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"Butter" Get Ready: An Indianapolis Art Fair by, of and for Black Artists 

by Mandy Shunnarah

A gallery space filled with people. Some are chatting and in small groups, while others look at artworks on the gallery walls.
The first BUTTER took place in 2021 and has grown exponentially since then. Last year, 1,000 adult attendees were expected, then were gratified to see more than 3,400 adult tickets sold. 

BUTTER blends art, economic justice, and reparations together for an unforgettable weekend of Black excellence and Black joy. 

For the past few years, downtown Indianapolis has welcomed Black visual artists across Indiana and beyond for BUTTER: The Fine Art Fair. With the goal of elevating Black excellence and creativity through equitable events and opportunities, the fair charges no booth fees, so 100% of the money made goes to the artists. And with over 8,000 people in attendance last year spending more than $250,000 on art, that’s a nice chunk of change flowing into the Black arts community.  

The size and scale of BUTTER make it a driver of economic justice for contemporary Black artists. As generations of Black people have voiced and as studies have shown, many Black communities don’t have the generational wealth afforded white communities, so reparations are necessary. Because BUTTER ensures all the money made over the course of the fair, it’s an inspiring way to work toward reparations in the arts.  

But BUTTER’s impact doesn’t end there. Last year, the artists who exhibited got so much attention as a result of the fair that they made an additional $210,000 after the event as well.  

“BUTTER is quickly becoming the blueprint for elevating and caring for artists of color.”

A wide shot of a gallery floor showcasing a mix of two-dimensional and three-dimensional artworks. Some of them are hanging on moveable white walls and other colorful works are on the black-colored walls of the space. In the foreground, there is a sculptural work made of fluorescent tube lights.
Seventy-five percent of artists at BUTTER 2 held in Indianapolis in 2022 were local to Indiana.

The fair is organized by GANGGANG, a Black-owned and operated firm specializing in cultural development and creative advocacy. Their tagline “Culture. Equity. Beauty.” speaks to all the elements present in BUTTER. The firm is a startup focusing on the economic viability of the arts in communities of color, so each project they collaborate on—whether art fairs or concert series—is brought to life through that lens.  

“BUTTER is quickly becoming the blueprint for elevating and caring for artists of color,” said Malina Simone Bacon, Executive Director of GANGGANG and one of BUTTER’s founders. “BUTTER seeks an equitable and reparational process designed to benefit the economic viability of the artists. As such, we do not require a fee for participation, nor do we take a commission on the sale of the work.”   

The first BUTTER took place in 2021 and has grown exponentially since then. Last year, 1,000 adult attendees were expected, then were gratified to see more than 3,400 adult tickets sold.  

Now, BUTTER is back for 2023 and has a full schedule of fun for Labor Day weekend: 

  • Friday, September 1: Opening Day and Night, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.    
  • Saturday, September 2: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; the (aptly titled) MELT dance party 9 p.m. to midnight   
  • Sunday, September 3: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., plus Testimony Service at 2 p.m.  

The fair is taking place at The Stutz, located downtown at 1060 N Capitol Ave, Indianapolis, IN 46204, where the work of more than 50 Black artists will be on view and on sale. Additionally, there will be artist talks, live music by Deckademics and DJ Grapevine, dance, BUTTER-themed food, and walking tours in the Indiana Avenue Cultural District.  

“BUTTER is a living art fair, curated with intention and with a thoughtful approach,” said Deonna Craig, the first full-time BUTTER Fine Art Fair Director. “As a past exhibiting BUTTER artist, I have witnessed the benefits of bringing together collectors, creatives, and community. This is the gap BUTTER was designed to fill. It’s an honor to help GANGGANG push boundaries and elevate Black artists in the national conversation.”  

General admission tickets to BUTTER, which includes all events and activities over the three-day festival, are $40. Those 18 and younger are welcome for free. However, if you really want first dibs while art shopping, consider opting for Preview Night on Thursday, August 31, for $175.

  • Headshot of a smiling person of light skin tone and short brown hair slicked to the side, wearing earrings and a necklace with gold accents, and a tan shirt under a black blazer with two small pins in the shape of an airplane and a book.

    Contributing Writer

    Mandy Shunnarah (they/them) is an Alabama-born, Palestinian-American writer who calls Columbus, Ohio, home. Their essays, poetry, and short stories have been published in The New York Times, Electric Literature, The Rumpus, The Columbus Anthology from Belt Publishing, and more. Their first book, Midwest Shreds: Skating Through America’s Heartland, is forthcoming from Belt. Read more at mandyshunnarah.com.

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