With emphasis on community building and active civic engagement, local nonprofit Spirit & Place has successfully provided unifying, inspirational and informational opportunities to the Indianapolis community for over 20 years. Starting as just a project of the Polis Center, Spirit & Place has evolved and found a home under the Indiana University School of Liberal Arts at IUPUI.
Striving to establish a well connected community while challenging community members to show up and take a critical stance on the functions and foundations of America, Spirit & Place hosts a variety of events that incorporate arts, humanities and religion, including their well known November festival. However their most recent initiative, Civic Saturdays is breaking down the wall between identifying social issues and actual change.
Led by Program Director Erin Kelley, Civic Saturdays allows community members to unpack their beliefs in unity and without debate. Although this initiative is new to Indiana, it is not new to the United States. Originating in Seattle, Washington and created by co-founder and CEO of Citizen University, Eric Liu, Civic Saturdays focus on creating a space where people can address tough issues and engage in powerful dialog. With proper training, Erin successfully brought this progressive movement to Indy just last year.
Hosted in the Indianapolis Public Library Center to create a neutral and welcoming environment, Civic Saturdays are typically kicked off with coffee provided through their partnership with The League of Women Voters of Indianapolis. A creative twist is added with poetry selected by Erin herself and some singing led by a choral group by the name of Song Squad.
Using excerpts from historical documents and speeches as a tool to spark a discussion on large scale world issues from a civic value standpoint, community members are able to question what kind of civic character they want to develop and how to put it into action. Topics are usually inspired by current world issues and follow a theme. For the next Civic Saturday Erin plans to explore the idea of optimism.
“I think optimism is a form of rebellion,” says Erin. “The ultimate goal of tyrants and oppressors is to stamp out optimism and to make us complacent. It is very important to try and maintain a sense of optimism in order to continue to show up. That’s the important part about living in a democracy. It doesn’t work unless people show up and I mean that both in terms of showing up at the polls to vote, but showing up in terms of knowing what’s going on in the world, contacting their elected officials and even basic stuff like getting to know your neighbors and working at that very basic neighborhood level in a grassroots kind of way to build the community that you want.”
Erin aspires to host a full day of civic celebration next summer that consists of outdoor crafts and activities, bringing out local storytellers, musicians and other creatives and hopefully capturing the attention of the youth to get them more engaged. She envisions Civic Saturday founder, Eric, and other Civic Saturdays leaders in the Midwest there visiting Indy and leading guest discussions. With inclusiveness at the center of her vision she is hoping for this potential full day event to be reflective of the community and to challenge individuals to think about what it means to be an American.
“It’s a space to nurture your civic soul and to develop a true civic love,” says Erin. “Anyone and everyone is welcome to attend a Civic Saturday event no matter what their political persuasion is, but it really is a space for those who are willing to be challenged and to listen deeply and who want to wrestle with the big questions of what it means to live in American democracy.”