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The Kurt Vonnegut library is moving to Mass Ave ... hopefully

The library hopes to move to be closer to Vonnegut landmarks in Indy and to increase their available space


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The new front along Mass Ave
  • The new front along Mass Ave

This article has been updated.

It was two years ago that the Kurt Vonnegut Library knew that D-Day was coming. Soon they would have to move; the building where they have offered countless programs, talks and exhibits is for sale.

The current building, located at 340 N. Senate Ave., doesn't have any connection to the Vonnegut family, but then again nor does the space that they hope to acquire.

The Vonnegut Library has its sights set on a 5,400 square foot space across the street from Theatre on the Square. The space is nearly five times what they currently have and will allow for more ambitious programing, an education center, and other amenities.

A class working in the current building
  • A class working in the current building
In July 2015 the relocation committee was very close to signing a lease for a building on the grounds of the IMA. After that fell through they began ambitiously looking elsewhere. A week after the Vonnegut Fest, Kurt's son, Mark Vonnegut; came to visit. He and the committee went and looked at four possible buildings.

"We walked in [to the building at 646 Mass Ave.] and immediately knew it was the right space for our permanent home," says Julia Whitehead, the founder and CEO of the library.

The new space also positions them just down the road from the 38-foot-tall mural of Vonnegut (painted by Pamela Bliss, and often mistaken for the entrance to the library) and The Athenaeum — a building that was designed by Kurt's grandfather. According to Vonnegut's children he loved the area around Mass Ave and spent significant time in the Athenaeum when he was young. In 1996, Kurt Vonnegut returned to Indianapolis to speak at a dinner intended to raise funds for the rehabilitation of the Athenaeum. He noted his love for the building in a speech:

"There is a snide saying to this effect: The big dreams go to New York City. The little dreams stay home. The biggest dreams in fact stay home. They build cities like this one, with its hospitals and universities and libraries and theaters and concert halls, and supremely civilized gathering places like the Athenaeum."

"We are happy to be in the neighborhood with these two significant Vonnegut connected locations," says Whitehead.

Much of the library's book and visual art collection resides in the Indiana History Center. With the new space they will be able to move parts of it into the library for display, including portions of Vonnegut's several hundred pieces of art. They plan to host temporary exhibits with the work.

The education center will also allow for a new phase in programming just in time for 2017, which has been marked as the "year of Vonnegut" marking 10 years after his death. Every month they will have programing with community partners like Indy Reads and Indy Film Fest. They also plan to bring in a speaker through the Medical Museum and develop programing with Eli Lilly focused on veterans, ethics, science and technology.

Bernard Vonnegut’s son will be helping design the new space.
  • Bernard Vonnegut’s son will be helping design the new space.

One of the more noteworthy programs will be a partnership with Indy Eleven and IPS focused on suicide prevention. Vonnegut's mother committed suicide and it's one of the major motifs in Slaughterhouse-Five. Vonnegut himself also attempted suicide. According to Whitehead, Indiana is number one in the country for suicidal thoughts and number two in the country for suicide attempts.

"That's the kind of programing that matters to me, really getting to the students and the teachers and sharing Vonnegut in the ways that he has been helpful to me in my lifetime," says Whitehead.

The library needs to raise $750,000 by July 1 to cover at least three years of building funds. They also plan to add in an elevator to the new space (a significant cost).

The new location will be across the street from Theatre on the Square
  • The new location will be across the street from Theatre on the Square

One of their goals is to be accredited with the American Museum Association, allowing them to have visiting collections like the Vonnegut papers that reside in Bloomington.

"I am very excited about where the Vonnegut Library is positioned right now," says Whitehead.

People around the country have been hosting fundraising events for them, everywhere from Baltimore to Louisville. Comedian Gary Gulman even created a video tour of the new building.

"Kurt Vonnegut brings good will, and I think it's important to highlight him as a native son," says Whitehead.

Bernard Vonnegut's son, who carries on the family tradition of architecture, will be helping design the new space as a donation.

The new space will allow for a representation of the designs brought to Indy by the Vonnegut family and poise the library to leave a permanent mark on Indianapolis.


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