The Arts Everywhere — Fall 2011
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Growing Culture
Jack Walton

West Washington’s “Museum Corridor” Expands with the New Center for Arts and Culture

South Bend’s West Washington Street has become a destination for those interested in history and the arts. The Center for History, Studebaker Museum, and the new Civil Rights Heritage Center all sit on West Washington within a few blocks of each other, and soon construction will begin for a new member of this “musuem corridor”: The University of Notre Dame’s Center for Arts and Culture.

By summer 2012, the old Hansel Center at 1045 West Washington will have an updated look and a new purpose.

It’s one thing for a college to advertise an on-campus service or event as “open to the public,” but it’s quite another to bring the programs directly into people’s neighborhoods. That kind of accessibility can make all the difference, especially for young people.

“As a kid, I never felt that university territory was a place where I belonged,” says Joseph Segura, whose distinguished Segura Publishing Company will make its new home in the Center. “I felt awkward about going into museums, and into libraries, and campus areas. We’re taking an artmaking facility, art makers, and collaborators who work in art right into the communities. There’s a bridge there, an easy transition for them.”

Segura, a master printmaker, founded his company in 1981 in Tempe,AZ Upon its reopening, the company will be renamed the Segura Fine Arts Studio.

Douglas Franson, assistant director of Notre Dame’s Institute for Latino Studies (ILS), says that along with the relocated Segura studio, the Center will also have an art gallery space and will house other programs and organizations.

“We plan to have the Letras Latinas headquarters there, as well as a writerin- residence program,” Franson says.

The space will provide the literary group with a venue for its readings, guest speakers, and workshops.

The Center's art gallery will benefit from the good luck of having a dedicated art collector in its ranks: ILS director Gilberto Cardenas has one of the nation's finest collections of Latino art.

“A lot of the material exhibited in the gallery will come from Gil’s collection,” says Allert Brown-Gort, associate director of the ILS.

The outside of the building will look good as well. Developer Vanir Group Inc. and Kil Architecture & Planning have put together a beautiful and utilitarian design, and the completed structure will be a lovely addition to the neighborhood. It's the opposite effect of the dreaded "gentrification": Instead of sending a message to clear out, the message is to come on in and participate.

“What we have here is a chance to show that the university has a commitment to really connect with its community in ways that it hasn’t before. We can do this in several different ways,” says Brown-Gort. “We help financially, at the municipal level, by handing out the big cardboard checks,and that’s great. But we’re trying to do something in the long term that has to do with economic development, and with transfer of technology, incubation. You see this in Ignition Park and Innovation Park. Those are real and they’re good and they’re important, but there’s still very few places where the university can connect with the community as a whole.”

Like the Robinson Community Learning Center, the Center for Arts and Culture is intended to be of particular use to young people from South Bend’s west side.

“That’s where we can have the most impact, and bring the most positive change," Brown-Gort says. "It's benefit to get these kids used to the idea that this campus is also their space.”

In Tempe, Segura’s print studio achieved that goal: His roster included unknown youngsters right next to professional artists.

"Joe is really the anchor of this facility," Franson says. "It's not just the fineart aspect. It’s also that he has great experience working with community.”

"I taught for 31 years at Arizona State University in the School of Art while I put my studio together,” Segura says. “Through those connections, I ran into a lot of people—young art makers—and I have a lot more prominent Latino and African-American people who work with me as well. That helps with economics and to raise the visibility of some of the younger people.”

Even in the short time Segura has been in our area, he’s already jumped into a project.

“I’m starting to work on a mural project with some young Latinos and African Americans, designing a mural for a community garden (Grace Unity Garden, 714 Sherman Avenue) in one of the tougher neighborhoods in South Bend,” he says.

One art medium that is prevalent in those tougher neighborhoods is graffiti, always a controversial issue. Ignored-at least until recently-by the art establishment, and considered vandalism in the eyes of the law, graffiti is often young urban artists' first natural choice as a means of expression.

To attract talented young people, it’s a logical step for an open-minded institution to tell a graffiti artist,"You're good. Let's work together."

In this spirit, Brown-Gort and Franson say, the Institute for Latino Studies is one of the sponsors of GAP: the Graffiti Art Project.

“The idea is to let kids know that there is an outlet for their artistic urges that can be more constructive,” Brown-Gort says. “Every summer, we hand out art supplies to a number of kids. I think the youngest was about 10. Most of them are 13 to 17 years old."

“At the end of summer, there’s a gallery of their work on display at the Crossroads Gallery in the Notre Dame Downtown office,"Franson says. "That will be moving into the Center as well.”

Notre Dame’s Snite Museum of Art is another natural partner for future projects.

“We’ve been talking quite a lot, and at least the summer programming is going to be performed out of the Center, because that is absolutely the population we’re interested in working with,” says Brown-Gort, who also serves on the Snite’s acquisition committee. “It’s early yet, but that’s the kind of possibility that could be one of the main ways we could be working together.”

Segura says, “We plan on doing summer workshops with kids who are grade-school age, and also workshops with teachers who work with young students. We’d also like to work with professionals or faculty from universities. We hope to work with the Snite on any of that.”

The Center’s ambitious goal of blending the collegiate and the local is not unprecedented. The University of California, Davis has already undertaken a similar program of outreach in the city of Woodland. Notre Dame may be on the cusp of a growing trend.

Brown-Gort notes that the Center will be across the street from the Indiana University Civil Rights Heritage Center as well as in the midst of the museum district.

“We hope that this will be enough of a critical mass to really transform that neighborhood,” he says. “The immediate West Washington area and also, more broadly speaking, the west side.”