Mali: The pandemic was this amazingly scary and beautiful mash-up of stay-at-home orders, fear of death by virus and all-out street-fights in every city over racism. It was wild! For us, it felt like time to do something. It felt like time to turn everything up a notch, especially the things we’d been thinking about but couldn’t act on in a full-time capacity. With more face time and more pressured thinking, it was the perfect time to pivot to what’s most important and what’s being highlighted by our nation
The COVID19 pandemic has disrupted all of our lives. But sometimes disruptions can be times of opportunity. Many people’s livelihoods have been hurt by the pandemic. But some saw this as an opportune time to take their lives in a new direction.
As a part of this series called “How I Was Able To Pivot To A New Exciting Opportunity Because Of The Pandemic”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mali Jeffers and Alan Bacon.
Malina “Mali” Simone Jeffers is Co-Founder of GANGGANG, a cultural development firm based in Indianapolis. Leveraging her 13-year track record in arts, culture, and inclusive programming work, Mali works to eliminate barriers to success, especially for those in the cultural sector. Prior to her time at GANGGANG, Mali led the marketing and city engagement of a 1.3B dollars development project in downtown Indianapolis. Earlier, Mali coordinated downtown Indy’s public art exhibitions for the Arts Council of Indianapolis, managed marketing and programs for the Madame Walker Theatre Center and worked as an independent contractor to the City of Indianapolis on Plan 2020 — the City’s bicentennial plan. In 2016, Jeffers was the project manager on the Ben Franklin Funds, raising 100M dollars for the future of Indianapolis with the Central Indiana Community Foundation. Mali sits on the Board of Directors/Governors for Big Car, Newfields, and the Indianapolis Neighborhood Housing Agency. She also serves on The Exchange at the Indianapolis Urban League. Jeffers is a graduate of the Stanley K. Lacy Leadership Series, a 40 under Forty recipient from the Indianapolis Business Journal and a 2015 TedX speaker.
Alan K. Bacon is a trusted leader in the Indianapolis community with a passion for people, improved economic mobility, and finding creative solutions to end poverty. As the Co-Founder of GANGGANG, a cultural development firm, Bacon is grounded in an education foundation and works to spark ideas and collaboration toward social innovation practices across the nation. Prior to GANGGANG, Bacon held a role as Senior Director of the Social Innovation at United Way of Central Indiana where he led a one-million-dollar fund and all related aspects including grantmaking, community engagement, and corporate partnerships. Prior to his role at United Way, Bacon served as global director of learning and development for iLAB LLC, in Johannesburg, South Africa as well as Campus President of the Northwest campus of Harrison College. Cherishing his work and presence in the community, Bacon serves on the Music Cities Steering Committee and has left his footprint on more than twenty Indy-based boards, governing bodies or organizing committees. An IU grad, a father of three, and downtown Indy resident, Bacon spends his time as a musician and writer.https://content.thriveglobal.com/media/10fec5f021ed25005317acf9fa6d5b6c
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
Mali: I grew up in Indy. I was a Black young girl in predominantly white, private schools so that created a complex for me that I’ve been processing ever since. I had/have a huge, loving family and my Dad was heavily involved in our neighborhood from a leadership perspective. So, I’ve been in the community and race sector for what feels like my entire life, without even knowing it.
Alan: I was raised in Indy where my father was a City admin and Chaplain. My mother ran a successful real estate company, and they both were musicians and community volunteers. I learned a lot throughout my childhood as it relates to culture and community.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Mali: “If you don’t like how something is going, get in and work your way to the top then change it.” This advice stuck with me even before I started my career, but it’s rung helpful ever since. I’ve even been able to apply that to multiple organizations and to an entire industry via GANGGANG.
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
Alan: I found a lot of early inspiration in music. From Stevie Wonder to Sting, Prince and Lenny Kravitz, Jay Z and Beyonce — music has allowed me to understand and amplify my own creative talent as a way to connect with people and help the community.
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before the Pandemic began?
Mali: I started my career at Emmis Communications working in radio sales. It was a cool first job but quickly felt a bit too surface for me. I then went to the Arts Council of Indianapolis where I spent nearly 5 years learning the ins and outs of Indy’s arts and culture scene and even doing some events myself. From there I became Marketing Director of the historic Madame Walker Theatre Center and then landed a role with the City of Indianapolis as the person charged with getting residents more emotionally attached to Indy. After that, I had a short stint in for-profit development where I led marketing and community engagement efforts for the largest redevelopment project in downtown Indy’s history. Once the pandemic hit, my focus began to shift on what mattered most. So, I left the corporate world to go all in on the work most important to me — back to arts and culture and its intersection with race and equity.
What did you do to pivot as a result of the Pandemic?
Mali: The pandemic was this amazingly scary and beautiful mash-up of stay-at-home orders, fear of death by virus and all-out street-fights in every city over racism. It was wild! For us, it felt like time to do something. It felt like time to turn everything up a notch, especially the things we’d been thinking about but couldn’t act on in a full-time capacity. With more face time and more pressured thinking, it was the perfect time to pivot to what’s most important and what’s being highlighted by our nation.
Can you tell us about the specific “Aha moment” that gave you the idea to start this new path?
Alan: Malina and I live together and one evening, as she sat on the couch she muttered, “What do you think about a cultural startup?” That phrase, in that moment, carried us all the way through to this moment where we’ve recently launched a cultural startup. The same way our city (and country) has been innovative in the tech space and incubated so many tech startups, we can do that in the culture industry. And that’s what we’re set out to do.
How are things going with this new initiative?
Alan: They’re going really well! People are really gravitating toward this idea of culture being the driver but not the economic leader and thinking of ways we can make up for that. We’ve raised a half a million dollars in just a few months and we’re leveraging all of that toward more culture in cities, starting with our own.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Mali: Brian Payne is the President and CEO of the Central Indiana Community Foundation. The morning after we had the big idea to launch a cultural startup, I ran (literally, ran) into Brian’s office hyperventilating and so anxious to share our idea. We knew that if Brian, whom is leading the charge to make Indy more equitable, “got” it — that’d he’d help us strategize. Brian saw how nervous I was and invited me to sit down and just share. So, that we did, and the rest is history; CICF is incubating GANGGANG — Indy’s first cultural startup.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?
Alan: I quit a job that I worked really hard for. I didn’t see GANGGANG coming at all but when it presented itself, I dropped everything and dove head-in to build the cultural industry.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my organization” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
We came up with 5 things we didn’t see coming doing business together as a couple. Here they are (and watch the video!)
1) People ask — in business meetings — “what if you guys break up?”
2) When one of us is sick, the entire company shuts down.
3) You have complete trust in your colleague — when does that ever get to happen?
4) Increased productivity.
5) Brainstorming is more productive.
So many of us have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. Can you share the strategies that you have used to optimize your mental wellness during this stressful period?
Mali: I am such an introvert and am riddled with social anxiety. The early stay-at-home order was a huge blessing for me as it was a distant dream for me to be able to work from home! But quickly, the stress of it all became more than the ease of being home. I started to journal more, have outdoor meetings, and like many others, started cooking again. All of that seemed to help.
You are both people of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
Alan: I would do exactly what I’m doing right now. I’d create an organization that worked to produce, promote, and preserve culture in cities knowing that culture is a path toward human connection.
Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!
Mali: I am dreaming of a triple date between Alan and I, Michelle and Barack, and Beyonce and Jay. A dream!
How can our readers follow you online?