The Herald-Times

One year later, Ivy Tech-Waldron marriage looks strong

Mike Leonard
331-4368 |

April 29, 2011

In early 2010, the future of the John Waldron Arts Center in downtown Bloomington was very much in doubt, with its owner, the Bloomington Area Arts Council, foundering in debt and the facility reflecting the financial inattention.

The city of Bloomington stepped in, purchased the BAAC’s assets for $150,000 and then turned around and found an eager buyer in Ivy Tech Community College.

A year later, city officials and Ivy Tech Chancellor John Whikehart say the arrangement probably worked out better than their most optimistic vision.

“I could not have imagined a year ago how successful I believe this acquisition has been for us,” Whikehart said this week. “I can’t describe what an ooh-aah event it’s been for the college, for its image, for our vision of being a truly comprehensive community college with the emphasis on community.

“The Waldron’s my favorite place, the favorite physical space we have,” he went on. “When I go there, I feel our connection with the community in that building, be it in the art galleries, the performance space, the people coming in to take arts-related classes. It’s the structural personification of what it means to be a community college.”

“We took a sad story and wrote a new chapter on how vision, collaboration and a lot of trust all the away around can do some amazing things. We couldn’t have imagined a better outcome,” said Mayor Mark Kruzan.

“At the time of possession, the building was in great need of attention,” said city councilman and former BAAC board member Tim Mayer. “Under Ivy Tech’s ownership, the building is seeing many more people walk through the doors than in the past — for classes, gallery visits and openings, meetings, performances, et. al.,” Mayer wrote in an email. “The building has been remodeled and upgraded, and expansion plans in the future could only be possible because of Ivy Tech’s ownership.”

The physical improvements are readily apparent in fresh paint, new carpeting, a new kiln room and new lighting in several spaces including a much-needed improvement in the auditorium, which benefits acting and the performing arts. The auditorium now sports heavier chairs with arms and back support — a benefit to audiences.

A new video gallery is said to be Bloomington’s first permanently dedicated space for video art and sound. A Treasurer’s gallery has been established where the old gift shop was located, adding more space for art exhibitions. The center boasts five separate gallery spaces.

Ivy Tech’s already thriving Center for Lifelong Learning has expanded after moving from the Illinois Central Freight Station — commonly called the depot. “The document we signed (with the city) restricted our use of the building in theory, but those restrictions actually are our mission,” Whikehart said. “We committed to using 70 percent of our space for arts-related activity and just looking at (learning center director Susie Graham’s) area alone, 85 percent of the classes we’re offering at the Waldron are arts-related classes. So we’re certainly meeting our commitment to the city.”

The Center for Lifelong Learning ran 10 weeks of Ivy Arts for Kids summer camp last year with seven adult classes; offered 147 sections of noncredit art instruction and more than 50 open studio hours for students enrolled in ceramic classes. The center also has forged an Ivy Tech/Bloomington Playwrights Project Theater for Youth program featuring five camp experiences focusing on theater skills including acting, storytelling, playwriting, movement, character creation, improvisation and performance.

A Dr. Music Little Bands program looks to offer a three-week summer youth camp teaching music, instruments and production in ensemble setting.

Ivy Tech plans to ramp up the for-credit arts classes in its curriculum when construction on West Third Street is completed this summer — thus making the sojourn from the main campus on Bloomington’s far-west side to downtown easier.

On top of all of this, Ivy Tech granted free space to community radio station WFHB, assuring that organization of a permanent home and allowing the volunteer-powered radio station to invest more in its technical infrastructure and not worry about paying rent.

Whikehart said Ivy Tech has more than made good on its commitment to invest $500,000 in the Waldron in its first year, when personnel and renovation costs are added together.

Rather than renting space, which Ivy Tech has needed to do for several years, the institution is investing in its own facility and will see a return on that investment eventually, Whikehart said.

The visible presence at the downtown corner of Fourth and Walnut streets has produced tangible and intangible benefits to the community college, the chancellor said. “I don’t know what it’s worth in market value, but people see it and know we’re there and that’s important to us,” he said.

“From my perspective, this has been good for the Waldron, good for Ivy Tech, good for WFHB, good for downtown and good for the community,” said city council member Mayer. “In two words, I’m happy.”

Ivy Tech has a prominent place downtown with the Waldron at Fourth and Walnut streets. Jeremy Hogan | Herald-Times

Ivy Tech student Megan Snook makes a sushi tray in the ceramics lab at the Waldron. Ivy Tech’s Center for Lifelong Learning offered more than 50 open studio hours for students enrolled in ceramic classes over the past year. Jeremy Hogan | Herald-Times

Alice Jwaideh, left, and Maggie Reid view art at the Waldron in the Education Gallery, which is reserved for Ivy Tech students and faculty. Jeremy Hogan | Herald-Times

Maryann Cusack paints a scene of North Carolina’s Outer Banks while Brenda Erwin, background, paints the Cataract Falls covered bridge during an Ivy Tech Center for Lifelong Learning class at the Waldron. Jeremy Hogan | Herald-Times

Copyright: 2011