NEW ALBANY — A special project combining art, nature and education is underway in New Albany and expected to be in full bloom around May.

Community leaders broke ground Thursday on the Monarch Educational Gardens at the Arts Alliance of Southern Indiana on Market Street, a project designed to provide a supportive environment for Monarch butterflies, educational tools for children and a peaceful spot for community members to relax.

The project will highlight the migration of Monarch butterflies and provide education on pollination and environmental awareness. It will feature a winding path through native plants — including Milkweed, important to butterflies’ well-being and survival— special lighting and music, and learning tools including a Little Free Library stocked with related children’s books.

“I think this brings the best of both worlds,” said Laurie Kemp, Arts Alliance board president during the morning ground-breaking ceremony. “In my mind it is art because it’s going to be gorgeous, it’s nature, it’s educational but it also is going to be a peaceful escape. We hope people from the community will relax, will enjoy, will rest. The children will come and they will learn about the environment and the ecosystems.”

The garden will also focus on Monarchs as a gauge of how well an ecosystem is doing.

“They are truly a barometer for how our environment is doing,” she said. “Scientists study those populations to determine how strong, how secure an ecosystem is doing because they’re so delicate.”

The project is made possible through a $10,000 grant from the Duke Energy Foundation, along with support from Toyota 4 Good, Exit Realty One and Momentum Title.

Lisa Huber, government and community relations manager at Duke, said the company is excited to partner with the Arts Alliance and others on projects such as this, which means “working alongside our community partners to ensure that future generations are able to enjoy the nature that we see all around us.

“It’s exciting because this garden is going to provide an outdoor learning adventure that allows the community to learn about the Monarch butterfly, the migration of them, sustainability and conservation,” she said.

Those in attendance said it’s also more important than ever to appreciate the growth and beauty of nature after a pandemic year wrought with fear and heartache for many.

New Albany City Councilman Jason Applegate told attendees his wife came home one day last year with 100 tulip bulbs, determined to make something beautiful from that year.

“She [said] ‘we need to plant something, we need to do something, to put something in the ground so when it comes next year when we start seeing that sprout, we’ll remember that good things came out of COVID,” Applegate said.

“And I think this is one of those similar-type projects that we will be planting stuff, and we will see the monarchs come and we will see them flourish and we can all be very proud that everybody here had a hand in it.”

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