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Thursday, May 30, 2024

A Piece of Our Heart

From the performing arts to history, Evansville’s psyche is shaped by what the community holds dear.

Many Evansvillians would agree that the city’s “X factor” is its people — folks who have triumphed over hardship and supported their community for more than two centuries. The things that lay claim to our hearts enjoy spirited engagement and long-term patronage — and in some cases, those passions have garnered national notice.

Evansville’s contributions to World War II efforts were remarkable, and supporters’ actions to preserve the city’s military history are as well. The Evansville Wartime Museum and USS LST-325 Ship Memorial — both run by veterans and passionate military and history supporters — display this legacy through tours, special events, and — for the latter — annual voyages along American rivers.

Due to these community efforts and more, in 2022 the National Park Service designated Evansville an American World War II Heritage City — a prestigious honor given that only one city per state can receive the designation. Building on that designation was Indiana’s declaration in February 2023 that Evansville will anchor a future statewide military history trail.

Evansville African American Museum photo by Zach Straw

Black Evansvillians’ lives, struggles, and contributions are recognized at the Evansville African American Museum. Housed in a section of the 1930s Lincoln Gardens residential complex, community members saved it from demolition in the 1990s and opened its doors as a museum in 2007. After 15 years of community-led efforts, Baptisttown, the historically Black neighborhood and business center around the museum, was added to the National Register of Historic Places in December 2023.

Evansville Philharmonic photo by Daniel Knight/Studio B Photography

A community love of the performing arts takes center stage in Evansville. At its hub is the Evansville Philharmonic, which celebrates its 90th season in 2024-25. Home to an award-winning orchestra, chorus, and youth orchestra, the philharmonic is comprised of dedicated regional musicians and vocalists who frequently draw crowds to performances and have breathed steady life into the historic Victory Theatre. Outreach programs such as New Traditions, a concert series highlighting underrepresented composers, go into the community and stage free, casual shows featuring the orchestra’s Eykamp String Quartet.

Music fans in Evansville have drawn the attention of major performers. The city’s three largest venues — Victory Theatre, Ford Center, and Old National Events Plaza — frequently host national stage productions and touring musicians.

University of Evansville Performance of “Rent” photo by Daniel Knight/Studio B Photography

Local support for the performing arts also has propelled Evansville to the national stage. Steered by 1964 University of Evansville graduate and subsequent 53-year instructor John David Lutz, UE’s Theatre Department has grown into a national powerhouse that attracts top talent from across the country and has been cemented by the program earning several invitations to perform at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. Among the professional performers and showrunners who have thrived under the late Lutz’s tutelage at UE include “Roseanne” and “Home Improvement” creator and executive producer Matt Williams, “Barney Miller” actor Ron Glass, and Emmy- and Oscar-winning actor Rami Malek. Performances at UE’s Shanklin Theatre frequently sell out, and through donation drives, the new John David Lutz Theatre Lab trains students on top-of-the-line lighting and sound equipment that they will find in professional venues.

All of this support is cyclical and means Evansvillians can enjoy world-class talent and unique experiences — a testament to hometown support.

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Maggie Valenti
Maggie Valenti
Maggie Valenti joined Tucker Publishing Group in September 2022 as a staff writer. She graduated from Gettysburg College in 2020 with a bachelors degree in English. A Connecticut native, Maggie has ridden horses for 15 years and has hunt seat competition experience on the East Coast.

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