Donor Spotlight: Frank and Katrina Basile

Frank and Katrina Basile2017 is here, and construction is well underway at the building that will serve as our permanent home: 646 Mass Ave. Our new building will offer an area to welcome our visitors from all over the world, serve our guests who would like to register to vote, feature an interactive media center and an enhanced gift shop, and host our great new exhibitions including Slaughterhouse-Five, Vonnegut’s Indianapolis, Common Decency, and Banned Books. But one of our most important spaces in the new building will be our main gallery and community room where authors will read their stories and poems, artists will display their artwork, book clubs will meet for discussions, student groups and teachers will gather to learn, musicians will perform, and Vonnegut’s own art will be showcased.  This new Frank and Katrina Basile Community Room, named for the generous couple whose monetary gift made the space possible.

This month, we reached out to the Basiles to learn why they support the Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library.  Thank you, Frank and Katrina, for your invaluable help in creating an institution on Mass Ave that will serve our city and our planet in so many important ways. We are so grateful.

Why have you chosen to support the Vonnegut Library?
Katrina and I support not-for-profits whose mission we believe in and whose management we have confidence in.  I have long admired and enjoyed the works of Indianapolis’s own Kurt Vonnegut and the principles he advocated, along with his satire and sense of humor, and am happy that he and his life’s work are being celebrated via this museum and library.  We like that the KVML has taken a stand against literary censorship and is in favor of social justice.  KVML is another example of Indianapolis becoming an arts and cultural hub, which Katrina and I have long advocated.

What do you think about the building at 646 Mass Ave in terms of more opportunities and location?
I love the corner location on Mass Ave right next to the Indiana Pacers BikeShare racks. There will be a lot of foot traffic in the pedestrian-friendly area.  KVML will benefit being near so many shops, restaurants, pubs, art galleries, and other arts venues, such as Indy Fringe, The Phoenix Theatre, Theatre on the Square, the theatre in the Athenaeum, and ComedySportz. 

In addition, the increased museum and gallery space will enable the organization to have more exhibitions, gatherings, and arts and humanities programming as well as greater educational outreach, including the new suicide prevention partnership with Harshman Middle School and Indy Eleven. I especially like the new community room, which will provide classroom and gathering space for students and others to learn about Vonnegut and to reflect on the importance of free expression, common decency, and peaceful coexistence, all of which he advocated.

Indianapolis has named 2017 The Year of Vonnegut. As part of this year-long celebration, KVML will host a program to foster conversation about common decency: “A Little More Common Decency: A Community Conversation about Kurt Vonnegut’s Call for Civility.” Given the division within our country right now, how do you hope a program like this can help bring community together?
By bringing together people who may have differing political opinions, yet who are open minded, I believe they will come to better understand the opposing positions and the reasons and will hopefully come to respect the rights of others to hold those different opinions.  I have always believed that the best way to settle an argument or reach an agreement is to bring the parties together to talk about the issues, face to face.  Usually each will moderate their extreme positions and will be more willing to listen to one another.

How were you first introduced to Kurt Vonnegut? 
Vonnegut first came to my attention with Slaughterhouse-Five, but then I sought out other books that he had written.  I actually met him once, when both of us happened to be in the small lobby of a building on the Butler campus in connection with a writers’ conference.  I think he came out to smoke.  Since it was just the two of us in this small space, I felt I needed to say something.  I said that I like listening to books on tape and asked if he had ever recorded any of his books.  He responded, “Only a fool would read his own book on tape!”  With that, he turned and left me standing there to reflect on his answer! 

At the request of Joyce Sommers, the retired executive director of the Indianapolis Arts Center, Vonnegut wrote the foreword to the book, For the Sake of Art: The History of the Indianapolis Arts Center in 1999. The book highlights the history of the Arts Center, which was one of my first not-for-profit involvements.  The Art Center also hosted an exhibition of his drawings.  Vonnegut was scheduled to speak at a Sunday brunch sponsored by the Art Center in 2007, but he died shortly before it took place.  It was the same weekend he was to appear at Clowes Hall.

Having served as the president of my Unitarian church last year, I was made aware that Vonnegut attended a Unitarian church from time to time (though not regularly), so he and I shared a similar religious orientation.  He also served as honorary president of the American Humanist Association, an affiliate of the Unitarian Association.

What is your favorite Vonnegut book and why?
One of my favorite Vonnegut books is his first book, Player Piano, partially because of its opposition to McCarthyism at the time and also because it reminded me of three of my other favorite authors, Mark Twain, Henry David Thoreau, and Aldous Huxley.  I love Vonnegut’s quote in the book that says, “I want to stand as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can’t see from the center.”  In my motivational speeches, I have frequently quoted Mark Twain and his sage advice and commentary which he delivered concisely and simply and on the wings of humor.  I see those same qualities in the writings of Vonnegut, including in Happy Birthday, Wanda June, a play performed as an opera earlier this season by The Indianapolis Opera, where Katrina serves on the board.

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