Far east side church converting into new community arts center: ‘This is going to transform their lives’

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – City leaders are focused on bringing new life to an old and empty church--a critical development for the turnaround of the far east side.

“An area that has been not neglected but isn’t the center of arts activity,” said Ernest Disney-Britton, the director of grant services and education partnerships at Arts Council of Indianapolis.

The arts community says this is something that has never been done before in central Indiana.  It's a project so powerful that Indy’s top arts leaders are joining in.

“This is going to transform their lives,” said Disney-Britton.

Thanks to a grant of more than $3 million from the Lilly Endowment Inc., Phalen Leadership Academy presented their plans to transform an unused church into a community arts center.  The project is titled "Arts as Empowerment"--a space where eventually grades seven through twelve will get an education.

“There’s a drama course, there’s a theater course, there will also be a theater technology course,” explained Nicole Fama, the principal at Phalen Leadership Academy.

Fama says 93% of PLA students are from low-income areas.  She says it’s a challenge because her school is located in one the city’s most dangerous zip codes.

“Providing those kids a safe place to come do healthy things, safe, as well as social and emotional we think it’s going to be great for our students. They’re so excited,” Fama said.

Next year, about 400 students are expected to attend. They expect up to 650 students the year after that, which is why major brainstorming right now is essential.

“This is actually a model that in future will be exciting to see this happen on south side, on the north side, on the far west side, that we can see these kind of community art centers that are tied to a school, which I think is the perfect partnership,” said Disney-Britton, “Us folks who are downtown, we’ll be going out there to the far east side.”

The Phalen Leadership Academy’s art and cultural center will open next year.

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