From Old Presidents to New Precedents
The Harrison Center for the Arts is located at the corner of 16th and Delaware Streets. The building was established around 1900 as 1st Presbyterian Church. Among the church’s earliest congregants was Benjamin Harrison, 23rd President of the United States, who not only lived in the neighborhood, but was an elder and a Sunday School teacher.
Over the years, 1st Presbyterian’s fortunes rose and fell with the neighborhood’s, until the church finally closed its doors. By 1970, with the Old Northside neighborhood in a serious state of decline, the Presbyterian Metropolitan Center opened in the building to provide much-needed social services to the residents, including a thrift store, food pantry, adult day care, children’s preschool, and many other programs. However, by the 1990s, years of ongoing neglect had taken a serious toll on the facility, and maintenance problems began to mount.
It wasn’t until 2000 that local philanthropist Jeremy Efroymson purchased the building and stabilized its decline. Along with opening the Harrison Center as a for-profit art center, Efroymson recruited a number of tenants for the enormous facility, including VSA Arts of Indiana, the Nature Conservancy, IUPUI’s Herron School of Art, Redeemer Presbyterian Church, and several local artists who were looking for inexpensive studio space.
In 2001, Efroymson closed the Harrison Center and sold the building to Redeemer Presbyterian Church. In November of the same year, the church hired Joanna Taft as Executive Director of a new organization under an already familiar name, the Harrison Center for the Arts. The center’s first gallery event under new leadership opened February 2002, titled ‘Love in the Time of Football’, featuring the work of HCA’s newly hired curator, Kyle Ragsdale. In 2003, HCA received its 501(c)(3) not-for-profit status, separated its budget from the church, and began to lease 60% of the 65,000 square foot facility.
Indy Eleven partnership, February 2014 gallery exhibit
HCA continues to set new precedents for building symbiotic partnerships between unlikely organizations, fully exploring the building’s capacity to engage new audiences, and striving to maintain relevance to the needs of the surrounding community.