A Mosaic of Identity

By Erica Irish

Fellow-led LUMA debuts first art gallery featuring diverse Indy voices

Editor’s Note: This story includes references to suicide. If you or someone you know is experiencing thoughts of self-harm, please call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline for 24/7 support at 1-800-273-8255. 

On a clean white wall hangs six images, one-by-one in an orderly row. The photos are a symphony of color that rests at the center of 1000 Words Gallery on Indianapolis’ near east side, where dozens of people from all walks of life have joined together to expand what they know about their city. 

Accompanying the symphony are repeated invitations to pause and ponder the stories our neighbors have to share. The gallery begins with a promise shared in the story of Arlette Marie Munyakindi, the first featured “muse” of the gallery. Hers is a message that guides the entire experience. 

“Humanity is the greatest thing that’s ever existed on Earth—and we’ve got the chance to prove it.” 

LUMA, a new arts non-profit founded by Orr Fellows Sophie Wang and Lexi Andrie, is on a mission to do just that by empowering the people around them to embrace identity, share their truth, and reconnect in a complicated world. And on this Saturday in late June, it’s just the beginning. 

LUMA’s Creation and Purpose 

LUMA began much like the stories of its muses, with a series of experiences that shaped identity and outlooks on the world. 

When Sophie was a student at Indiana University Bloomington, she planned and executed an art gallery with the student organization Women in Business. A creative and poet at heart, the project stayed with Sophie as she moved to Indianapolis and started her Orr Fellowship. 

In June 2021, Sophie learned news that would add a new urgency—and understanding—to her next art project and why it was so needed in the world. Her parents called to say someone she knew as a child, Owen, had died by suicide after going missing for several days. 

The news shook Sophie. And, it awakened her. She never knew Owen well. But the loss resonated and became Sophie’s personal motivation for creating LUMA now, so that more people around her can find an outlet for community and feel less alone. 

“I talked with my therapist about what I could do. I was feeling all of these things, thinking all of these thoughts, and I wanted to take action,” Sophie said. “He suggested volunteering with mental health orgs or donating to groups or people acting on suicide. I considered it, but it didn’t feel like me.” 

When Sophie moved to Indianapolis and began her Orr Fellowship, she met Lexi. They became friends while living in The Artistry in downtown Indy. As Sophie began to share her vision with Lexi, the two began dreaming the early purpose of LUMA and how they would pull it off. For Lexi, who minored in sociology and actively writes poetry, the process meant reflecting on the power of storytelling in connecting people across identities and belief systems. 

“LUMA was the chance to combine our passion for people and art together,” Lexi said about the experience. From her sociology background, Lexi said, “ I learned not only about the structure of society, but the characters of it. I learned how we all operate, how that affects the bigger picture, and that everybody has a story. There’s always a place and time for those stories to be shared.” 

Beyond galleries like Vol I, LUMA is working towards this deeper vision and purpose. Sophie and Lexi built the organization with four goals in mind, as listed on the LUMA website: promoting human connection through art experiences, illuminating the unique narratives of muses, partnering with local organizations to create intentional community programs, and cultivating a stronger social environment in Indy.

Amplifying Community with Perspective 

Sophie and Lexi devised LUMA to serve many roles, including opportunities for creative expression through art galleries and educational experiences in partnership with other local organizations. But at its core, the first event from the arts organization is about celebrating the essence of Indy and the people who define it. 

The project began in fall 2021 as LUMA took shape as an organization. Sophie and Lexi knew they wanted to showcase stories in their new city, Indianapolis, that would shed light on historically marginalized and underrepresented groups. The first round of outreach was intentional and focused on representing individuals in the refugee community, LGTBQ+ people, working professionals, strangers in the crowd, and the unhoused community. 

But as they got to work, the LUMA team found it impossible to segment people by one part of their identity. Identity, and the stories we tell about it, is intersectional. No person consists of one dimension. 

“Our vision is to expand human connection,” Lexi said. “By providing another lens to look through and see people for who they are—not what they look like, do, or wear. A story showcases that beautifully.” 

LUMA’s first gallery is more than a weekend experience. It’s the open door welcoming you to consider first your community, and then your own evolving identity. LUMA is an invitation to contemplate,, to dream, and to dare to know the unknown faces around you. 

Art as Community Legacy 

With LUMA’s first major event on the books, Sophie and Lexi are now turning their attention to fostering more community partnerships. They’ll also be working with students at Indiana University to improve their internal operations and grow LUMA’s overall presence in the local arts network. 

For now, they’re staying tied to each other and to the muses that heralded Vol I. 

To learn more, visit lumagalleries.org.

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