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  • Writer's pictureJoey Amato

New Etheridge Knight mural to be unveiled June 30 at the Chatterbox Jazz Club in Indianapolis


A two-story outdoor mural of Black Arts Movement poet Etheridge Knight (1931-1991) will be unveiled at a free public event at 5:30 p.m. Friday, June 30, at the Chatterbox Jazz Club, the Indy Arts Council announced.


Knight, who became a poet while incarcerated in the Indiana State Prison in Michigan City in the 1960s, was a regular at the Chatterbox in the late 1980s and taught some of his Free People’s Poetry Workshops there. (**Background on his life is included at the end of this release.)


The free event will feature memories shared by Knight family members; a reading by poet Elizabeth Gordon McKim, Knight’s longtime partner and the author of the new memoir Elizabetheridge; and performances by Indianapolis-based poet Ashley Mack-Jackson and musician Carl Hines. Guests can also explore the Black Worldschoolers Mobile Bookstore and buy Knight’s books from Ujamaa Community Bookstore.


The Knight mural is the third in the City of Indianapolis Bicentennial Legends series. Created by Sunrise, Florida-based artist Elio Mercado, the portrait combines visual elements inspired by lines from Knight’s poetry. The mural’s color scheme takes a cue from the cover of Knight’s Belly Song and Other Poems (1973), a Pulitzer Prize-nominated work. Mercado is being assisted by Indianapolis-based painter Kaila Austin, as part of the Bicentennial Legends apprentice program.


“Etheridge Knight wielded influence both as a nationally recognized poet and as a conscientious, down-to-earth resident of Indianapolis,” said Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett. “The Bicentennial Legends series has been a great way to honor historic figures like Knight while recognizing the diverse influences that shape our present. Knight put it best in his poem The Idea of Ancestry: ‘I am all of them and they are all of me.’”


Knight was known as “Junior” to his family, and his younger sisters–Clyneese Bennett and Janice Knight Mooney, who live in Indianapolis–said they believed Mercado’s design best depicted the “Junior” they grew up with.


“Placing Uncle Junior’s portrait in the forefront with elements of his story in the background invites people to go and search for more,” said Toshiko Baer, Knight’s niece, who lives in Baltimore.


Mercado was one of 137 artists from 31 states who applied for the mural commission. His design was chosen by a panel that included representatives from the EK Free Peoples Be Project advisory committee and the Knight family.


“It has been a privilege to work with friends and family members of Etheridge Knight to learn more about his life and legacy and the values that were important to him,” said Julie Goodman, Indy Arts Council President and CEO. “We are honored to partner with the City of Indianapolis on the Bicentennial Legends mural series and with artists like Elio and Kaila to create visual stories that represent the humanity, talent and courage of people who are celebrated not only in our city, but all over the world.”


Indy Arts Council partnered with Butler University’s Etheridge Knight Archive, the EK Free Peoples Be Project, and the Knight family to create the mural. Key funding is provided by the City of Indianapolis, the Indianapolis Bicentennial Commission, Indiana Destination Development Corporation, Glick Philanthropies, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the MIBOR Economic and Community Development Council.

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