MICHIGAN CITY — If you’ve ever been to downtown Michigan City, you’ve likely seen some works of art that made you stop and do a double-take – and maybe wonder just what the artist was thinking.
That’s exactly what the orgainizers of the exhibits had in mind.
“MAC has enjoyed terrific support from the community and thousands of visitors of all ages who find the visually challenging works of public art here popular destinations,” said Robin Kohn, coordinator of community programs for the Michigan City Public Library and MAC president. “We love hearing people comment about their experiences.”
Established by the City Council eight years ago “to create an identity that celebrates Michigan City’s unique historical, cultural and natural resources,” according to its website, the Michigan City Public Art Committee or MAC recently presented its report on 2018 community-based art activities to the council.
“There is no downside to the installation of public art,” said Judy Jacobi, Purdue Northwest appointee to the MAC. “Its presence helps public places look attractive and even memorable, and that feature is universally celebrated.”
Among the standout projects in 2018 was a partnership with Taste of Michigan City, offering a family activity tent during the August event. The MAC also underwrote free entry to the annual Arts and Artisan Festival for veterans to encourage attendance. More than 150 vets were among the crowds that visited the Lubeznik Center and nearby public spaces.
And Sculptfusion, the annual contemporary sculpture exhibition, unveiled newly leased, high-profile sculptures in the summer of 2018, including a number of large works in the Uptown Arts District.
Nine sculptures were featured, including “Dasein” (Presence), which was given to the city by artist John Sauve, and sits in front of City Hall. All works can be found on Otocast.com, a smart phone app the MAC maintains, presenting an audio and visual tour of the works.
“One of the greatest benefits that has arisen is MAC’s collaboration with groups like the Michigan City Redevelopment Commission,” said vice president Janet Block, director of the Lubeznik Center. “Engaging important representatives in the large picture is important to our mission.”
Such partnerships have brought significant permanent art to major community projects, such as “The Owl and the Pussycat” at Charles Westcott Park and “You Are Beautiful” on the lots where The News-Dispatch and Michigan City Police Department once stood. Westcott Park also features a kiosk of changing children’s art, which MAC maintains.
“Important public areas and byways are now focal points of interest, and many of those will change because of our innovative sculpture-leasing program,” Jacobi said.
“Cities, universities and significant architectural structures of all sizes have made public art a prized feature of their locations,” said Jane Daley of the La Porte County Convention and Visitors Bureau. “They encourage conversation and wonderment about the creative challenges that artists face.”
But placing art in public spaces is not the MAC’s sole mission.
Since its inception, art class scholarships have been offered to local children with financial need who show an interest in furthering their learning in classes taught by professional art teachers and artisans.
“We want to encourage young people to develop their creative vision, whether they are primary, junior or senior high school students,” said Hannah Hammond Hagman, director of education at the Lubeznik Center. “We know from many studies that the early exploration of visual arts contributes to educational achievement, life satisfaction and happiness.”
MAC member and professional videographer Kyron Williams added, “In 2018, scholarships were available all year and fully utilized, which means a great deal to me, because every child has the opportunity to experience pathways to success early.”
Another lesser-known MAC project is the mining of photographic archives of the city’s history to enlighten citizens through a display in the west conference room of City Hall.
Committee member and artist Matt Kubik, along with Jessica Rosier, former director of the Barker Mansion, have found “photos of the past, which are emblematic of our diversity, the physical features and traditional activities of life in Michigan City,” Rosier said.
“The project is daunting, because city resources have so many fantastic original documents of its life over many years. We have a rich history and we have unearthed amazing visual documentation of it,” said Kubik, an MC native.
“Developing public art initiatives is one of the most gratifying activities of my volunteer effort because the investment of effort pays off many, many times over for our parks and lakefront,” said Shannon Eason, assistant superintendent of the Michigan City Parks and Recreation Department.
“Allowing all residents to see progress in our community is absolutely wonderful!”