The Art Association of Henry County, Inc. was formed in 1965 by Elizabeth Dodds Shaffer; one of the leading artists in East Central Indiana, and several other artists in the county. For a number of years they worked and planned on having an art center for the community. In 1992, through the generosity of Mr. and Mrs. Verl Shaffer the Art Association purchased a 100 year old building in New Castle, which was to be renovated into the Art Center. A dedicated group of volunteers undertook a 3 year project to bring the Art Center to life. The first step involved getting the needed 501c3 authority from the IRS to facilitate the raising of needed funds. Through the good offices of the Henry County Foundation, a matching grant of $50,000.00 from Lilly Foundation as well as the support of many citizens of the area we were able to complete the Art Center and dedicate it in 1995.
The Art Center is on the site of the oldest retail establishment in Henry County – The Jennings & Sons Lumber Co. founded in 1865. The Art Center sits on the southwest corner of the property. The idea of developing the balance of the nearly 3 acre property became possible by the donation of the major part of the land by the Jennings family to develop as a park to complement the Art Center. The balance of the needed space was acquired as a gift from the former owners, tax sale, county deeded, and purchase of the final parcel.
The work on the park required extensive demolition of 8 old buildings as well as substantial excavation before any progress could be made in design or construction of the park. These tasks were completed in late 1999.
The project required many volunteer hours, considerable finances and the willingness to compromise. The contributions of thousands of hours by volunteers as well as the goods in kind from the local citizens are beyond measure. Special mention of a loose-nit group of dedicated gardeners called the “Garden Group” should be made here. The expertise and back breaking hours of work of these women have really made the park what it is today. The park is the focus of all types of activities including but not limited to: concerts, rally’s, wedding receptions, festivals – in addition the park attracts local citizens and visitors who come to the park to see the gardens, ponds and trees.
The park has also sparked a renewed interest in upgrading our downtown area. The park faces a main thoroughfare of New Castle, State Road 38.
The Parks is a prime example of making a beauty spot out of an eyesore. This was accomplished by volunteers, private funding, and the complete support of City and County. It clearly shows that with a spirit of cooperation and with no regard to who gets the credit a group of citizens can find the will and the way to complete a project of this magnitude so that all can enjoy the fruits of their labor.
The photos below show the Art Park in its present state of completion, but as with any garden or park it will always be, a work in progress.
Exciting changes have happened recently in New Castle!
15th Street has a new name! Since a recent visit to the artist in Vinalhaven, Maine, the Art Association’s past Executive Director, Aaron Dicken, honored the New Castle native by renaming 15th Street “Robert Indiana Parkway”!