Arts » Visual Arts

Día de los Muertos in Indy

... And the scrappy group that brought it to the Eiteljorg

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Daniel Del Real
  • Daniel Del Real


The Día de Los Muertos Community Celebration at the Eiteljorg Museum knows no borders.

It's a time when family members can make altars with offerings to the departed in the form of food and drink items that their loved ones once enjoyed. This annual celebration originated south of the Mexican border. But in this year's celebration at the Eiteljorg, you'll see altars with offerings to Mexican singer Juan Gabriel, who died this past year and was mourned in Mexico and in the U.S. Another altar entitled "Never Forget," created by University of Indianapolis students, commemorates Black lives lost in police shootings.

In addition to the altars and artwork, there will also be singing, dancing, poetry reading, and a Catrina walk (featuring walkers in decorated skeleton dress), as well as a marketplace chock-full of locally made artwork.

"There's a lot of cultural exchange that happens," said Daniel Del Real, about the various arts organizations and performers that come together to make this Day of the Dead celebration. Del Real is one of three staff members in NOPAL Cultural, a multicultural organization that promotes Latino arts in manifold ways around the city. NOPAL is organizing this free celebration at the Eiteljorg for the third year running.

"I do the visual art, Eduardo Luna does the music and Nicole Martinez-LeGrand helps us get organized," said Del Real.

There are also linocut prints by Mexican artists Sergio Sánchez Santamaría and examples of Mexican masks which are worn during dances in festivals known as comparas. Since he couldn't find such masks on the market, Del Real — an accomplished visual artist — decided to make them himself.

While they have the support of volunteers, all three staffers are volunteers themselves. NOPAL Cultural began hosting a Day of the Dead Celebration four years ago. Their first iteration of Day of the Dead, at Studio B, attracted some 600 souls. This time around, they're expecting 2,000.

Their version of the annual celebration has increased in importance as of late, especially because the Indianapolis Art Center is no longer sponsoring Day of the Dead festivities. And for this reason and others, NOPAL Cultural has a lot of weight on its small shoulders, especially with all of its staff working day jobs to support their community engagement. So the question came up: Why not apply for 501c3 status and become a nonprofit organization that can pay staff and accept grant money?

"It's actually in our plans to do that," said Del Real. "When we started we weren't really sure what we wanted to do with it. Right now people look at us like we're the authority on Latino art in the city. It's a big responsibility so we're sort of having to get structured. It's not what we want to do but what we have to do because of people's expectations of us. That's in the works and we also have plans to open up a physical location."

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