The Virtual Bethel Project
Hi, I am Kisha Tandy, Curator of Social History at the Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites. I will be discussing the preservation of Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church. Here’s more of the story. Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church has a long history in Indianapolis. Over the years the size of the congregation dwindled and the concerns of maintaining the building grew to be a challenge for the congregation. In 2016, they decided to sell their building at 414 West Vermont Steet in downtown Indianapolis and build a new church. Preserving the physical structure of its longtime home as well as the over one hundred- and sixty-year archives was a vital concern to members of the church, historians, archivists, and librarians. The initial discussion and movement towards digitizing the collection began with librarian Rodney Freedom. His Project Backup scanning photographs of the members of Bethel AME. He had some success before leaving Indianapolis for professional opportunity. Dr. Andrea Copeland, School of Informatics at IUPUI, built on his efforts and expanded the project. She gathered members of the congregation, community leaders, archivists, and librarians to discuss how to preserve the history of Bethel. This would eventually lead to the historical documents being digitized and donated to the Indiana Historical Society. Artifacts were donated to the Indiana State Museum. The building was digitally scanned by IUPUI Professor Zeb Wood and his Media Arts and Science students to complete a 3D recreation of the sanctuary. The result, Virtual Bethel, is available to explore online. The congregation began meeting at its new location at 6417 Zionsville Road in June 2018. The exterior of the building as well as the tracery from the sanctuary have been maintained as part of the Hampton Inn by Hilton on the Indianapolis Canal. The congregation and Mrs. Olivia McGee- Lockhart, the church historian, and historical organizations worked with the hotel owners to make sure that the history and legacy were represented in the new hotel.