INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.—The Allen Whitehill Clowes Charitable Foundation (AWCCF) has awarded Butler University a $1 million grant to support the modernization of Clowes Memorial Hall, the anchor performing arts venue of the Butler Arts & Events Center (BAEC). The grant will enable the BAEC to address contemporary safety and security concerns for patrons and performers while honoring the building’s original architectural integrity. The modernization project is part of a larger plan to enhance and remodel the exterior plaza of the venue, which was built in 1963.

While the original design for Clowes Memorial Hall envisioned the entrance of the building as a “temple of light” with a very open feel, allowing visitors to enter from all three sides of the lobby, current security measures have limited the use of exterior doors for guest entry. The redesigned entrance will honor the building’s original vision through a reimagined entry facade with a glass-enclosed marquee and second-level event space that will link the east and west sides of the second-level lobby. The new design will also remove the current existing wall between the box office and the lobby, allowing natural light to flow into the lobby and increasing the size of the lobby by 12 feet. The new entry will increase the number of metal detectors from four to 10, more than doubling the speed with which visitors can enter the building for major events and providing a vast improvement for visitor experience, particularly during inclement weather.

Clowes Hall plaza rendering

“I think the biggest complaints we have heard from visitors when they have come here in the past is how long it takes to get into the building, or that intermissions have been a pain to try to move through the lobby to get to the restrooms. Accessibility has also been a bit of an issue for some, and this redesign takes all of those concerns into consideration,” says Aaron Hurt, Executive Director of the BAEC. “Ease of getting into the building in a safe way and flow once you’re inside will all be vastly improved by this redesign, and I think that’s really going to improve the experience a lot for our guests.”

The new entryway is the first phase of a larger plan to redesign the entire exterior plaza of the venue to be more secure and functional. The new plaza will be paved with a small outdoor stage for hosting pre-show events, outdoor concerts, and student performances. The plaza will also include new concrete bollards—short, flat posts that will serve as both seating around the stage as well as a protective perimeter for the venue and guests gathered outside. The new paved plaza will provide a central rallying point for student events and an additional versatile gathering space for the community, enhancing student life on campus.

Although the COVID-19 pandemic has forced the BAEC to cancel all in-person performances and events for the time being, the unexpected extended closure along with the AWCCF grant will allow Butler to begin the planned renovations and upgrades during the coming months. Construction on the entryway project will begin May 1 and should be complete by the time students return to campus at the end of August. The University hopes to raise an additional $3.5 million to help fund the exterior plaza project in the coming months, as well, taking advantage of the window of time provided by the pandemic to complete the renovations in advance of an anticipated grand reopening when in-person performances are once again viable.

“We’ve really tried to approach this with an attitude of, ‘How can we come out of this period of time as an even better venue for our patrons and performers?’ Our booking staff has still been working really hard while the venue has been closed, and we have lots of big names lined up for when we can re-open,” Hurt says. “We’re excited for the chance to welcome guests back to Clowes, and we feel confident they’re going to have an even better experience than the last time they were here.”

With the help of the AWCCF grant, Butler has now raised more than $196.4 million toward its $250 million goal for its Butler Beyond comprehensive fundraising campaign. One of the pillars of the Butler Beyond campaign is Community Partnerships, which highlights the University’s efforts to expand its impact beyond the current student body and beyond the borders of campus by contributing to the wellbeing of the broader Indianapolis community. Butler President Jim Danko says the AWCCF has been an extraordinary partner in supporting the arts education and cultural offerings provided by the BAEC, which are important aspects of the University’s role in the community.

“I am extremely grateful to the Allen Whitehill Clowes Charitable Foundation for its support and partnership in preserving and enhancing Clowes Memorial Hall for future generations of students and community members,” Danko says. “As a result of the critical upgrades supported by this gift, Butler will continue in its leadership role, enriching the Central Indiana community through arts, culture, and entertainment.”

Clowes Memorial Hall serves more than 300,000 patrons annually through a variety of events and programs ranging from Butler University’s own The Nutcracker to national touring companies through Broadway Across America. With 2,148 seats and a rich history of hosting some of the world’s greatest talents and personalities, Clowes also serves as one of Central Indiana’s leading providers of arts education services, welcoming school corporations in more than 85 counties across the state and serving more than 35,000 student participants annually. Since 1991, more than one million students, teachers, and guests have attended education matinee performances at Clowes.

“Clowes Memorial Hall has a lot of significance in the Indianapolis community historically as a hub for arts and culture,” Hurt says. “We are constantly asking ourselves, ‘How do we make sure this flagship venue continues to be relevant for the community? How do we take it to the next level in terms of the value we can bring to our city?’ This project is an example of Butler’s commitment to being a place for everyone.”

Renderings by Browning Day

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