Carnegie Center for Art and History: New Albany, Indiana’s Hidden Gem

September 28th, 2019  |  Published in September 2019

“It’s where art meets history.  Where the past finds the future.  Where creativity, community and culture collide in expected ways.  And, it’s where you make a difference.”  Those are the goals of the Carnegie Center for Art and History, located at 201 E. Spring St. in New Albany, Indiana, founded in 1813, with a population of 36,400.  The center has between 15 – 20,000 visitors annually.

It is only a two-hour drive south on I-71 to New Albany from Cincinnati.  There, a visitor finds the Carnegie Center for Art and History housed in a former Carnegie Public Library designed in the Beaux-Arts architectural style.  The library opened on March 2, 1904 with a total of 11,125 booksFormer director Sally Newkirk said that the Carnegie Center is a structure of historic and architectural significance located within the New Albany Downtown Historic District added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1999.

Carnegie Center offers contemporary art across the Ohio River from Louisville, Kentucky on two floors of public space.  Director Eileen Yanoviak, PhD, said the center features unique contemporary art and tells stories that are relevant.  It houses four exhibition spaces.

The center is a “branch of the Floyd County Public Library and serves as a cultural resource for the education and enjoyment of the citizens of Floyd County and the surrounding metro area.  To fulfill that mission, we collect, preserve and interpret the historic Carnegie Library building in which the museum is housed,” according to Yanoviak.

Yanoviak, who joined the center l l/2 years ago, brought a new vision to the museum.  “This has been traditionally a legacy-oriented museum,” she said “We lean on art and objects to tell the story,” she added, “which makes us different.” Yanoviak said the center is a major art institution in Indiana.

She talks about diversifying demographics and ages of the audience and the board, a goal of many museums.  Yanoviak plans to expand exhibits, programs and aim for a younger audience by growing the base as well as partnering with outside curators and using focus groups.  A think tank, a light advisory board formed with a cross section of people, is under consideration.   The center also features group tours, youth education programs and outreach.

Yanoviak has a small staff of five full-time and one part-time employees with a budget of $750,000.  She has reached her goal of being director of a small museum, but she leaves the door open for the future.

New Albany is an affordable community near Louisville.  Many young professionals choose to live here. “I like the small town; it’s a tight knit community,” she said.

What interested this reporter was the history of Carnegie libraries in Indiana – all funded by Andrew Carnegie, the Scottish-American industrialist (1835 – 1919).  Indiana has 164 Carnegie libraries, more than any other state, built from 156 grants totaling $2,508,684.  Under the umbrella of the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the steel magnate used his fortune to finance 1,670 libraries in the United States and 830 around the world from 1901 to 1918.

The center found a home in the former library designed by the Louisville architectural firm of Clark and Loomis, which later designed the Speed Art Museum.  The construction period for the center ranged from 1902 to 1904.

The building is classical in nature, with ten engaged columns, pilasters and a triangular pediment. Inside is an atrium featuring terrazzo floors, stately columns and a soaring ceiling with skylight and original glass.

Walter E. Langsam, retired art historian, said, “The Beaux-Arts style is an influential style for public institutions.  It has classical roots based on Roman standards with French baroque elements similar to Versailles.”

The library moved in 1969 to larger headquarters at 180 West Spring Street.  With the move came the prospect of demolition.  As a result, a group of concerned citizens founded the Floyd County Museum in 1971 as a local museum and art gallery.  In 1988, it was incorporated into the New Albany-Floyd County Public Library.

It was time for a major renovation of the center, which happened in 1998, at a cost of $1.2 million raised by a bond issue. The museum also changed its name to the Carnegie Center for Art and History to reflect the library’s heritage and mission.

Another aspect to this story is the center’s membership in the United States National Park Service’s Network to Freedom, implemented with the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Act of 1998.  Its mission is to “honor, preserve and promote the history of resistance to enslavement through escape and flight, which continues to inspire people worldwide as an effort to connect and preserve local historical places and museums associated with the Underground Railroad.”  New Albany was active in the Underground Railroad before the Civil War.  Many slaves crossed the Ohio River from Louisville to New Albany.

Two of the center’s continuing exhibits reflect the Underground Railroad theme.

