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Page last updated on November 8, 2021 at 10:59 am

Welcome, and thanks for joining us today in a building that has long served the residents of the City of Bloomington, first as City Hall, as a fire station, and most recently as the John Waldron Arts Center.  


It’s good to see so many friends here again at the Waldron, 6 months after our initial announcement of plans for the building. It’s good to see members of the arts community whose work has made Bloomington and this building such a dynamic hub of visual and performing arts, and to see members of the original Waldron Art Center task force whose hard work has ensured that we continue to have viable space to host artists and audiences. Providing a vibrant and safe home for the arts is especially important now as we continue to push through the pandemic, and cautiously gather together. It is important to provide a physical space for artists to present their work, and for the community to engage with it, and to reap the benefits- the creativity and curiosity that it inspires. No city is whole without the opportunity to do just this.


This afternoon, smack in the middle of First Friday, Gallery Walk, want to give update on three key aspects: first, how’s the repair and refurbishment of the Waldron going. Second, what are some more next steps out of the recommendations. And Third, take stock in Recover Forward and arts in general.


Last May we announced a number of investments and action items to keep the Waldron Art Center active, following the recommendation of the Task Force, to “leverage the building to its fullest extent to support the performing and visual arts in the community,” for the next 5 years at least. Today is sharing our progress on meeting those commitments. 


First, I’m happy to share that we are on track for reopening the doors of the Waldron on January 3, 2022. Watch for an announcement for our opening celebration which will involve our good friends (and current tenants) at WFHB, celebrating their 29th anniversary this January. Following this kick-off event, we anticipate playing host to productions by several long-standing theater groups in the city. Be on the lookout too for announcements of art shows in the Waldron’s galleries, the first of which we anticipate opening during the February 2022 Gallery Walk (pandemic permitting).


A big part of reopening the Waldron is performing a set of repairs that the Task Force deemed critical for bringing the building into code compliance. In May, we announced a commitment of $515,000 to fund these repairs, which won critical support from the City Council since then, and we have been tackling them diligently. This investment is part of a comprehensive effort to Recover Forward from the pandemic and associated downturn, to emerge as the community we aspire to be in every way. This investment was made possible by federal funding made available through the American Rescue Plan Act, thank you President Biden and the US Congress.


To date we have completed repairs on the roof to ensure that it is structurally sound.  In building back better in alignment with our sustainability goals--in the spirit of Recover Forward--we have upgraded the building’s plumbing to save water, and switched to LED lights to save energy.


In progress, noticeable as you walk around the Waldron, is the repair of the windows, which are original to the building. Many were cracked or falling out of their frames. We’re sending them off for repair and will be re-installing them soon. We’re also completing tuckpointing of the masonry on the north facade of the building in order to ensure its structural integrity.


Soon we will overhaul the HVAC system, a project very much top-of-mind as we look to safely welcome back audiences to indoor events in light of COVID. We have committed to upgrading air filtration and turnover rates to the standards of the Actors’ Equity Association, to keep performers, administrators, and audience members as safe as possible.  


Other repairs and upgrades on track for this year are a water heater replacement, upgrades to the fire alarm system, and creating window wells on the exterior of the windows to further prevent water from leaking inside. We’re also exploring options of using the cistern housed under the building to pump water out during periods of heavy rainfall. 


One more happy note: we anticipate that the cost of this big list of repairs is less than the $515,000 of 2021 Recover Forward funding we allocated for this project. I’d like to again thank members of the Waldron task force for driving the evaluation of the building and the criticality of the repairs. We are confident that, come January, building users will be able to show their work and mount their performances safely and comfortably in the Waldron. They and audiences will be able to focus on the production and experience of high quality work. [join in thx to Adam Wason, JD Boroff, MC Carmichael, Alex Crowley, Holly Warren]


As a second part of today’s update, we look beyond the physical building. Managing and programming a building with so many dynamic spaces and users is no small undertaking. It requires expertise, time, and monetary commitment that the City cannot and should not bear on its own. Thus, per the Task Force’s recommendation, last July we issued a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) to elicit third-party management proposals for the Waldron. This request elicited one excellent proposal, enthusiastically put together by a core group of arts leaders in the City.  We are actively negotiating with this respondent now to take over management of the Waldron. Anticipating as we do a successful conclusion to negotiations, we expect the entity will take over management of the building in July of 2022. 


