By Kyra Arena
ΦBK member and Indiana University alum Gayle Cook is truly dedicated to arts and humanities for all. In 2020, Cook’s transformative donation to Indiana University breathed new life into historic Maxwell Hall, which now houses the Gayle Karch Cook Center for Public Arts and Humanities. Associate Director of the Arts & Humanities Council Adrian Starnes said that “Cook’s support and vision has helped make the arts and humanities accessible and inevitable to all people on campus, in the City of Bloomington, and throughout Indiana.”
Cook graduated in 1956 with a Bachelor of Arts in fine arts from Indiana University, where she was also inducted into Phi Beta Kappa. From the same institution she received the Gertrude Rich Award (1983), an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters (1993), and the College of Arts and Sciences Distinguished Alumni Award (2015).
Beyond academia, she has had a very successful career, co-founding the medical equipment manufacturer Cook Group with her husband. Likewise, she has made many charitable contributions to Indiana and Indiana University—emphasizing her dedication to fostering the arts.
The Gayle Karch Cook Center for Public Arts and Humanities is a “trusted partner, resource, and venue for arts and humanities activity on campus and in the Bloomington community,” said Starnes. Students, faculty, staff, and community members can engage in art exhibitions, performances, conferences, community engagement, and more. The Cook Center is a mix of four important concepts: A hub, where arts and humanities connect; a hearth, where community meets; a bridge, where campus and the city’s culture intersect; and a dynamo, where ideas and creativity are fostered.
The Center presents a variety of exhibitions throughout the year. Currently, it is hosting a guided tour to Unmasked: The Anti-Lynching Exhibits of 1935 and Community Remembrance in Indiana. The ultimate goal of the memorial is to honor the victims of lynching and white supremacy in Indiana. The exhibition includes group discussions, education of historical events, and visual arts. Some other exhibitions the center is currently hosting are Alterity: The State of Being a Woman and Liminal: Indiana in the Anthropocene.
Likewise, the Cook Center’s Engaged Artist in Residence program invites two artists each year to work with students. The spring 2023 artist is Hale Ekinci, a multidisciplinary Turkish artist, designer, and educator. Learn more about Ekinci and her work on her website.
Another impressive program that the Cook Center hosts is their Prison Arts Initiative. The university sends faculty to local prisons to teach college-level visual art courses, and at the end of the semester students there present their individual work.
The Center “has inspired new collaborations, multidisciplinary projects, and innovative research initiatives between campus departments, community organizations, artists, and thinkers,” stated Starnes. “Through art exhibitions, performances, author visits, conferences, arts markets, and much more, the Cook Center is creating meaningful opportunities for human connection, thoughtful engagement, and creative exchange.”
The rich tapestry of exhibits and programs at the Cook Center owes its existence to Gayle Cook’s generous donation, embodying the spirit of Phi Beta Kappa’s dedication to love of learning and the value of liberal arts education. Through her goodwill, the Center not only serves as a testament to the university’s commitment, but also as a catalyst for the empowerment and enrichment of all through the transformative power of the arts and humanities.
Kyra Arena is a graduate student studying curriculum and instruction at the University of Connecticut, where she also obtained her Bachelor of Arts in English and Bachelor of Science in English Education. She was proudly inducted into Phi Beta Kappa there in May 2023. The University of Connecticut is home to the Epsilon of Connecticut chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.