- Associated Press - Thursday, March 27, 2014

MUNCIE, Ind. (AP) - A proposed live-and-work art colony in the Goldsmith C. Gilbert Historic District is morphing into a possible “maker district.”

Muncie Arts & Culture Council, Ball State University and other supporters are sponsoring a daylong “Muncie Maker District Symposium” on April 3 to talk about creating such a district in Muncie.

The next day, the public is invited to a free workshop to engage with planners to create ideas for a Gilbert maker district.

A maker district is a neighborhood where people who make things live and work.

“Some of these exist around the country,” said Brian Hollars of Studio 3 Architects in downtown Muncie. “Planning magazine just did an article on this being the newest, hottest thing to do for communities. With a lot of these things, we see them as, anything new is worth jumping into and trying to see what would happen. The Gilbert neighborhood seemed to be a good test case.”

The city last year applied for a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to help create an art colony in the Gilbert neighborhood immediately east of city hall.

One neighborhood landmark is the red brick First Christian Church at North and Elm streets, including stained-glass windows, some of which are gone. The church was built in 1902.

It was one of the buildings that could fit into plans for an art colony because it would offer performance space. Mayor Dennis Tyler has boarded up the church to secure it until it can be renovated.

Planning, a magazine of The American Planning Association, reported in February on a new trend: A “maker” society of furniture builders, seamstresses, software engineers, inventors, artisans, microbrewers, metal fabricators and other skilled workers who need cheap space and who enjoy “the grittiness of edgy, close-in areas.”

They live and work in mixed-use, light industrial/commercial/residential neighborhoods.

“A maker district is a place to live and work in the same area,” Hollars told The Star Press (http://tspne.ws/QjxV6s ).

The concept is to “create vibrancy in a neighborhood around who wants to live there, rather than about the thing you build for them,” he said. “It’s a little different than flopping down a building, putting up a sign and hoping people will show up. It’s encouraging people to show up and invest in a neighborhood because that neighborhood is supportive of ideas they appreciate, which is the live-work relationship.”

Though listed as a national historic district decades ago, the Gilbert neighborhood today probably wouldn’t qualify because of its emptiness.

About 40 percent of the parcels in the neighborhood are either empty lots or parking lots, the result of unsafe buildings being demolished. And of the remaining housing units, about 40 percent of those are vacant.

Another landmark there is the roof-less, fire-damaged, 19th-century J.C. Johnson House, a brick-and-limestone mansion that stands at 322 E. Washington St. The mayor also had it boarded up.

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