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Maven to Know: Malina Simone Jeffers

This activist, entrepreneur, co-founder of GANGGANG, and Indy Maven editorial board member got to work during quarantine last year. Here’s what she cooked up—and how she got there.
MAVEN TO KNOW

As 2020 unfolded in all its complexities, Malina Simone Jeffers knew she had to do something. As racial equity took the forefront in June 2020, she wasn’t quite sure how to combine her passion for arts and culture with racial equity and civic pride. Her friends, knowing her interests, started asking her some tough questions in response:

“What are you going to do with this moment?”

“How are you going to lead right now?”

At the time, Jeffers was working at Ambrose Property Group as its vice president of marketing and corporate responsibility and had previously worked at the Arts Council of Indianapolis. On June 5, 2020, she explored those same questions with her husband, Alan. After brainstorming through the night, they had their answer: a cultural start-up, now known as GANGGANG.

“It felt like a lightning rod moment, and we knew that it was our future,” Jeffers says. “I made Alan quit his job at United Way and said, ‘This is what we’re doing now.’ We don’t have a Plan B. This is it. We feel like this is our life’s purpose, to provide equity in the creative space.”

We met with Jeffers and explored how she started GANGGANG, the scariest part about leaving behind a corporate job, and how we can have productive conversations around race and equity.

Maven superpower: Empathy. I approach every person with grace and understanding.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
So, you earned an advertising degree from Ball State University in 2004.

I went to Ball State thinking that I was going to study graphic design. I have been drawn to design and the arts since high school. Then I didn’t get into Ball State’s graphic design school, so there went my plans. And so, it kind of forced the question, what do I love about design? I realized I like how it can influence people. So, I studied advertising. Advertising and marketing were my thing, still is. I don’t regret it. I think advertising and marketing is one of the most powerful things in the world.

What can rejections teach us?

It teaches us to ask more questions. I’m actually proud of myself for not being sad about what felt like a rejection. Instead I asked, “What do you love about this subject? What do you love about this industry?” And so, I think what appears to be a missed opportunity can really be an opportunity to do more self-reflection and to ask yourself more of the why’s. And usually there’s another answer or opportunity around the corner.

What was it like transitioning from the corporate world to owning your own business?

Just before that, I had been working at Ambrose Property Group on downtown Indianapolis’ biggest transformation of an urban area in 100 years—the redevelopment of the former GM stamping plant. So, to transition from the corporate world and having funding, access to resources, and a very big and visible project in downtown, and transitioning into something like GANGGANG, that felt kind of conceptual. But it also felt like a return to my home, which has been baked in the arts and culture sector since day one. So, it feels right to me now, it feels like this is exactly what I’m supposed to be doing.

How did you prepare to launch your own business?

There was a lot of preparation on a few fronts. There’s a lot of mental preparation and marketing preparation that needed to happen. And fundraising preparation needed to happen. The mental one, of course, came first. So, we really had to take time to ask ourselves hundreds of questions. What does this really mean? Why are we really doing this? What is the intention behind this? We also know society and know that this topic of racism is not going to be at the forefront for long. So, what does the sustainability of our business look like once this dies down? 

And then we knew we couldn’t launch without financial backing. So, we were out trying to raise $1 million before we even launched. We went to CICF and they said, “We’re in.” And we went to Glick Philanthropy and they said, “We’re in.” We thought, holy cow, people get it and we have support. We haven’t raised $1 million yet, I think we’re actually $150,000 away, but we’re almost there.

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What was the scariest thing about going out on your own and founding GANGGANG?

The financial part has been kind of scary because we are dependent upon other people right now. We are dependent upon philanthropy and that just feels scary because it can go away at any time. And I think the sacrifice part has been super hard. 

Together, Alan and I have five teenagers. A lot of it has been asking them questions. What do you guys think about this? As a mom, are they thinking that I’m putting GANGGANG before them? And then there’s also been a little bit of thinking, does Indy really need this right now? It’s knowing that absolutely, there is no entity focusing on or being intentional on our city’s strategy for culture.

What’s one of your favorite art installations in Indy?

My favorite installation by far is the Black Lives Matter street mural on Indiana Avenue. It was phenomenal the way that it connected and galvanized our entire community. We commissioned 18 local Black artists to create the mural, but there were so many volunteers that helped us that day. But, since it’s on the street, it looks terrible now. So many cars have gone over it and it’s all dirty, and so it’s my favorite for all of the reasons I just named, and because it was just beautiful and was one of America’s favorites. It was on The View and we were in Forbes.

What was your hope when you set out to commission the BLM mural? Did it spark the conversations you thought it would?

The mural has done its job a thousand times over. It was created to amplify the message, the love and the resiliency of the movement for racial equality.

How can we have productive conversations around race and equity?

We can have productive convos around race and equity the same way we do about anything else we care about. It’s interesting that society doesn’t question how to be productive around women’s rights or healthcare. Racism will remain in place if we continue to think it’s impossible to converse about and overcome.

Where do you hope to see GANGGANG in the future?

GANGGANG is working on a more national level in the near future. I almost consider cities as the client now versus organizations or projects. 

What’s one of your favorite places to grab a bite to eat on Mass Ave?

I love the Golden Milk at Coat Check and we’re always up to grab a burger from Bru on a Thursday night. We just had a great drink at the new Thai place on the eastern end.

Do you have anything coming in the future that we should keep an eye out for?

I hope everyone has BUTTER on their calendars. It’s the Friday through Sunday of Labor Day weekend with tickets on sale mid-July! I think we’ll have a pretty kickass end of year event/report as well.

What advice have you received that’s impacted you the most?

My mentor Tamara Zahn said that when I feel myself start to bubble up, when I feel I’m becoming overwhelmed, to pause and practice gratitude. It’s helped immensely.

Samantha Kupiainen is a regular Indy Maven contributor.

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