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Page last updated on September 7, 2021 at 1:15 pm

MAYOR: Welcome, and thanks for joining us today in Old City Hall, the recent John Waldron Arts Center. (think of 1915 and all the people since)

One of the first City events we’ve held in person in over 14 months. Indoors. [may regret having to gather and stand for speeches, wearing outfits that cover more than just the top half of your body] 

Remind of COVID protocols, masking, still real concerns. 

How very Bloomington it is that we should reconvene here, in a long-beloved civic and arts space.  It’s good to see many friends, and [civic leaders, Don; people who stewarded this building thru past 3 decades] You all look really good. (lighting, background, video quality, no buffering)

It’s good to see so many of the community’s stalwarts of the arts among us--and those of you who volunteered your time as members of the Waldron Recommendation Task Force over the last six months. I am deeply grateful for the work you have done, and for your deep commitment to our vibrant Bloomington and our iconic arts community.  [thank MC, Alex, Sean, Adam] 

We are joined today by the co-chairs of that task force--Miah Michaelsen and Valerie Pena--who will share the task force’s very thorough engagement and evaluation process and the recommendations this work produced. I’ll then announce some next steps, based on those recommendations and including Bloomington’s arts scene across the board.

About two weeks ago in New York City, Broadway announced its plans to reopen their shows in the fall to full capacity. We may not be exactly like Broadway, but our arts community is anxious to get back on track too. This fact and feedback from key community members and organizations suggested we should lay out the plans as soon as possible after the task force report, to help everyone plan accordingly, and also clarify any misapprehensions that can flourish. So with that, first up, Valerie Pena. 


Mayor Hamilton at Waldron


Valerie Pena: Summary of Task Force process, timeline, overview 

Miah Michaelsen: Various scenarios and final recommendations


Mayor: Thanks so much to you both, and task force members and city staff.

No one went into 2020 imagining what was in store, including the prospect of a year without in-person fine arts. But last spring in Bloomington, this fate loomed. The pandemic upended how we could see live performances, gallery shows, and experience community life in every way.  Physical distancing and capacity restrictions slammed our vibrant arts and culture sector right in the midsection, and created a long road to recovery, and some have still not raised their curtain.  Despite the dark clouds, the miasma, that hit, and this darkened building’s own symbolism, our tenacious, hardworking arts community did not fold.  Artists, musicians, arts purveyors, and all kinds of culture-bearers worked tirelessly during this historic pandemic to shift business models and create new digital and safe experiences for you and your family.  Still, no matter how resourceful and inventive, our favorite arts organizations and artists need our help to endure, they need our support--especially as they try new hard things.  


In Bloomington, the arts--whether music, theater, visual art, literature, dance, film--the arts are in our DNA.  It’s who we are, and who we want to be. And our identity as a cultural capital is at the same time a very significant economic and jobs driver. According to a 2018 national report, the arts contribute three quarters of a trillion dollars to the US economy—over 4 percent of the entire Gross Domestic Product—more than agriculture, or transportation, or warehousing. Bloomington is richly blessed to have a very strong creative sector of individuals, businesses, and arts and cultural organizations— fueled in part by IU’s world class talent —powering the cultural vitality of our community.  So we invest in it.  


For example, Bloomington was the first city to pass the 1% for the Arts Ordinance in the state of Indiana, and this year we will have completed over half a million dollars of public art projects using this mechanism. 


According to Americans for the Arts, the pandemic has caused over 15 billion dollars in losses to the arts nationally. To help mitigate the impact of the pandemic on our local arts and cultural community, our city government had to pivot too. Since last May 2020, the Bloomington Arts Commission alongside the Bloomington Urban Enterprise Association (BUEA) has administered grants totaling $170,000 to continue to support arts and culture organizations whose programming was interrupted or otherwise impacted by the pandemic, including $60,000 in additional grants offered in 2021 as part of the Recover Forward initiative. The BAC will be making recommendations to its current grant cycle in June. 


Many City departments, and staff, and of course community volunteers embody our community’s commitment to the arts and culture sector. Our Parks Department continually supports the arts through programs, events, and festivals with countless hours of staff support. Annually through the Parks, City Council, and the Redevelopment Commission, we commit $137,500 to the BCT. Switchyard Park offers many new possibilities for festivals and cultural events alike with the Pavilion and Main Stage as key elements. In 2018 through the Community Family Resources and Economic and Sustainability departments, our community welcomed the Black Y Brown Arts festival to prioritize Black, Indigenous, and Latinx artists in our community. Our Public Works department doesn’t charge for festival fees (unlike most cities our size) and supports numerous festivals with in-kind staff support behind the scenes. With Kirkwood’s new bollard system, our iconic street has become a premiere festival and pedestrian corridor for our community. This forward-thinking approach made it easier for us to close the street to support many of our beloved restaurants during this past year. This list goes on and on...some might include the reopening of the replacement 4th st garage too….


