Arts groups cheer Bloomington mayor’s news on Waldron: “While the pandemic has stalled us, it has not killed us.”

A Saturday rally on the courthouse square in downtown Bloomington, to support city government funding of the arts, had a celebratory feel.

The feeling was based on the boost that arts groups heard in remarks from Bloomington’s mayor, John Hamilton, which were delivered on Thursday.

Thursday’s announcement from Hamilton committed to several of the recommendations in a task force report on the use of the old city hall building at 4th and Walnut streets. The report had been released two weeks earlier (May 6).

The building, which is known as The Waldron, is short for the John Waldron Arts Center. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is part of the Courthouse Square Historic District.

Earlier this year, Ivy Tech let the building’s ownership revert back to the city.

Hamilton delivered his Thursday remarks inside the lobby area of The Waldron. One of Hamilton’s announcements that drew applause was the investment of $515,000 in needed infrastructure repairs to the building.

That’s an amount that includes not just the $264,000 in “critical” infrastructure needs listed in the task force’s report, but also $251,000 in “lower priority” items that some in the arts community consider to be essential.

Saturday’s rally, organized by Arts Forward Bloomington, was announced on Monday. The mayor’s Thursday event was announced the following day.

At Saturday’s rally, Bloomington Symphony Orchestra board president Ken Buzzard, who is part of Arts Forward, thanked Hamilton for his announcement on Thursday.

Buzzard said, “And definitely a big, big thank-you to the mayor and his staff for making a substantial commitment to our city on arts infrastructure on Thursday. It’s fantastic. The city truly has affirmed the essential nature of the arts.”

Buzzard continued, “You know what? While the pandemic has stalled us, it has not killed us. Absolutely not. We have remained resilient through all of this in the face of extreme challenges.”

Buzzard added, “And we’re absolutely ready to pick up where we left off. But we’re wiser, we’re tougher, and we’re more collaborative and inclusive than ever before.”

Buzzard described Arts Forward Bloomington as “a collective of artists, art organizations and art supporters that addresses pertinent topics of critical interest to the economy of the arts community.”

Hamilton’s remarks on Thursday included other commitments:

  • a 5-year commitment to dedicate the building to serve the arts
  • re-opening of the building by Jan. 3, 2022
  • a July issuance of a request for information (RFI) for third-party management proposals to add to one that’s already been received
  • a third-party study on the feasibility of constructing a new purpose-built arts facility in the downtown area that serves both the performing and visual arts
  • the possibility of creating a quasi-public cultural improvement corporation

The feasibility study, which Hamilton said he wants to get started sometime this summer, would help determine the type, size, location, and cost for such a facility.

Hamilton wrapped up his description of commitments on Thursday, by talking about the funding requests he would be making to the city council in the coming weeks. Those requests will draw on $22 million that Bloomington will receive from the American Rescue Plan Act and the regular city budget process.

Hamilton said, “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.”

Some in the arts community picked up on Hamilton’s specific mention of artists, not just arts groups.

In his remarks on Saturday, Buzzard talked about the importance of including smaller groups in future planning for a purpose-built performing arts venue. “The new facility is going to support these larger organizations, but the smaller organizations have to have a seat at the table,” Buzzard said.

One of the individual artists who attended the rally on the courthouse lawn on Saturday was Patricia Cole. She’s an oil painter. Her name will be recognized by some Bloomington residents as the city council representative for District 1, immediately preceding Chris Sturbaum, who served through 2019.

Cole served on the city council from 1992 to 2003. For part of that time, she served  alongside Iris Kiesling, who also attended Saturday’s rally.

Some of those whose city council service overlapped with Cole’s include Kirk White, Jack Hopkins, Andy Ruff, and (briefly) current councilmember Dave Rollo.

John Waldron served on the Bloomington city council in the 1870s and 1880s.

One of the scenarios sketched out in the task force report was to sell the building at market rate, for a possibly non-arts purpose. The proceeds of the sale would be put towards the construction of a purpose-built venue for the visual and performing arts.

According to the task force report, the building was appraised by Monroe/Owen Appraisal on Nov. 6, 2020 at $2.8 million.

On Saturday, Buzzard described Hamilton’s remarks as “promises” that the city council will need to help the mayor keep. “With the promises that he’s made, he’s handed it off to city council. Those are your elected officials. And their job is to now see if they can fulfill the promise that the mayor has made us.”

Based on discussion at the end of the city council’s most recent Wednesday meeting (May 19), the next chance for the nine-member city legislature to talk about arts funding could be on June 1.

That’s a tentative date for this year’s customary ”budget advance” meeting.

The date of the budget advance will likely get decided when the council meets in special session next Wednesday, May 26.

The council has convened that special session to adopt a new policy on electronic meetings, after the governor’s emergency health order expires on May 31. The council’s policy looks like be similar to the one already adopted by the Monroe County commissioners.

Photos: May 20 announcement by Mayor Hamilton

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Photos: May 22 rally on courthouse square

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Photos: Images of The Waldron from Pictometry module of Monroe County online property records

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