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Indianapolis can finally sleep soundly again, now that more than $250,000 is being raised to “Keep Ann Dancing.” Ann Dancing is the public digital art installation along the Indianapolis Cultural Trail on Massachusetts Avenue in downtown Indianapolis.
Indianapolis Cultural Trail Inc., a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization launched the #KeepAnnDancing campaign with a goal of raising $262,800. According to the campaign’s website, $152,424 of the raised money would go toward “replacing and repairing” the electronic display, while funds for maintenance, “improving and maintaining ‘Ann’s Plaza’,” and additional “high quality and engaging public art” along the trail would each get $36,792 of the total.
Art enriches our city, and artists should be paid for their work. But the artist behind Ann Dancing is British millionaire Julian Opie, and he was already paid when it was installed back in 2008. The Keep Ann Dancing campaign is an example of how the ruling class weaponizes art and culture in their ongoing gentrification efforts, as even a cursory investigation into the campaign reveals.
The Keep Ann Dancing website’s front page proudly touts “corporate support” from IceMiller Legal Counsel, Barnes & Thornburg LLP, Riley Bennet Egloff LLP, IPL, OneAmerica, MIBOR Realtor Association, Cunningham Restaurant Group, Sun King Brewery, Gregory & Appel Insurance, and Printing Partners.
Over half of these companies are directly or indirectly connected financially to Mike McQuillen, whose proposed “Sit-Lie” ordinance of 2018–a brazen attempt to displace people experiencing homelessness from the downtown Mile Square financial district–was defeated by the people of Indianapolis.
The Power PAC, the political action committee of IPL, donated $1,000 to McQuillen in 2018. The MIBOR Realtors PAC also gave $1,000 to McQuillen. Partners at IceMiller, including the CEO, gave $4,000 to McQuillen. The partners of Riley Bennett & Egloff, including the founder and co-chair of the “Public Policy Team,” have donated over $2,500.
In total, companies and individuals who are behind the #KeepAnnDancing campaign have bankrolled around 15% of McQuillen’s campaign over the past three years according to campaign finance records. Under capitalism, these campaign contributions are investments that are paid off with legislation like the Sit-Lie ordinance.
Such business-friendly legislation often isn’t even written by the legislative sponsors. For example, Ted Nolting, “Counsel to the Minority Caucus,” wrote McQuillen’s Sit-Lie proposal. Nolting is another lawyer, like many of those at IceMiller or RBE who donate to McQuillen, who specializes in “real estate” law. Real estate law is another powerful weapon for gentrification.
The introduction, and resulting maintenance, of public art like Ann Dancing is not the cause of gentrification but rather a symbol of the struggle over who should have the right to live, work, and be in Indianapolis. As Yasmina Mrabet wrote in Breaking the Chains magazine, “By the time wealthy people and coffee shops show up, the behind-the-scenes work for gentrification has already taken place. We should begin to correctly frame gentrification as a violent function of the capitalist model.”
The ruling class attacks the working class in multiple ways, but its interests are those of higher profits for themselves, regardless of the human cost. When elements of the ruling class tried to pass the Sit-Lie ordinance, working and oppressed people packed the meeting room to reject it for what it was, a racist attack on people experiencing homelessness. But working and oppressed people didn’t just reject this attack. We raised practical, real solutions that would place the needs of people over profits: house the homeless.
According to public data, there are thousands more abandoned or vacant homes in Marion County than there are people experiencing homelessness. Those homes could be used to house people instead of continuing to sit empty. The ruling class, with their need for profit, refuses to accept this solution.
While supporters of the campaign for Ann Dancing have pointed out that it is crowdfunded and not funded through taxpayer money, the money from the companies behind this effort is inextricably linked to gentrification and attacks on oppressed people. Moreover, just what demographics of Indianapolis are willing to shell out money to Keep Ann Dancing? The majority of people in this city are struggling just to make ends meet, a struggle that McQuillen and his ilk are determined to make even harder.
What we see is ultimately another undemocratic ruling-class effort to intensify gentrification in Indianapolis by making the city more attractive to tourists and the rich. What if we instead created living-wage jobs in the cultural industry to employ the talents of the city’s Black, brown, and working-class residents? What if we actually asked the residents of the city—and not just the 1 percent—what kind of art they want the city to invest in?