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IU to collaborate With Madame Walker Theatre Center


The Madame Walker Theatre Center in Indianapolis will partner with IU Bloomington and IU-Purde University Indianapolis for a preservation and programming project at the center funded by a $15 million grant from the Lilly Endowment. Anita Hardin, interim executive director of the center, said she is excited to have a reliable heating and cooling system and updated technology for the theater. Carley Lanich

Walking by the Madame Walker Theatre Center in Indianapolis, the 1927 terracotta designs of tragedy-comedy masks can be seen adorning the facade of the building. 

According to IU and IUPUI press releases, the Center will pair up with the two IU branches to preserve, restore and create new programming for the Center with a $15 million grant from the Lilly Endowment.

“One of my favorite things about the theater is the theater itself," Anita Hardin, interim executive director of the Center, said in an interview. "The decor, the grandeur and how it is decorated according to what Madame Walker loved which was the African, Egyptian style."

According to the Center's website, the Walker Theatre is one of the most remarkable, remaining examples of African-inspired Art Deco, an architectural style from the early 20th century. 

Hardin said she is excited about the possibility of having a new, reliable heating and cooling system and updating the technology in the theater to bring more acts to the venue. 

She said she is excited about the partnership between IU and IUPUI because they both bring experience and talent in designing buildings and programming to the table. 

"The Madame Walker Theatre Center is an iconic treasure of the Indianapolis cultural community and a vital piece of our state's and country's history," IU President Michael A. McRobbie said in a January IU press release. 

McRobbie also said the campuses are pleased to collaborate with the center in working to revamp the historic site.

He said IU looks forward to jointly producing new programming that will promote the mission of education, empowerment, entertainment and the celebration of cultural diversity.  

According to the Center's website, the center began in 1927 as the factory and headquarters for the Madame CJ Walker Hair Care and Beauty Products company. The center wasn't just a factory though. It was a restaurant, drugstore, beauty salon and theater.

Due to the segregation of Indianapolis at that time, the Walker Theatre served the black community as a safe and welcoming venue for entertainment, entrepreneurship, education, commerce and community building, according to the center's website.

“Encouraging cultural education, art, entertainment and entrepreneurship are part of Madam Walker’s legacy,” Hardin said. 

Hardin said the partnership with IU and IUPUI will extend the center's reach to IU and IUPUI students.

“The Walker center is located very close to the IUPUI campus," Hardin said. "We have something great to offer them. With this partnership, we will have more to offer to the community.”

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