Both Clowes Memorial Hall and Jordan College of the Arts are undergoing changes amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo courtesy of Wenger Corporation.
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Seating over 2,000 audience members, Clowes Memorial Hall is a focal point of the Butler Arts and Events Center, BAEC, and has a history of presenting artists dating back to 1963. The entrance of the building was turned into a construction zone this past summer, putting the shows on pause and the renovations on full blast.
Instead of having live performances, BAEC utilized its streaming service, The Fly Rail, to share Jordan College of the Arts performances from this past year.
Aaron Hurt, executive director of the BAEC, shared that Clowes was created as the original arts center for Indianapolis.
“The Clowes vision has always been about how to bring art to central Indiana, how to bring people to go celebrate their sense of community,” Hurt said.
Part of keeping Clowes the beacon for arts in the Indianapolis community includes keeping the building up to date with other state-of-the-art performance venues across the country. During the three months Clowes was shut down due to COVID-19, Hurt reached out to the Allen Whitehill Clowes Community fund to address security concerns along with updates that would make the building more modern and welcoming to patrons. The new plans were then drafted by Jonathan Hess, the same designer of the Schrott Center and Lilly Hall.
The renovations of the building included the demolition of the southern wall, increasing the lobby 15 feet past the old front doors and enclosing the patio upstairs that had rarely been used. In doing this, a new VIP space was created on the second floor, and the front doors now lead directly into the lobby on the first floor.
“It’s night and day in there, literally, and it’s amazing how much a small feature change, like moving a wall in that short amount of space, changes everything,” Hurt said.
In terms of accessibility, the renovations have changed the way ingress into the building works. There are now new Americans with Disabilities Act accommodations as well as two ramps. The new security system enables guests to walk directly into the lobby with lanes big enough to accommodate wheelchairs. Furthermore, there will be no need for pat-downs as the system automatically scans each guest individually, regardless of if they are walking together or in a group.
These upgrades to the building are just the first phase of revamping the entirety of Clowes. BAEC has already launched a campaign to pave the plaza in front of the building where eventually an outdoor performing area will be added. Hurt said that starting at the beginning of the school year, BAEC is launching a 12-15 concert series with local artist management group GANGGANG Culture that will be free to the community and students. These will be held on the lawn, where the stage is being built.
The entrance of the building is not the only part of Clowes that will look different this year. Due to restrictions that arose from COVID-19 last year, Clowes had an extremely limited audience capacity. This school year, most shows will be back to selling seats for the entire house meaning that once again, the audience can be filled with cheering patrons.
Lisa Brooks, dean of JCA, explained the return to normal looks different in each department across campus, but it is clear that for the arts, live performances are a priority.
“I think that audiences are participants in the performance, and they build a community with each other as they share an experience together,” Brooks said. “As performers, we feed off that energy, so having that energy, having that reaction, knowing that you have them, I think we are so ready to get back to that.”
Within JCA, there are still some restrictions in place but due to the university-mandated vaccination requirement, social distancing policies are becoming more lax. Some students, like Anna Casey, a sophomore arts administration major, are excited for rehearsals to return to normal in Lilly Hall.
“I feel like this year being back to sort of normal with fewer restrictions will give more of a flow in our rehearsals and probably make us do better as well,” Casey said.
Clowes will be home to various exciting shows this semester, many of which will fulfill Butler Cultural Requirement credits for students. Live streaming options will be available for select shows, and students can check out butlerartscenter.org for more information on upcoming performances.
Despite restrictions, Brooks urges JCA students to not give up hope.
“It’s a matter of being strong and persevering right now, realizing that better times will be here and soon, and just feed off that joy that we all have for our art that we create,” Brooks said.