Origins & Equity Journey

Image by Duncan Schaffer on Unsplash

Spirit & Place first emerged as the Spirit & Place Festival in 1996 from the Project on Religion and Urban Culture, an initiative of The Polis Center at IUPUI that examined the ways in which religion and community have shaped each other in Greater Indianapolis. With support from Butler University, that first festival featured a conversation between John Updike, Kurt Vonnegut, and Dan Wakefield—along with 8 other public discussions and cultural events.

The annual multi-day Spirit & Place Festival remains a community-centered offering where cultural, congregational, and other civic organizations, as well as local artists and creatives, join forces around a central theme to create exhibits, performances, workshops, discussions, etc. using the arts, humanities, and/or religion.

Initially dedicated to its annual November festival of events, Spirit & Place evolved into a more complex year-round organization with major shifts occurring in the 2010s.

In 2013/14 Spirit & Place conducted an analysis of its role in the community and how it should position itself as a community change agent. In 2013, Spirit & Place embarked on its first initiative at tackling racism by hosting a “pitch fest” in which various parties submitted ideas on how to improve race relations for a $20,000 prize.

Lessons learned from these initiatives resulted in a restructuring of Spirit & Place in 2015 with the hiring of additional staff. As staff capacity grew – which included internal work on developing an anti-racist approach – so did Spirit & Place’s year-round presence in the community with event series such as Gentrify: The Good, Bad, and Ugly with the Kheprw Institute (2016) Powerful Conversations on Race (2017), Civic Saturday (2018) and The Corona Dialogues (2020).

Art-centric community building initiatives also took root in the late 2010s with Spirit & Place’s partnership with the Kheprw Institute, Groundwork Indy, and EMC Arts on a project aimed at tackling the needs of those leaving incarceration as well as youth aging out of foster care.

In 2021 Spirit & Place revamped its traditional top-down Steering Committee model and created Listening Teams. We also issued our first Equity/Anti-Racism Report.

Read our Belief Statements and BLM Statement of Support to learn more about Spirit & Place and its values.

Spirit & Place's Values

  • PEOPLE-CENTERED: Our work is with and for people and we center those most impacted by injustice.
  • CO-CREATIVE: We move beyond collaboration to level hierarchies, blur boundaries, share power and authority, and engage the full range of participant gifts to unleash new insights, expressions, and paths forward.
  • GENERATIVE: Our work creates new reflection, knowledge, and/or practice that builds an ecosystem where all can grow.
  • ABUNDANT: Believing there is enough to go around, we share knowledge and resources freely, practice reciprocity, promote others and their achievements, and remain open to multiple possibilities.
  • GLOCAL: We view challenges within a community organizing framework, which sees social problems as neither local nor global, but interdependent and interconnected.
  • EMERGENT: We practice emergence, which means we adapt strategies over time as the initial intention is consistently re-evaluated in response to a changing reality.
These values emerged from community engagement principles established in 2015, the year we began to unpack our own complicity in upholding institutional racism. These principles call us to center community, show up, invest time, actively listen, adapt, weave networks, take risks, and work beyond the “commons” to weave an ecosystem that allows all to evolve and grow.

Spirit & Place supports the protesters who are demanding an end to police brutality, a biased criminal justice system, and the systemic racism that is killing Black Americans. We see you. We hear you. We grieve with you. We support you.

For 25 years, Spirit & Place has been a community platform for wrestling with challenging questions. In 2015 we turned the questions inward and began an internal journey to dismantle our complicity in upholding institutional racism and white supremacy.

Through the fearless efforts of Black scholars, artists, and community leaders, we have learned valuable lessons. It is through their labor we have been able to invite you along on this journey and we want to acknowledge that.

The work of Dr. Keisha Blain on The Charleston Syllabus is what allowed us to create Powerful Conversations on Race which asked you to confront the history of anti-Black violence and oppression in the United States.

The words and wisdom of artist/activist Killer Mike and the Pulitzer Prize winning journalist of the 1619 Project, Nikole Hannah-Jones, asked you to look deeply into America’s past to understand why the American Dream is a myth for many Black people.

Local poet and spoken word artist Manon Voice, IU-Bloomington scholar and poet Dr. Maria Hamilton Abegunde, and author Maurice Broaddus have pushed recent festival events to truly meaningful places by asking us to consider not only the pain of being Black in the U.S., but to recognize and value the beauty, creativity, and wisdom found in the Black experience.

And the work of our exceptional community partners including the Kheprw InstituteGroundwork Indy, MLK Center, and Child Advocates have allowed us to connect you to other opportunities to wrestle with challenging questions.

We will continue on our journey, knowing that we have much more to learn, knowing that we have made mistakes and will make mistakes, and knowing that we are morally compelled to combat a culture of white supremacy and structural racism that has been centuries in the making and that lies at the foundation of American society.

Spirit & Place will continue to create new connections and conversations that center unheard voices, foster new directions, and imagine a thriving future for all people, especially those who continue to suffer under systems of injustice and oppression.

We will use our three civic  tools — the arts, humanities, and religion — to do this work. We need the arts to help us shift perspectives, the humanities to help us find connections and patterns between the past and present, and spiritual practices and wisdom that promote healing and build community.

We can’t do this alone and ask you to join us.

Here are a few things to get you started:

Do the work it takes to become an anti-racist by reading more for yourself and the children in your life.

Study the language you’re using.

Actively support changes to police and criminal justice policy.

Support educational reform efforts to incorporate racial justice work into the classroom.

Follow the work of groups like Indy10 Black Lives Matter, the African American Coalition of Indianapolis, and Indy SURJ-Showing Up for Racial Justice.

Support Black-owned businesses and media like The Indianapolis Recorder.

Learn new skills to dismantle institutional and structural racism from organizations like Midwest Academy and Race Forward.

Ask the big questions. Sit with the answers you hear. Get ready for a lot of work. Dismantling the racist systems of this country will not be easy and will not be achieved in a single lifetime. But you can move us closer to a better reality.

Because if not you, then who?

In solidarity,
Pam Blevins Hinkle
and the Spirit & Place Staff

Spirit & Place
IU School of Liberal Arts at IUPUI
425 University Blvd., CA 003B
Indianapolis, IN 46202

Spirit & Place

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