In the first six months of 2022, as this external group prepares for its July takeover, the City will manage the building and facilitate all programs and exhibitions that take place within its walls. Assistant Director for the Arts Holly Warren and Economic and Sustainable Development Director Alex Crowley will work closely with arts leaders in the community, including members of the anticipated managing group, to accommodate artists and arts groups and make sure their use of the space runs smoothly and that audience experiences are excellent, delighting once again with the beauty and power of Waldron events. As I mentioned earlier, with the repair costs coming in under budget, we anticipate being able to use some of the remaining amount of these funds to support this undertaking. 


Simultaneous to our work to make the Waldron the City’s premier art space for the next five years at least, as I indicated last summer, we intend to commission a third-party study to explore options for building Bloomington’s arts capacity, including possibly a new facility within the downtown region. The effort will consider several options, including the viability of keeping the Waldron as a primary building within the City’s arts ecosystem; determining the potential type, size, location, and cost for another possible new or expanded facility; and exploring options not just for building new physical structures to house the arts, but also building a stronger arts community beyond the walls of any one facility. This endeavor aligns with our original Task Force’s recommendation and will be funded with 2021 and 2022 Recover Forward funds.


And beyond this building and its current repair and activation, its programming and management, the Waldron Task Force recommended a longer-term view as well. To that end, I will soon begin work with City Council and other constituencies to consider the proposal of a new quasi-public corporate entity -- something like a Cultural Improvement Corporation or Downtown Building Corporation -- to oversee and manage public properties like the Waldron, the Buskirk, and perhaps other publicly owned properties. This entity could ensure that the buildings entrusted to the public good receive the attention, care and funds they need to operate smoothly and sustainably. They could facilitate active and effective management and activation of them as well. 


It’s important explicitly to acknowledge that even with excellent art-focused downtown buildings like the Waldron Art Center and the Buskirk-Chumley, of course all art doesn’t happen under their roofs. A critical element of our new third-party study will be ensuring the health of our arts community not just through the support of space, but potentially also through a series of initiatives to empower neighborhoods or more distributed venues to become arts hubs in their own right. A downtown arts center can serve as a beacon around which a community can rally. But other factors deserve empowerment too. A neighborhood studio tour, a mural project, a backyard or front-porch performance, a pop-up event or a surprise use of a familiar place can serve as well. We want to consider a wide range of sources and neighborhoods and locations to best activate and support our local art scene. Our community can embrace and enjoy the power of art not only when in a spectacular downtown space, but when simply walking out of their own door or turning the corner from work or school, or stumbling upon an intriguing alley event. This could reflect a community where artists and arts groups across the City feel empowered and part of an overall ecosystem that supports their endeavors -- a purpose-built, purpose-designed arts community. 


Finally, to wrap up this update, we should spend just a few minutes reminding ourselves of some other investments in the city's arts community.


In addition to the $515,000 we allocated from our 2021 Recover Forward funds to bring the Waldron Center back into code, we have committed an additional $250,000 funds to support the Buskirk Chumley Theater as it prepares for its centennial year. These funds will go toward critical repairs at the Buskirk Chumley, including an upgrade to its HVAC system and its unforgettable marquee. 


We have also allocated $350,000 in Recover Forward funds to allocate over the next 14 months to support the further development of new and existing arts groups.


We also remain committed to our One Percent for the Arts ordinance. Over the past two years, we have committed over $600,000 to four such projects, including public art at the Trades District Garage, the 4th Street Garage, Switchyard Park, and the Trades District. [is Estaban Garcia Bravo here?]


We continue to fund individual artists, arts groups, and arts non-profits through the greatly expanded grant programs facilitated through the Bloomington Arts Commission and the Bloomington Urban Enterprise Association. This fall’s grants cycle, for which the city allotted $60,000 and the BUEA allotted $40,000 of funds, just closed. We’ll soon be announcing the recipients of these funds, and can’t wait to see their work in action, inspiring the City. That’s in addition to the approximately $40,000 granted earlier this year, and the $40,000 granted in 2020.


If you do the math, that means as a community we have directed approximately 2 million dollars of public support toward artists and arts organizations in three years. That’s an unprecedented and critically important show of support for our arts community that is so essential to Bloomington, and was hit so hard by the pandemic.


As we are here in 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.  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. For now, for today, let’s focus on the joyful anticipation of returning to live performance and exhibitions here, on the excitement of moving into a new era of Bloomington arts, still to be imagined and designed, and let’s celebrate $2 million dollars of local pride and embrace of the arts, sustaining that part of the city that sustains us all every day. 


Thank you. We invite you now to enjoy music by local musician Charlie Jesseph here at the Waldron, and to venture out to the other Galleries open nearby as part of our monthly Gallery Walk event.