Vonnegut Library

The Vonnegut Museum and Library located in the Emelie Building at 340 N. Senate Ave. closed Jan. 5, 2019


On Jan 5, the Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library closed its Emelie Building location at 340 N. Senate Ave. just as its lease expired.

But the Vonnegut museum, which opened this street-front space in 2011 to celebrate the life and legacy of the Indianapolis-born author, is not disbanding. It’s merely in a state of transition, says founder and CEO Julia Whitehead.

The museum is actively searching for a new location and will likely have an announcement about a new space very soon.

“We have narrowed the search down to a few different locations, but I’m not at liberty to say at this point what’s happening with that,” says Whitehead.

In the interim, they will open a pop-up retail space in Circle Center Mall in early February.

2012 CVAs: Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library

Julia Whitehead

Within its small space in the Emelie building—donated by the law firm Katz, Korin, and Cunningham—the museum was able to do a lot in eight years.

Visitors were able to view, among other items, Vonnegut’s Smith-Corona Coronamatic 2200, which he used to type his novels Jailbird and Breakfast of Champions. They could have also sat in a recreation of his office space, taken in exhibits highlighting his social advocacy, and attended the art exhibitions and readings the museum occasionally hosted.

But it soon became apparent that there only so much that the museum could do with its 1100 square feet of space. Their office space was off-site, and much of the museum collection had to be housed in the Indiana History Center.

Since the museum had clearly outgrown the Emelie Building, a move was planned in early 2017. The organization chose a location at 646 Mass Ave, which had five times the square footage, and a lease was signed.

However, before a grand opening celebration could be held in April 2017, serious structural issues were found with the building. The museum was forced to cancel the move.

The aborted move resulted in litigation between the museum and the building’s owner and delay plans for moving. Now the dispute between the parties has been resolved, with 646 Partners agreeing “to make a significant donation to the Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library to support and preserve the legacy of the Hoosier legend as well as highlight the 646 Mass Ave Partners passion for the arts and culture in Indianapolis,” according to a statement by the museum.

Whitehead admits that the past two years have been difficult, and she is looking forward to 2019, the 50th anniversary of the publication of Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five. To mark the anniversary the museum is giving away 86,000 copies of the book to all Hoosier high school sophomores.

Jonathan McAfee's portraits of Vonnegut

Jonathan McAfee, "SH5" (2014)

The museum plans to open the new space, wherever that might be, with an exhibition called Slaughterhouse 50, that will honor the book’s 50th anniversary of publication.   

The exhibit will feature 50 pieces of art inspired by Slaughterhouse-Five and created by renowned artist and war veteran, Lance Miccio.

During VonnegutFest 2019, in November, a permanent exhibition for Slaughterhouse-Five will be unveiled.

In the interim, the pop-up at Circle Center Mall will act as more than just a retail space.

“There will be three display cases with some artifacts from our museum,” says Whitehead. “But the bulk of our artifacts are going to be archived for us kindly by the State Museum. So that is a great partnership that we are striking up in this particular time to find a home for precious artifacts like Vonnegut’s typewriter which we believe will be on display at the State Museum.”

The museum also has a full plate of events.

“We’re excited about Night of Vonnegut being held in the Athenaeum this year with Salman Rushdie who will be interviewed by the historian Douglas Brinkley who has his own following.”

Since it’s a 1969 theme, patrons will be invited to wear clothes from the era to the event.

“We will have reenactors, or I guess I should say actors, representing individual characters from the book Slaughterhouse Five, who will interact with the audience that night,” says Whitehead

Whitehead says that she is encouraged by ongoing support from the community fiscally and otherwise.

“As we start 2019 is this city is like we’re receiving a giant hug from the city of Indianapolis and individuals saying we value you and the things that you do,” she says.

Vonnegut Library

Vonnegut’s typewriter 


Dan Grossman, Arts Editor at NUVO, can be reached by email at dgrossman@nuvo.net, by phone at 317-254-2400 or on Twitter @nuvoartsdan.

Arts Editor

Having lived and worked in Indy on and off since 1977, and currently living in Carmel, I've seen the city change a great deal. I love covering the arts in all its forms, and the places where the arts and broader cultural issues intersect.

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