamic that’s unsustainable in the long term.” Essentially, the magnanimous giver and the grateful receiver are not parts that can be played for long. Eventually it breaks down. For example, when the giver begins to resent the receiver or when the giver is actually only there for the experience of giving and does not care for the longevity of the gift. Think about churches and summer programs where students build projects in under-served countries but have little to no building knowledge. What happens to those projects when the students leave? What Indy Convergence does is facilitate reciprocal, sustainable relationships where each party gives as well as receives.

How We Do It

I’m sure Robert will be pinning down the specifics here but let me again wax philosophical about Indy Convergence. This part fascinates me. As Robert explained, “Artists are the best for community development, because they hunger for experiences to create their work and we provide them that. In turn, they provide work and time to better their neighborhoods and community.” For Robert and Caitlin, the work that’s created through community dialogue is the heart of Indy Convergence. Of course, they’re still all about art for art’s sake but everywhere they’ve planted themselves, they see the power and potential of art to create commerce and even financial stability for communities. In Haiti, they’re at work on building an entirely sustainable earthship facility that will be entirely Haitian owned and operated and they’ve created a professional development program for local artists on top of bringing visiting artists to the area. So the short answer is, however and whatever they do, Indy Convergence doesn’t do anything just half-way.

Don’t miss Robert’s workshop, “What We Do and How We Do It,” this Saturday at Indy Convergence from 3-4:30 pm. There will be workshops all day beginning at 11:30 with, “How to Teach Creative Movement,” then at 1:30 with, “Guerilla Radio,” and finally Robert’s workshop at 3 pm. Also, coming up this Friday at Indy Convergence is Quimby’s Open Mic night. Lastly, you’ll be able to check out the culmination of Indy Convergence’s summer residency at their June 16th Arts Walk. You’ll be glad you went.