A destination for the arts: Recent $5.8 million Lilly Endowment grant to increase art opportunities in Lawrence

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Arts for Lawrence Executive Director Judy Byron said the organization has always had a vision to further cultivate arts within the City of Lawrence.

Now, with the help of a recent $5.8 million Lilly Endowment grant, that vision is a reality.

“We saw that Fort Harrison was the best place to put an arts destination,” Byron said. “In January of (2018), the Lilly Endowment announced this grant called Strengthening Indianapolis Through Arts and Cultural Innovation, and they were asking for concept papers. I called the city, talked to them about being our partner with this and decided to share with them what we had been envisioning.”

The grant will help pay for renovation and an addition to the Theater at the Fort, technical improvements to the Sterrett Center for programming and relocating a historic communication building to be a gallery, among other projects.

“In the grant, we have earmarked it as our visual arts building to host a gallery and some art classes, and all the property — the parking lot and all the property to the north of us (at Theater at the Fort) will be turned into greenspace,” Byron said. “We will have an amphitheater, have some hardscape with tables and chairs and public art will be incorporated throughout.”

The amphitheater and greenspace are part of Phase 4, which also includes hand-carved limestone benches by Indianapolis artist Cheryl Lorance.

City of Lawrence Mayor Steve Collier said the project will change the character of downtown.

“(The project) is over five years, and it’s actually a 23-page document,” Collier said. “It’s a big deal for the city. As you come into the city, you’re going to see some major changes in there. It highlights the importance of arts and culture into a city’s growth. It certainly helps our economic development in a variety of different ways.”

Arts for Lawrence actually applied for $8.8 million from the Lilly Endowment but was still granted a large total. The $5.8 million it received will fund Phase 1 through 5 of the seven-phase project.

The two phases that did not receive funding are transforming Otis Avenue into a festival street and creating a roundabout at the Otis Avenue and Post Road intersection. The last phase would be the creation of a sculpture garden which connects the Theater at the Fort property to Fort Benjamin Harrison State Park. That portion of the project also would include adding art to the water tower in a way which complies with the Reuse Authority. Acquiring the property needed for the sculpture garden is part of Phase 1, so Byron said she is hopeful the last two phases will still happen.

“I think one of the reasons why we were so successful with our grant application is we did not design something to fit the grant. We have been thinking about this project for 10 years,” Byron said.

What’s next?

The first steps for Arts for Lawrence is to conduct a planning phase, where the organization will hold community information sessions and then work with designers to ensure the project has a comprehensive design.

Byron said the sessions are expected to begin this month, but as of press time a specific date and time has not been announced. Phase 1, which includes renovations to Theater at the Fort, will follow the planning phase.

Arts for Lawrence will develop art throughout the project by creating an augmented reality app for the cultural plaza where a person can download an app on their phone, stand in a specific spot and then read history on what happened in that area of Lawrence. Other art implementation includes artists designing the bike racks and trash receptacles, a gallery for the Arts for Lawrence resident artist Gary Schmidt and other features.

Eighteen of 256 organizations received funding for the Lilly Endowment Strengthening Indianapolis Through Arts and Cultural Innovation grant.

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