Lilly Library announces $500,000 mural project, thanks to Lilly Endowment Inc.

$500,000 mural project to be visual centerpiece of IU Lilly Library’s renovated Reading Room, thanks to Lilly Endowment Inc.  

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Following a recently announced $10.9 million grant to support necessary core renovations at Indiana University’s world-class rare books library, Lilly Endowment Inc. will now provide an additional $500,000 to fund the commission of an inspirational and iconic cycle of murals.

Scholars, students, and intellectually curious visitors spend thousands of hours each year in the Lilly Library Reading Room, exploring its millions of literary artifacts. As part of the IU Bicentennial celebration, IU Libraries and the IU Eskenazi Museum of Art are inviting artists to create a visual centerpiece of the highest quality and greatest educational value for this space.

“The Reading Room is, in many ways, the center of Indiana University’s renowned Lilly Library, and it is where most of the scholars and researchers who visit the library spend time,” said IU President Michael A. McRobbie.

“This new Lilly Library Bicentennial cycle of murals, which will spotlight some of the library’s treasured collections and themes, will boldly enhance the character of the Reading Room. It will also underscore the importance of IU’s artistic and intellectual traditions, the university’s commitment to conservation, and the powerful role that the visual arts have in educating our students and documenting our heritage.”


The president of Indiana University, Michael McRobbie is speaking at a podium in the Lincoln Room of the Lilly Library

Indiana University is extremely grateful to Lilly Endowment for its continued support and generosity, and we look forward to enhancing the Lilly Library through this exciting project.

- IU President Michael A. McRobbie

Consistently regarded as one of the nation's top libraries for books and manuscripts of the utmost importance, the Lilly Library was established in 1960 to house the extensive private library of Josiah K. Lilly Jr., one of the founders of Lilly Endowment. Physical spaces are particularly important for libraries that hold non-circulating collections. These one-of-a-kind rare books and special collections materials can only be accessed through a personal visit.

The new cycle of murals will be in close proximity to the venerable Thomas Hart Benton murals located in three buildings near IU’s Fine Arts Plaza, which is also home to the Lilly Library. The proposed murals will be in the safekeeping of a university with a fierce regard for the educational impact art brings to learning.


“Just as a reader's response to a text is affected by the typography and physical characteristics in which that text appears, so do a scholar's imagination and thoughts respond to the setting around them. The presence of these murals in the Reading Room, as a focal point and accompaniment to the Lilly Library’s collections, will attract and inspire those of future generations who visit the Library.”

- Joel Silver, director of the Lilly Library


A male librarian discusses a large book with a female library visitor
Joel Silver is the Director of the IU Libraries' Lilly Library


The vision for the murals is a reflection of the Lilly Library’s rich resources in world literature, history, the sciences and the arts. In consultation with David Brenneman, the Wilma E. Kelley Director of the IU Eskenazi Museum of Art, an IU committee is seeking the most creative and inspirational concept inspired by the collections of the Lilly Library. The mural art will also acknowledge the collectors whose passionate pursuits help form the connected libraries scholars investigate today.  
Individuals and collectives who can demonstrate the ability to plan and execute a similar large-scale public art project are invited to apply; international proposals are welcome. Interested artists can visit to download the Request for Expressions of Interest, which are due Feb. 21. Proposed works must be wall mounted and fit into the allocated spaces, but do not necessarily have to be paint on canvas. All proposal-related questions can be sent to


A female student is shown in the Lilly Library Reading Room holding a book.

Tiffany Xie, expected graduation May 2020, first learned about the Lilly Library Reading Room as part of an undergraduate class visit.   In April 2018, she went on to write an opinion piece in the Indiana Daily Student in support of the library and the impact exposure to primary sources had on her own education.

An interior view of the Lilly Library Read Room with a few patrons using materials on tables.

Thousands of hours each year are spent in this Reading Room by scholars, students, and intellectually curious visitors exploring the millions of literary artifacts held in one of the world's great rare books libraries. Once complete, the murals will boldly declare the Lilly Library Reading Room as a treasured destination for all who study and work here.  

An exterior image of the Lilly Library in the early evening with the Showalter Fountain in the foreground

The vision for the murals is a reflection of the Library's rich resources in world literature, history, the sciences, and the arts, and will showcase, in the words on the plaque in the Lilly Library recognizing the donation by J. K. Lilly, Jr. of his collection, "the best that has been thought and written through the ages."