Interview with Judy Byron, Arts for Lawrence executive director

11 November 2021

We met Judy Byron in 2018. An architect and art lover, Judy was initially a volunteer board member for the grassroots nonprofit Arts for Lawrence in Lawrence, Indiana. After becoming Arts for Lawrence’s first Executive Director, she did what did not seem possible, and secured a $5.85 M grant from the Lilly Endowment to create the Fort Ben Cultural Campus. The project includes renovations and an addition to the Theater at the Fort, an outdoor plaza, an amphitheater, our Musical Swings, and a Visual Art Center. Her vision inspired us, and we share here an interview with this wonderful woman. Read and imagine: if all cities had a Judy…

Leah Tribbett (LT) was commissioned by Daily tous les jours to do the interview with Judy Byron (JB) in Lawrence (Indiana) during the installation of the new permanent version of Musical Swings.

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LT: Can you tell me about how you discovered the Musical Swings and how they came to visit Lawrence in 2019?

JB: I am a huge fan of interactive artwork. As I was applying to the Lilly Endowment Strengthening Indianapolis Through Arts and Cultural Innovation, I invited the Musical Swings to kick off the Fort Ben Cultural Campus as a one month experiment to tell them what this campus was all about.

As we were invited to apply for the final round of the Fort Ben Cultural Campus, I reached out to Daily tous les jours to see if they would give me a quote for designing something site specific for our project. As Daily tous les jours came to do their community engagement query, we brought together 30 or 35 members of the community, who had all experienced the Swings as they were here temporarily, to work with Daily about what they might bring here as a permanent installation. Curiously enough, everyone wanted the Swings back! And so, we have the very first set of permanent Musical Swings due to community demand. Our community really wanted these Swings here for eternity.

Breaking ground ceremony for the Fort Ben Cultural Campus

A drive-thru city

LT: Let’s talk about the Lawrence community, could you tell me about the people that live in this area?

JB: The Fort Ben Cultural Campus is actually on the property owned by the City of Lawrence and this project, the Fort Ben Cultural Campus, was a collaboration between the city and Arts for Lawrence who had a vision to bring this placemaking destination to our city. Lawrence is a city of about 55,000 residents. It is very diverse culturally, racially, and economically. The City of Lawrence actually has the highest income as far as ZIP codes go and the lowest income as far as ZIP codes in Marion County, therefore there is a very broad range of income in this small city. We also are one of the most diverse cities in the state in terms of racial diversity. Because of this, we wanted to create a place that would serve all and be a place for our diverse community members to come together and engage with one another.

In the past, Lawrence has been known as a drive-through community. You would drive through Lawrence to get to Downtown Indianapolis, or you would drive through Lawrence to get outside of Indianapolis. We wanted people to come here and stay, so the Fort Ben Cultural Campus is designed to do just that. The Musical Swings, of course, is the star of the Campus to engage community members.

Access to a creative life

LT: What were your goals in bringing the Musical Swings to this specific public space?

JB: It’s great to see the diversity of community members that come out to the Swings: young, old, black, white, you never know who you will meet sitting next to you on the Swings, making music with you, but once you come out and enjoy the Swings and start talking to the person next to you, you’ve made a new friend. It’s really remarkable. I am a huge advocate for the arts. Arts for Lawrence offers programming in visual, performing, and literary arts, and the Fort Ben Cultural Campus has enabled us to bring all of that programming into one big destination. We believe that the arts are a way to bring joy, to bring healing, to build economic development, therefore the Fort Ben Cultural Campus was designed to do all of those things. In our opinion, art is a very important aspect to the community. We try to break barriers to make sure that everyone has access to an arts experience and a creative life.

A destination

LT: Now that the Musical Swings are here to stay, what are you observing on-site?

JB: Arts for Lawrence and Daily tous les jours have something in common and that is that we want to connect with our community. Arts for Lawrence’s mission is to connect arts and community to inspire everyone everyday. Our vision is to have a destination for our diverse community members to come together to experience the arts, to have a platform for creativity, and to engage in a joyful and creative experience.

Therefore, we’re ecstatic that our community is embracing these Musical Swings. It is the draw to our Fort Ben Cultural Campus. When the temporary Swings were here we did a lot of surveying for the 4 weeks they were here and we discovered, through 630 surveys, that we had over 65 central Indiana ZIP codes represented. We know that over 50% of the people that came to the Swings either came from someplace else in Lawrence (a restaurant or a store) or were going someplace else in Lawrence, so we know that it has helped our economy.

It is really fun to hear the buzz through social media, through walking down the street, through coming out to the Swings and seeing new people there, that everyone is talking about them, that everyone is talking about going to Lawrence to visit, not to drive through, but to visit, the Musical Swings.

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