As we consider this facility, this building, we reflect on the countless performances we’ve seen here, the paintings and sculpture and photographs and thousands of pieces of work installed in these galleries over the years, and the years we’ve spent informed and entertained by community-powered radio WFHB, which lives here too.  We consider the role the Waldron has played over the last three decades as the community’s arts incubator--a role repeatedly referenced by those who contributed to the work of the task force.  And, as also referenced in the report, we acknowledge some of the building’s limitations as a space for the performing and visual arts.  


Taking the task force report’s recommendations to heart -- and thanks again to our two co-chairs and all the members and staff who worked so hard to provide such sage guidance -- I’d like to announce today some short- and long-term proposals for this building, and for the City’s commitment to the arts community more generally. This all follows the umbrella recommendation to “leverage the building to its fullest extent to support the performing and visual arts in the community.” And let me preface all of this by saying some of the proposed actions will require city council approvals for expenditures, so I’m looking at you all too…...So to specifics: 


  • First, I’m today announcing agreement with the recommendation to dedicate this great old building to serve the arts for the next five years, with management either by the City or a selected management organization.  As the task force said, this will “allow[] arts organizations utilizing the facility a secure . . . opportunity to rebuild operation revenue post pandemic.”
  • Second, I’m following the recommendation to invest, as soon as possible, what is needed in capital investments to bring the building into code compliance and to make it safe and usable, which we estimate at around $515K, to be invested quickly in the coming months.  
  • Third, I’m announcing today, for all to hear and use for planning, that we plan to reopen the Waldron to the public by Monday, January 3, 2022. (let me say we hope to provide access earlier to those who are preparing to offer programs and arts to the public)
  • Next, again following the recommendations, we will issue a Request for Information (RFI) to elicit third-party management proposals for the Waldron, to consider alongside one already received. We plan to release the RFI very promptly, no later than July.  
  • Next, again following the recommendations, we intend to commission a third-party study on a potential future arts facility to be built within the downtown region, to help determine the type, size, location, and cost for such a potential facility. Plan to commence that study by this summer. 
  • Next a word about the Buskirk Chumley Theater. It too needs investments -- it’s approaching its Centennial next year by the way. I’ll be asking for capital funds from Council to invest in long-term maintenance of that building as well. And may be involved in third-party management along with Waldron.
  • Next, I will work with City Council to consider the proposal of a new quasi-public corporate entity -- something like a Cultural Improvement Corporation or Capital Improvement Board -- to oversee and manage public properties like the Waldron, the Buskirk, and perhaps others. In coming months.
  • Finally, as part of funding requests in the coming weeks, from the critically important American Rescue Plan Act and our city budget, I will be asking the city council for significant new investment in economic recovery grants for impacted arts groups, artists, and related organizations in our community. These can include allocations to be made toward Waldron and BCT both in capital improvements and equipment needs or upgrades to ensure accessibility, equity, and use for all groups from volunteer to professional, as well as open to the wider arts community for recovery needs. I will work with City Council and others to develop the details in coming weeks.  


These are some of the steps to take now, for our arts sector, and indeed our whole community, to help build back better. [I’ll note a little aside that you might watch for additional indications in the weeks ahead about future other categories and outlines for potential investments of the American Rescue Plan Act funds, in areas such as housing, infrastructure, more on jobs and the economy, and such.] 

In times of trauma or turmoil, during wars or depressions or pandemics, the arts have always persevered. After the great plague, Europe saw the Renaissance. During our own country’s great depression, the federal Works Progress Administration ensured arts and culture would endure across both urban and rural divides. We here in Bloomington, in our way in our time, must also commit to the livelihood of the arts. We rely on the arts to give us vision for new possibilities. To give us healing and heartwarming. To give us motivation and empathy.  To confront us and challenge us. Coming out of this pandemic, we need to recover, yes, but we also need to dream. We need to ask ourselves what is possible? We need to help the arts, to help us, to imagine and pursue our next Bloomington chapter. And what a fitting place -- a beautiful old civic treasure like this -- for us to gather to begin that journey together. I look forward to seeing you again, on or about January 3rd, right back here, for a celebration. Thank you.