Northern Indiana Art Association (Munster, IN)

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        A gallery space features several unidentifiable art works displayed on columns. The foreground features two bi-colored ceramic urn-like structures textured with large, raised dots.

Inalados, ceramic sculptures by Basque artist Angel Garraza, serve as gallery centerpieces for the exhibition From Rust to Restoration: Basque Art and the Bilbao Effect. Photo courtesy of South Shore Arts

When John Cain first traveled to Bilbao, Spain, two years ago, he gazed at the winding facade of the Guggenheim Museum and envisioned northwest Indiana. “We saw so many parallels between that region of Spain and our city,” Cain said.

Cain is the executive director of the Northern Indiana Art Association (renamed as South Shore Arts in 2006), a trio of gallery spaces and art education centers that serve more than 50 Indiana communities. The service area includes Gary and Hammond, two former steel towns whose economies have grown stagnant. Before the Guggenheim opened its Frank Gehry-designed Bilbao museum in 1997, the Basque region was suffering from a similar post-industrial malaise. Along with other urban redevelopment projects, the museum has become a catalyst for economic renewal in north central Spain.

Cain hopes South Shore Arts can inspire a similar resurgence in Indiana. To that end, the organization received an NEA Challenge America grant of $10,000 in FY 2006 to present From Rust to Restoration: Basque Art and the Bilbao Effect, an exhibit featuring more than 400 works by 20 artists from the Basque region. The exhibit was presented simultaneously at three venues: South Shore’s main gallery in Munster, the Also Castillo Gallery in Chicago, and the Gallery for Contemporary Art at the Gary campus of Indiana University Northwest (IUN).

More than 8,000 people came out to see the multimedia exhibit. The paintings, sculptures, and ceramic works attracted viewers from a range of demographic groups, including art and Spanish students from 35 local schools. Events related to the Rust to Restoration exhibit included a chamber music concert featuring music from the Basque region and a three-day conference at IUN: The Arts and Urban Renewal.

(From the NEA 2006 Annual Report