Some of you might know that PATTERN is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. What started out with a handful of local fashion designers and fashion lovers back in 2010 as the Indianapolis Fashion Collective has very improbably continued to quietly thrive in a variety of ways, visible and invisible.
The most visible, of course, is our flagship publication, PATTERN magazine. With seventeen print issues under our belt, global distribution, and hundreds of stories about Indiana-based creatives, the magazine is a source of pride not just for our organization, but for anyone in Indianapolis who loves fashion, arts, music and culture. Because the magazine is how most people find out about PATTERN, it’s understandable that many of you are surprised to learn that the magazine is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what we do.
Pick up the magazine, take in its heft, feel the expensive paper between the tips of your fingers, breathe in the smell of ink, wonder at the beautiful photos and stories inside and the talent and resources it takes to create them, and you’re not going to picture a rag tag team of college students, recent-grads-turned-Creative-Fellows, and a handful of volunteers lead by a Russian-born, cat ears headband-wearing woman who likes to cuss like a sailor, pulling it all together. Instead, you’re going to picture a well-oiled, well-funded operation with dozens of people working day and night in a fancy office with a view.
The reality is not nearly as sexy, or well-funded. In spite of this it’s still pretty damn awesome! Take away the imagined glitz, and profits; the energy, the excitement and the sense of accomplishment of making something incredible happen out of literally nothing, prevails daily. For years now. So much more than a magazine, PATTERN is a growth accelerator for Indy’s creative economy. To that end, we provide opportunities and a platform for creative expression for this city’s best young talent to grow personally and professionally through the less visible programs like SUPPLY, St’Artup 317 and now StitchWorks. We also have a killer, under-the-radar internship program. We’re a small outfit, which makes everything that’s been accomplished all the more remarkable. Well, at least that’s what people tell me. It could be a lot bigger and more impactful – think MORE jobs, MORE opportunities, MORE influence, MORE young people staying in Indy instead of moving away, MORE visibility so that the rest of the country becomes aware of the “other” Indianapolis and MORE people feel inclined to move here, but making all that happen takes real money – millions versus tens of thousands. Not to take away from those entities and individuals who HAVE supported us financially; it’s just that the effort requires more. A lot more. With all the talk of talent attraction and retention, you’d think public and private entities from a wide spectrum of economic sectors would be chomping at the bit to help fund our work to ensure its success and longevity. Not so much.
Whatever funding is available, it is almost exclusively reserved for the BIG 4: Tech, Life Sciences, Agriculture, Advanced Manufacturing & Logistics. These are the safe bets. Culture and Arts? As an economic sector, it receives juuuuuuust enough funding for entities to get by, and keep the complaining out of the sphere of public opinion. Just enough so that if that funding gets pulled, it’ll really hurt, but not enough to do anything really disruptive. There are a couple of exceptions to that, of course, but overall, that’s what it is.
I’ve been sitting with this little bit of insight these past few weeks. Some of you might disagree with my analysis. That’s okay. I have a feeling that these musings will resonate deeply with anyone who’s ever tried to build something NEW within the arts and culture scene here, and has been unable to find the needed support in spite of concerted and ongoing efforts. You’re not alone. I know first-hand the frustration of being repeatedly asked to prove the value of your work for a few thousand dollars here and there, when what you actually need is a few million to move the needle. And even after you figure out how to tell your story, explain your impact, and prove that you’re reaching the “right” demographic, it’s still somehow not enough. “Well, we just don’t have it in the budget,” you get told repeatedly. Or, “We really love what you’re doing, it’s just not a good fit with OUR guidelines.” Sometimes you’re not given a reason at all. All you know is that when you look around, you notice millions going to support the same groups, doing the same things, and you start to wonder what you’re doing wrong. “What would you do with a million dollars anyway?” you’re asked even as you pitch a million dollar idea. It’s a little disconcerting. Especially when you’ve put in your time, and paid your dues, so to speak.
I had an epiphany the other day. It snuck up on me in the early hours of the morning as I was putting on my makeup. Here it is: It takes real capital for change to happen. Conversely, it also takes real capital to keep things the same. From where I’m sitting, it sure seems like keeping things the same is the unspoken mandate in our city. Once you look at it that way, everything suddenly comes into focus. It’s not that you’re not being taken seriously for your efforts. It’s quite the opposite. You ARE being taken seriously, and that is why you’re not getting the needed support. Because should you succeed in your vision, you will become a tangible threat to the status quo. Let that sink in for a moment.
Perhaps I’m wrong. I’ve considered the possibility that the lack of comprehensive funding for the creative economy is nothing more than a basic lack of understanding by public and private funders of what it comprises and its potential for massive economic impact. To that end, I’ve been trying to raise 40K to help fund a study/whitepaper to provide the needed proof…for the past five years…with no success. Ho-hum. Of course *technically*, such a study may be redundant because the creative economy and its impact have been studied extensively and the conclusions are all the same: Fund individuals and small businesses that do cool shit, and more cool shit will happen. Economy will grow. Tourism will grow. Population density will increase. Quality of life will improve. I don’t think the above is news to anybody, is it? If that sounds flip, that’s not my intention.
Where am I going with all this? Truthfully, just processing an “aha” moment out loud while on this journey of trying to make Indianapolis a better place, and literally feeling some days like I’m being asked not to bother. While the dichotomy of being told frequently what a great, and important role PATTERN plays in the community without being fiscally supported is frustrating, I do not feel defeated. In fact, my prevailing day-to-day mood is pride and gratitude. I’m in awe of everything that’s been accomplished by the thousands of people who believe in and love PATTERN and everything that it stands for. And so, so grateful for the countless hours adding up to millions of dollars of impact that people – volunteers, contributors, board members, fellow arts & culture warriors – have donated over the past decade, along with the entities and individuals that HAVE written checks and tried to advance our cause behind closed doors. I’m even grateful for those who disagree with our methods and goals, and shut doors instead of opening them. I see you all.
Most of all, I’m grateful for and inspired by the many, many first-hand accounts of how PATTERN has changed people’s lives for the better, offering them inspiration, and hope that some day Indianapolis will become the city she was always meant to be. This is what keeps me going.
Can Indianapolis *finally* come into her own as a city supportive of its creative class instead of falling even further behind peer cities? I’d like to think that there’s still hope for us! 2020 has been a strange year to say the least, with many setbacks for our city and especially our Downtown. Perhaps the silver lining will be that the “new normal” will demand investment in unorthodox problem solvers and dreamers like you and I to make things better for everyone. Who knows, right?
Hit me up with your thoughts, and ideas: firstname.lastname@example.org. And keep moving forward!
ps. Oh, and if you’re an outside-the-box thinker interested in supporting long-term economic growth and help Indianapolis stay competitive in the global market, invest in PATTERN, and help us do MORE of the great stuff we’ve been doing for the last ten years!