Nonfiction by Craig McDaniel and Jean Robertson from our Winter 2017 issue.
August, 2016. Our destination is a short car ride from our house in Indianapolis. We’ve been invited to attend an art event on a Friday evening. The location is a nearby public park. The event, entitled 38th & Shine, is being organized by Stephan Eicher, and a few collaborators connected with Indianapolis’s Harrison Arts Center. Eicher, a citizen of India, is here as a graduate student at Herron School of Art and Design, majoring in painting. Eicher’s thin, of medium height. He emits an uncanny, sincere warmth. In his presence, one feels uplifted, joyous to be alive in this reality, in this moment. So, trusting Eicher’s effervescence, we drove over at the designated 6:30-ish evening time, parked in a somewhat desolate lot, and walked through a thick fog of summer humidity a few blocks, past construction trailers and orange construction zone witch-hat cones. We sat on a curb and waited, raising a hand, now and then, to shield our faces from the glare of the setting, but still powerful, arc lamp of the sun.
Is this a painting? Once the sun had started to drop below the horizon, and the scene dimmed, various representatives of local organizations, standing on a makeshift platform, addressed the crowd, now several hundreds of people. We were directed to gather into a roughly half-acre area cordoned off inside the larger green space. We heard explanations, the rationale for why we were all here—the event commemorates a joining of a particular community subset, bringing together a sampling of the full mix of ethnicities, ages, and genders that live near this particular park. The park itself has suffered a history of neglect, urban blight, even homicides and other crime; now, starting tonight, various community organizations and government agencies, church groups, and concerned citizens are assembling to chart a new, more luminous future for the park—as a green space, a playground for children and families, a safe zone where the best in each of us can flourish.
In honor of the event, and to embody the energizing of the community, we are invited, right now, to participate in a singular art event. Eicher takes the microphone, and, in his lilting, wry way of talking, he gently invites us to take our places, in small groups of four people, centered on stations that have been painted (dusted would be more accurate) onto the grass. Each foursome is handed a small metal can containing sparklers. Eicher explains, “the world record, in Guinness, for sparklers lit simultaneously . . . that’s what we’re going to see if we can set.” We smile, captivated by his voice and his ideas. “What is the record?” Eicher continues speaking, “The worldwide record now stands at one thousand, four hundred and fourteen. . . . set a few months ago in Japan.” Looking around, we shake our heads, knowing our assembly isn’t that large. “But, the national record is only nine hundred and . . .” We remain doubtful. Ever the optimist, Eicher continues, “And if not that, then . . . we’ll set the Indiana record for sparklers all sparkling at once! (pause) “Which is (another pause) ZERO!” We beam, feeling a rush of confidence.
Image via lisc.org.