As soon as Matt Rowe could drive, he headed to the Evansville Museum of Arts, History and Science. The 16-year-old student attended exhibition openings and developed a love affair with the culture found within the walls of the 1950s-built facility.
In 1991, Rowe also was at the first meeting of the then-upstart Evansville Museum Contemporaries, an organization designed to build museum interest among young professionals. Cathy Mitchell, a longtime member of the Evansville Museum, launched EMC when she noticed an absence of 20- and 30-somethings supporting the Downtown attraction. Her mission was to attract the young, or else watch the museum become part of the history it displays.
2012 marks the 21st year for EMC, which has 400 members, and Rowe, now the executive director of the nearby Reitz Home Museum, is the current EMC president. The organization puts on four fundraising events each year. In their two decades, members have raised more than $100,000 for the museum.
Yet, the idea has more than financial incentives. It is to bring a community together culturally and socially. Last fall, members brought in indie rock band Heypenny to perform. “The concert was a huge success,” says Rowe, “thanks to member A.C. Braun,” a business development manager with Industrial Contractors, Inc. “It was awesome. Heypenny brought a whole crowd of 20-somethings.”
This February, EMC Uncorked — a wine tasting with hors d’oeuvres and a performance from the band After Hours Jazz — transforms the museum into a makeshift-yet-beautiful winery with nearly 100 spirits vendors. In April, Roger Stoller, a California artist, returns to Evansville for the EMC’s second event of the year. Stoller has a special connection to the River City. Members of the Arena Project Committee chose Stoller’s piece, “Vibrant River” — a 40-foot tall, 15-foot wide sculpture — to adorn the curvy facade of the Ford Center, which opened in late 2011. His steel structure will incorporate symbolic and abstract images of Evansville.
After he won, Stoller toured the city for two days with Rowe and Rita Eykamp, two members of the Public Arts Commission. Stoller saw numerous attractions, including the 216-foot tower on the 1891-built Old Courthouse, the remains of the Middle Mississippi Indian culture at Angel Mounds State Historic Site, and the homes of the Riverside Historic District. “If you can explain the houses up and down First Street, you can explain the whole development of the city socially and economically,” Rowe says. An architect turned sculptor, Stoller photographed architectural details of these Victorian homes, and “he seemed to have an interest in the owl artifacts made by the prehistoric people at Angel Mounds,” Rowe says. The duo also took Stoller to the top floor of the Old National Bank building on the corner of Main Street and Riverside Drive. There, Stoller saw the bend in the river, the main symbol of his piece.
Expected to be completed in 2012, Stoller’s “Vibrant River” will stand tall on Sixth and Main streets for decades, and Rowe hopes that fact attracts people to Stoller’s lecture in April. “We hope that he’ll address the sculpture he’s doing in Evansville,” Rowe says. “But we’ll see.”