UPDATE: Vonnegut museum tops fundraising goal for new building

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Vonnegut library 543 Indiana
543 Indiana Avenue

Editor's note: Julia Whitehead, founder of the Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library, said Wednesday evening that the museum has exceeded its fundraising goal but would be happy to accept more donations to help pay for additional exhibitions that will be unveiled later in the year. Following is an article that appeared early Wednesday before the goal was met:

With hours to spare, the Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library is closing in on a fundraising goal that will allow it to acquire and open a new home on Indiana Avenue in downtown Indianapolis.

KVML founder and CEO Julia Whitehead said late Wednesday morning that the not-for-profit museum was still about $75,000 short of its goal of $1.5 million. The remaining funds must be received or pledged before midnight, she said.

The museum, which is currently homeless, signed a purchase agreement in February for a freestanding Italianate building at 543 Indiana Ave.

The museum was given 90 days to raise the funds to acquire the three-story balconied building, which was previously home to several former restaurants, including Corner Cantina, Zing and New Orleans on the Avenue. Portions of the building date to 1885, but the structure has received significant renovations and additions in the years since.

Whitehead said Tuesday morning that she believes the museum will reach the fundraising goal, but she didn’t want people to withhold donations because they thought the campaign was a done deal.

“We’re not there yet,” she cautioned.

KVML has been housed in donated space in the Emelie Building on Senate Avenue for most of the last eight years, but its lease expired Feb. 1, prompting the museum to close Jan. 5. The museum signed a lease to move into a 6,000-square-foot building at 646 Massachusetts Ave. in late 2016 but the deal fell through five months later after a dispute with the building's owner.

Until the museum can find a permanent home, its collection of Vonnegut artifacts and memorabilia are being held for safekeeping by the Indiana State Museum and the Indiana Historical Society. Some of the items also are on display at Circle Centre mall.

Whitehead said the $1.5 million would allow the museum to buy the 10,314-square-foot building from 543 Indiana Avenue Associates LLC and pay for enough renovations to open to the public.

Museum officials have been in conversations with Ed Battista, owner of the award-winning Bluebeard restaurant in the Holy Rosary neighborhood near downtown, to open a ground-floor cafe in the building. Bluebeard took its name from one of Vonnegut’s novels.

The cafe will be called Rosewater, an ode to the Vonnegut novel “God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, or Pearls Before Swine,” written in 1965, featuring fictional U.S. Sen. Lister Ames Rosewater of Indiana.

Whitehead said the museum raised nearly $200,000 at an April event featuring author Salman Rushdie at the Athenaeum. Comedian Lewis Black also hosted a star-studded fundraiser in New York City on May 1 that helped the cause.

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