Production delays push back museum"s living history theater Many programming details surrounding Indiana State Museum"s African American Living History Theater are still unclear, but museum officials are all in agreement that a finished product will be unveiled to the public next spring.
Indiana State Museum CEO Doug Noble says, "We are sorry that Freetown Village will not be included in our programming as they are still a viable organization Ö"
Amid a flurry of criticism and controversy just weeks prior to the opening of the new $105 million state museum in May, Chief Executive Officer Doug Noble dropped a bomb when he announced that 18-year museum partner and collaborator Freetown Village would not take the lead role in overseeing the living history theater project, siting Freetown"s failure to meet contractual obligations that included raising about $300,000 to defray project costs. Noble opted instead to form an advisory group of influential black civic, art and business leaders to helm the project"s completion in order to make good on a $2.5 million dollar donation from the Lilly Endowment - a gift specifically given toward a black cultural exhibit space in the new museum. The 5,000-square-foot theater and exhibit space on the museum"s first floor was slated to open this fall. So what happened? "We could"ve really pushed hard for a fall opening," Noble said. "But we wanted to make sure we put together a valuable and quality program that would reflect a much broader time period of the black Indiana experience." To make that happen the advisory committee, along with museum staff, opted to modify several aspects of the project to distinguish it from Freetown Village and other living history theaters, causing production delays. "This exhibit will trace and document the presence of African-Americans in the state from the 1800s to the present through a mixture of visual and performance art," said advisory committee member Glenn White, an Indianapolis Museum of Art performing arts manager. "We are combining a forum that will be theatrical, interpretive and reflective of the history, contribution and resilience of blacks in Indiana." Through a mixture of photography and theatrical settings covering faith, family, economic development, educational and political achievement the story of black Indiana life will take shape, said Kisha Tandy, museum assistant curator. "We want people to see themselves in this exhibit," Tandy said, who revealed the theater will contain a simulated 32-seat church, front porch, business area and changing interpretation area. Museum officials plan to test the new programming before the theater opens. One thing people may not see is Freetown Village, a group that uses theater and oral interpreters to depict black history in Indianapolis during the 1870s. Freetown"s founder and Executive Director Ophelia Wellington, as of this writing, has declined a museum offer to be involved in future theater programming activities. "It was not a counter offer, but more of a gesture of tokenism as it would only benefit the museum and not Freetown Village in any way," Wellington said, who would not disclose specific terms of the museum"s proposal. Museum officials, in light of the theater"s fall absence, have launched the "Legacy Series," honoring the state"s diverse and artistic cultural heritage. The series of musical programs by local jazz artists and groups takes place in the museum"s 250-seat Dean and Barbara White Theater. Past acts have included Cynthia Layne and Friends with upcoming performances by composer and arranger Oliver Nelson on Oct. 27 and vocalist Vickie Daniel with piano man Carl Hines on Nov. 24. "We want to assure the public that this project will open and that there is something for everyone in the museum," Noble said. "The fact that it will open a few months past our initial time frame is not a bad thing. "We are sorry that Freetown Village will not be included in our programming as they are still a viable organization, but we are now in a position to offer a more unique and universal experience that will be an important part of this museum."