Ordinary People:  Extraordinary Courage:  Men & Women of the Underground Railroad depicts lives of real people, both free and enslaved, who helped fugitive slaves find freedom.  According to Yanoviak, songs and stories of freedom build on the legacy.

The book Underground Railroad in Floyd County, Indiana written by Pam Peters forms the basis of the exhibit.

Remembered:  The Life of Lucy Higgs Nichols is a companion exhibit.  She was a slave in Tennessee, became a nurse during the Civil War and spent her post-war life in freedom.  Maps pinpoint the paths she took.  In addition, visitors can also see actual Civil War artifacts including an Enfield rifle and an amputation saw.

The two other exhibits are more contemporary in nature in keeping with the mission of the center.

The most unique one, in this reporter’s eyes, is Blunt:  Inspiration in Transition, a group exhibition of artwork by prominent local and national artists whose lives and work are influenced by the creative culture of skateboarding.

Curator Dan Pfaltzgraf, originally hired for contemporary art, described the influence of skateboarders who combine spatial awareness with the drive to express themselves through action.  “They are able to look at the landscape and plan for the future,” he saidThis exhibition honors contributions that skateboarding has had on the lives of many artists.

A corollary to this exhibit is the transformation of an outdated waterfront skate park into a skateable work of public art, which will have the name New Albany Flow Park.  The museum has a long history of doing public art in New Albany.

Pfaltzgraf said he looks for exhibits which fit within the budget.  He said that the center serves a different niche than the Speed Museum.  It is a local museum which has a high quality of work.  He works to eliminate feelings of elitism.  He said, “I don’t want people to be intimidated.”

Going back to the nineteenth century, cemeteries weren’t just places for people to be buried. “They were created as picturesque memorial parks honoring the deceased,” according to Yanoviak.  Spring Grove Cemetery and Arboretum, for instance, in Cincinnati, has a park-like setting with historical monuments of major figures as well as a landscape of trees from all over the world.

A similar cemetery in many ways is Fairview Cemetery.  Called A Place of Rare Beauty:  A Sketch of Fairview Cemetery’s History, this fourth exhibit features a brief history of New Albany’s historic cemetery opened on July 30, 1841.  Similar to Spring Grove Cemetery, Fairview features many of the city’s founding families and important historical figures buried in a 32-acre park wi00000th more than 30,000 graves.  In addition, it includes memorabilia from its early history and paintings by George W. Morrison (1820 – 1893) of notable local citizens.  A companion cemetery is West Haven Cemetery, historical burial grounds for African Americans.

An upcoming exhibit is Like a Penny, a solo show by photographer Rachael Banks, from October 4 to November 30, 2019.  According to the center, “Like a Bad Penny is a visual document that uses portraiture and staged environments to reference how destruction, violence, and substance abuse can manifest in those we love the most.”

In addition, the center presents the annual event #IamPublicArt on Saturday, October 5 on Bank Street between Spring and Market Streets.  This free event takes place from noon to 3:00 p.m. before the annual Harvest Homecoming Parade.  It is a one day only pop-up event, featuring live artist demonstrations, hands-on art making, face painting and music activities for all ages.

Sally Newkirk, a resident of Louisville, but native of New Albany, has a strong relationship with the center as she served on the board and as its executive director for thirty years.  Originally interested in historic preservation, she along with her husband Mike became involved with the historic Main Street Preservation Association.

“I was fortunate that my husband was supportive,” Newkirk said.  “It was rewarding to have personal relationships with so many of the board and artists. One of my favorite things was that I could talk to anyone,” she added.  “People didn’t know much about us.”

Committed to the institution, she later became board president, served for thirty years while facing financial challenges to keep the center open.  She reached out to the library board which became supportive of the center.  Center staff later engaged in a membership campaign to bring in revenue, which amounted to $15,000 by 1988.

Another stream of income came from the state of Indiana, which issued an excessive tax levy for the operations of the Floyd County Museum. The amount that the New Albany-Floyd County Public Library asked for was $60,000, but received only $15,000.

 

The Carnegie Center for Art and History, a branch of the Floyd County Library, is a contemporary art gallery and history museum located at 201 East Spring St. in New Albany, Indiana.  The center is open Monday through Saturday, 10 am to 5:30 pm.  For more information, visit www.carnegiecenter.org.

–Laura Hobson

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