Once Fortville's  Carnegie Library, the buiilding will become Main Street Arts & Music center. Submitted photo
Once Fortville's  Carnegie Library, the buiilding will become Main Street Arts & Music center. Submitted photo
FORTVILLE — Potential. The bare white walls of what was once a Carnegie library whispered the word.

Lacey Willard, co-founder of Main Street Arts & Music, listened and heard those whispers.

The building — in remarkable condition for 101 years old — could be so many things. Willard — co-founder of Main Street Arts & Music along with Libby Wyatt and John Kitterman — saw a gallery, a venue for arts events, a place for community engagement.

Partnered with Fortville Action, Hancock County Tourism and the Fortville First United Methodist Church next door, Main Street Arts & Music set out on a mission to bring more opportunities, events and community engagement to Fortville.

The building’s past aligns with the building’s present.

In 1914, Fortville citizens — members from the church, businesses owners and community residents — came together with the idea to grow Fortville. They decided the first step toward that growth should be a library.

The group applied for and received one of the last Carnegie grants for the building’s construction. The funds were supplied by Andrew Carnegie, an American businessman and philanthropist, who financed more than 1,600 libraries built in the United States from 1883 to 1919, including the library in Fortville.

Today, nearly 100 years later, this like-minded group of Fortville citizens has taken on a similar task with that very same Carnegie library building.

Though no renovation has yet been done on the building, Willard and crew already have a full-year’s slate of events planned for what will be called Main Street Arts at the Carnegie beginning with a Jan. 30 private screening of the documentary “The Pursuit,” a film slated for general release in May of this year.

Willard’s dream for the gallery is to offer a variety of events: art, music, STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) activities and film. “The Pursuit,” Willard explains, is about the pursuit of happiness, and it aligns perfectly with that ideal.

The film follows professional musician turned economist Arthur Brooks as he travels around the globe in search of an answer to the question: How can we lift up the world together, starting with those at the margins of society? Brooks’ journey takes him to the streets of Mumbai in India and a town in Kentucky left behind by the global economy; to a homeless shelter in New York City; a street protest in Barcelona and a Himalayan Buddhist monastery.

“We’re a nonprofit gallery with a vision to bring together all members of our community through our varied exhibits and experiences,” Willard said.

Although the building hasn’t been a library for 30 years, it’s still called “the old library” or “the Carnegie.” Owned by the nearby First United Methodist Church, it has been used for church functions, and it currently houses a food pantry on its lower floor.

The food pantry will stay, Willard promises.

“It’s an important part of the story because some of the programming we’re offering is in line with being here for all members of the community as a nonprofit,” Willard said.

In addition to the film’s January pre-screening, the gallery’s year-long event schedule includes a monthly changeover of art displays, the return of the Fortville Art Battle in April and a NASA exhibit from the Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio.

Main Street Arts & Music’s vision is shared by the members of Fortville Action and town council President Michael Frischkorn.

Frischkorn lives in the neighborhood and is happy to see an underutilized building coming back to life.

“Art is an amazing economic development tool,” Frischkorn said. “If you’re looking at art galleries, they draw people who have money to spend on art, and they spend money elsewhere.”

Libby Wyatt, owner of The Storehouse, a home decor and gift store, saw the potential of Fortville, fell in love with the community and moved her business there three years ago.

“I love the walkability,” Wyatt said. “I’m right around the corner from the store; we walk everywhere.”

Wyatt downplays her role in Main Street Arts & Music, but clearly, she is part of a team that works well together.

“Lacey is the communications director,” Wyatt said, “I am the billboard. I send out emails, answer questions. I’m like the stage mom in the background. I like to watch how it comes together.”

As president of Fortville Action, Ronnie Brawner is pleased to see the growing diversity among Fortville’s businesses.

“We have boutiques, mom-and-pop places and restaurants that we didn’t have before,” Brawner said.

All involved love Fortville’s small-town charm and don’t want to lose that.

Stakeholders want growth not in terms of a larger footprint for the community, explained Willard, but in improving opportunities so successful businesses can stay.

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