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Historic Indianapolis hub on display

The cover art of this year’s Arts Midwest Conference program book features a painting of the CJ Walker Theatre in Indianapolis by Jerome Neal. Learn more about the project and artist Jerome Neal in our previous posts.

Walker Theare in Indianapolis. Photo by Esther Boston.

The Madame Walker Theatre is the jewel of Indianapolis’ historic Indiana Avenue. Today, it is the only remaining vestige of the Avenue’s once-bustling nightlife culture and a lasting tribute to the woman who built it, America’s first self-made black female millionaire, Madame CJ Walker.

Erected in 1927, the building not only functioned as the headquarters of Madame Walker’s business operations but also housed a movie theater, concert hall, ballroom, doctor’s offices, coffee shop and a restaurant. The Walker Theatre was the hub around which much of the neighborhood’s commerce and recreation grew and a source of pride for local Black residents, offering a beloved alternative to White-owned businesses that often provided Black patrons with second-rate goods and services. (A circumstance pointed to in the Walker Theatre Drugstore’s slogan which promised “positively no stale seconds, inferior or refuse merchandise will be used, stocked, or sold.”)

Walker Theatre, by Jerome Neal

The Walker’s concert hall has presented Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole, Patti LaBelle, Michael Bolton, and Lena Horne. And the Walker’s Grand Casino Ballroom has been home to local jazz greats like Gregg Bacon and Lonnie Lester.

An integral part of the Indianapolis community for close to a century, today the Madame Walker Theatre Center is dedicated to preserving the legacy of Madame CJ Walker by providing cultural education, promoting social justice, supporting entrepreneurship and empowering youth to become the next generation of business owners and civic leaders. The Center seeks to empower, educate, and entertain using their historic building as a venue for celebrating cultural diversity, rich heritage and cultural traditions, primarily through art from the African-American perspective.