The INDY had existed for less than a decade when, in 1990, the young newspaper paused to honor community artists. That year, the INDY named 16 professors, sponsors, spaces, bands, impresarios and organizations as its inaugural "Indies Arts Awards" winners. Some of those recipients are still active—Alice Gerrard was nominated for her first Grammy last year—while others, like the author Reynolds Price, have passed away.
Yet the INDY has maintained the tradition for a quarter-century now. The numbers have fluctuated over the years. (As if the editors had exhausted most of their early ideas for round one, there were but five winners in 1991.) And so has the answer to the unending question of who deserves the recognition most: individual artists doing compelling work or the architects of systems that allow for that work to thrive.
This year, for the 26th annual Indies Arts Awards, the latter prevailed. The six people selected for this year's prize have changed the very landscape of arts in the Triangle by building new establishments in which makers, doers and thinkers can matter even more. With her rock club and community space The Pinhook, Kym Register has mustered a platform for the arts in much the same way as Chris Tonelli has done with his poetry readings, press and bookstore and Dasan Ahanu (a rare repeat Indies winner) has with his spoken-word performances and writing workshops. At UNC, Emil Kang has built a world-class performing arts series that offers area audiences exposure to masters we might otherwise watch only on YouTube. And with their respective music festivals, Greg Lowenhagen and Cicely Mitchell have helped reshape the way Raleigh and Durham can be perceived as complex, viable entertainment venues.
In fact, in some capacity, all of this year's Indies recipients have done just that: conceptually altered a physical landscape we thought we knew in order to make a more robust arts scene.