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Public Art Enhances Communities
Both Then and Now

It’s been nearly 150 years since the first known outdoor artwork was commissioned. That was back in 1872 when sculptor William Rush was tapped to create a work for display in Philadelphia. Today, outdoor sculptures are important across the country – in parks, on college campuses, and in various public spaces in communities, including our own Michigan City.

A study conducted by The Knight Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to fostering “informed and engaged communities,” found that people in 43 cities said aesthetics of their communities, including public art, parks and green spaces, ranked as the most important driver of “attachment to community.” In Philadelphia, where that first artwork went up, a survey of local residents found that viewing public art was the second most popular activity.

The popularity of outdoor art is definitely apparent in the warmly received SculptFusion project in Michigan City’s downtown. Residents may have recently noticed some very large newcomers to Michigan City, like that huge Blue Heron perched along Franklin Street and the family of bears across from the Washington Park Zoo. The colorful metal sculptures, officially known as “Waterbird” and “Bear Family,” joined three others recently as new additions to SculptFusion, which numbers 14 outdoor sculptures throughout the downtown area. Janet Bloch, executive director of the Lubeznik Center for the Arts and a member the Michigan City Public Arts Committee, says she couldn’t be happier with the endeavor.

“I think it’s really been received well,” she says. “It got people talking, and it’s added a vibrancy to the downtown where it feels like something exciting is happening.” Bloch noted that new restaurants have popped up in the burgeoning Uptown Arts District, as well as Artspace, a live/work space for artists.

The project started in 2013 after former Mayor Chuck Oberlie formed a public art committee and Mayor Ron Meer is also a supporter of the arts and has kept the committee in place.

The sculptures stay in place for at least two years and are rotated out, unless a business or entity decides to buy one for permanent display. “That’s what’s happened with ‘Bear Family,’ ” Bloch said. “The zoo liked it so much, they decided to buy it.” When the sculpture’s time is up outside, the zoo will move it inside its gates, she said.

One of the best parts of SculptFusion is being able to do your own self-tour of the sculptures with a downloadable app call Otocast. You can find the free app, which is compatible with Google maps, at your Google App Store on your phone. “It gives a picture of each sculpture and a recording by the artist telling about it,” Bloch said. In addition, the app gives you tours in a number of other cities.

“I love all the work we have displayed,” Bloch adds, noting that her mission is to make art so accessible that it weaves into the community. “It provides a happiness and liveliness that people feel is reflected in the downtown.”

Here’s a rundown of the new sculptures:
• “Waterbird” by Janet Austin; 5th and Franklin.
• “Libretto” by Cynthia McKean; 5th and Franklin.
• “Sol Invictus (Unconquered Sun)” by Dan Shaughnessy IV; 9th and Franklin.
• “Bear Family” by Jim Collins; across from Washington Park Zoo.
•” Whoa” by Gary Kulak; 8th and Franklin.

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