The Heat Light Water building in Gary, Indiana currently serves as a repository for the hopes of the Heat Light Water Project (HLWP), led by artist and educator Jan Tichy, assistant professor in the Department of Photography. HLWP seeks to re-energize Gary through a collaborative and community-centered cultural approach. As first year graduate students in the Arts Administration and Policy program at the School of the Arts Institute of Chicago (SAIC), we were introduced to the HLWP through our management studio coursework taught by Kate Dumbleton during the fall 2015 semester.
Paulina Budzioch, Kelsey Beatrix Dalton McClellan, and I took on the role of student administrators for the project and with that learned how to navigate what it means to support a project that balances immediate programming goals — such as artist-led workshops — with the project’s more long-term aspirations: to repurpose a vacant building to serve as a cultural hub for the city of Gary.
Like many structures in Gary, the building itself has seen better days. Even in its abandoned state, though, it remains a handsome structure with stately pilaster capitals and massive lantern-like fixtures embellishing the entrance. In many ways, Gary’s history mirrors that of the building: US Steel founded Gary as well as the utility company Heat Light Water in the 1920s; but beginning in the 1960s, when the industry began outsourcing jobs, the city’s population rapidly declined, leading to abandoned neighborhoods and a weak infrastructure.
Today, there is a concentrated effort by artists like Tichy and city officials to more generally support cross-sectorial efforts that develop cultural programs in Gary. While we are a part of that conversation, we have the added obstacle that Gary is our neighbor, not our home. This leaves a greater impetus on us to build a thriving network of committed individuals throughout the city who will help oversee and participate in the project. In this regard, the HLWP is rich: Our network is made up of artists, students, activists, and civic leaders who make the project possible.
This network of individuals and their insights have been invaluable to the administrative process of this project. Here we highlight Maurice Walker, a founding member of the Photography Club, one of the first programmatic elements of the HLWP; and Kianna Reed, a freshman at Northwest Indiana University where she is studying painting. Walker and Reed took the time to share with us their roles, interests and goals for the HLW project and for the the city of Gary.
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
MW: My name is Maurice Walker. I was born and raised in Gary. I’m a 2003 graduate of Horace Mann High. I work in education. Currently, I work with a program at a faith-based alternative school. By night, I’m a photographer/adventurer/trespasser/wannabe Canon brand ambassador.
KR: I am Kianna Reed I was born in Gary, Indiana, and I spend most of my days at school, doing homework, or at work.
How would you describe the arts community and/or the creative energy of Gary?
MW: I believe I represent a small part of a super-talented art community in Gary. From dance to videographers, artist to musicians, photographers to writers, Gary has an understated and underreported talent base. I’ve met so many awesome minds, and the energy some of these people display is a constant source of encouragement.
KR: The arts community in Gary is rapidly growing and expanding! The creative energy in Gary is wonderful and uplifting. I am a fellow artist myself and I’m always stumbling into new artists doing really amazing things within the community. I was introduced to the Heat Light Water project through [community organizer] Sam Love, who I met through kids in his photography class at Indiana University Northwest, and learned more of the project by going to more events and networking with other artist also involved in the project.
If we had all the money in the world, what would you do with the Heat Light Water building?
MW: The HLW Project is an awesome idea that I can’t wait to watch develop. Gary needs this so badly: a safe place where creativity is nurtured, ideas are shared and a community reaps the benefit. If we had a blank check, we’d rehab it and equip it with everything from a dance/cardio studio, darkroom, tech center, space for rentals, and a room for myself. The HLW has such a presence, even now at its old age. I can’t wait to see it happen.
KR: If I had all the money in the world to fix the Heat Light Water building, I would put many different small studios and a couple large studios for both group and individual projects. It would also have a place for many different mediums like photography, ceramics, sculpting, metals and woodworking. The building should also have computers and Wi-Fi for those who need it, as well as classes to teach people new art forms or help them improve the skills they already have. It should also have a space for the performing arts like music, spoken word, and dance. It should also be a space to let artists exhibit their works and even sell them.
What kind of role do you see Kelsey, Paulina, myself, and future administrators playing in the project? What’s it been like working with all these weird art school folks?
MW: I see you all as trustworthy facilitators. You guys come to Gary with hopes of adding value and not a personal agenda. Sadly, we have too much of the latter in our city as is. Jan and you all bring knowledge, organization and a fresh set of eyes to Gary. I truly appreciate you all.
If you want to find our more about Heat Light Water Project, go to heatlightwater.org.