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  • Writer's pictureJoey Amato

Madam Walker Legacy Center moves to create endowment, secure its future

The Madam Walker Legacy Center, the iconic pillar of Indiana Avenue, has announced its plans to create an endowment that will help preserve the cultural and historic landmark that bears Madam C.J. Walker’s name.

The endowment, says Walker Legacy Center President Kristian Little Stricklen, demonstrates that the center is “revitalized, renovated and ready to lead.” The establishment of this endowment follows this summer’s announcement of plans to renovate and repurpose the rooftop of the historic Walker Theatre building as an outdoor, state-of-the-art performance and gathering venue.

The organization continues to make a cultural impact along Indiana Avenue with plans to honor its namesake with a stretch of the street designated as Madam C.J. Walker Memorial Way. “The Indianapolis City-County Council approved the memorial way designation during their recent meeting,” says Madam Walker Legacy Center’s Stricklen. “We can’t wait to celebrate with the community when the official sign goes up later this month.”

The community is invited to an Open House to unveil the Madam Walker Memorial Way Marker on Friday, Oct. 20th at 5:30 p.m. Following the formal dedication, participants can participate in Indiana Ave. tours with Through2Eyes Tours and mingle through an art reception featuring fine art by Kevin Nance-West.

This fall, Stricklen and the Madam Walker Legacy Center board of directors are putting the final touches on the center’s new, soon-to-be-revealed strategic plan. Central to the new strategic plan is the creation of the endowment, made possible by checking the final boxes on the prior strategic plan – which involved the sale of real estate property. Proceeds from two just-completed investment management transactions have put the Legacy Center in the position to be debt-free and will provide the endowment’s initial funding. The first is the sale of the 501 Indiana Ave. parcel along Indiana Avenue from the center to Arrow Street Development, a certified, minority-owned real estate development company focused on urban, mixed-use development projects that involve public-private partnerships. The second is the parcel at 719 Indiana Ave. to Indiana University Foundation; leaders there intend to utilize the existing building for administrative functions and will continue to partner with the Madam Walker Legacy Center to honor the history of Indiana Avenue.

“These transactions were not only an important step in fully executing the center’s prior strategic plan,” says Madam Walker Legacy Center’s Chairwoman Dr. Nichole Wilson, “but also a vital step in ensuring the long-term sustainability of this historic site. Across this nation, so many historical black sites have been lost. We did not want that for the Madam Walker Legacy Center, nor for Indianapolis. We want to be positioned to ensure the legacy of Madam Walker is sustained so finding the right partners was critical. Arrow Street is already heavily invested in this area and Rodney Byrnes was personally involved in placemaking efforts along Indiana Avenue. The history of this neighborhood is as important to him as it is to the board.”

For her part, Stricklen is excited for the Madam Walker Legacy Center to begin its second century — the building will celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2027 — anchored by an endowment but reaching up and out through programming, partnerships and placemaking. “The Madam Walker Legacy Center is prepared,” Stricklen says, “to be to today’s Indianapolis what this building was when it first opened: a city in a building, a hub of arts and entertainment, entrepreneurship, philanthropy, social justice, and women’s equity, all created through the rich lens of Black culture.”


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