Hammond arts community thriving

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Whether at Towle Theater or Paul Henry’s Art Gallery or through the efforts of Books, Brushes and Bands for Education theater and the arts are thriving in Hammond.

Paul Henry’s Art Gallery has been at 416 Sibley in downtown Hammond since October of 2008. Owner David J. Mueller says the space was set up in the old hardware and paint store, a continuation of commercial activity that dates back to 1887.

“We felt that we could build on the existing art community that began to be established five years before,” Mueller says. “Our goal is to provide space for visual artists from Northwest Indiana and the Chicago area to exhibit their work without an extreme amount of process.”

Both emerging and seasoned artists are showcased at Paul Henry gallery. “Our secondary goal is to develop an art community to actively participate in events and activities within our gallery,” Mueller says. “We also support other businesses within downtown Hammond as the business district reforms from many years of decline. We feel the arts lend a positive aspect to that resurgence, giving visitors and locals alike a cultural experience that is important to community profile and perception.”

Every Thursday night, Paul Henry’s Gallery, hosts an open stage, Acoustic Jam/Open Table Potluck at 7 p.m. Other events and information can be found on their website www.paulhenrysartgallery.com or by visiting their Facebook page.

Towle Theater opened its doors at 5205 Hohman Avenue in September 2003.

“In that short time we have established ourselves as a leader in producing professional quality theater as well as educational programs and community partnerships,” Towle Theater Managing Director Jeff Casey says. “We’ve produced more than 600 performances and events, exhibited more than 40 local artists in our lobby gallery and hosted more than 60,000 guests and audience members.”

Casey says the theater has started paying their actors, which has greatly increased the number of people in the shows from Chicago and the quality as well.

“Our next show, directed by Sherry Sweeney, is the U.S. premiere of a contemporary musical ‘From Up Here,’ which features a very talented cast including a young man from Dublin Ireland, who’s studying at Columbia College on an exchange program.”

The arts are vital to any community, Casey says.

“Just look at all the really great cities of the world and here in America, the arts are the true heartbeat and soul of a community giving a voice to artists and a centerpiece of bringing the community together to celebrate the beauty and wonder that the arts represent,” Casey says. “If you’ve never been here, why? If you haven’t been here in a while, why? Just as a community needs the arts to thrive and grow and be enriched, the arts cannot survive without community support. The next time you’re about to drive an hour in traffic and pay a ridiculous amount just to park before getting to see great art, see what’s happen here at home. Less time, less money and a vibrant arts scene makes for a vibrant community – imagine your life, community, neighborhood without art.”

Towle Theater’s full schedule can be found at www.towletheater.org.

Books Brushes & Bands for Education, located at 5920 Hohman, organized in 2000.

“Since then, we have strived to evolve beyond what a traditional arts organization does with programs like Book Brigade and Poetry Pantry,” Communications Director Shelley Lohr says. “For us the arts are not an exclusive opportunity, so when we put together a new program we start out by thinking, ‘how can we help build our community?’”

Books, Brushes & Bands for Education’s cornerstone programs are their vocal ensemble and beginning and continuing band programs which serve a diverse group of public, private, parochial and homeschool students from age five to beyond high school through instruction provided by the Merit School of Music. “We welcome from true beginners to more advanced players and singers,” Lohr says.

This summer, the groups will continue through a two-week choral camp and band classes.

“We have also started a school-year choral group for children age’s five to eight that is now in its third year which introduces them to group singing, diction and receiving musical direction,” Lohr says. “Our Poetry Pantry is a unique poetry workshop where participants bring food items to the workshop site to be able to participate.”

Every year has its highlights and unforgettable moments, Lohr says, but this year was truly exceptional. A year ago in July we put into motion Book Brigade: A Call to Action, Lohr says.

“It was an idea that had long been in our hearts with the purpose of bringing literacy right into our communities through a book drive like none we had ever seen,” Lohr says. “We placed a radio flyer wagon inside every First Midwest Bank branch in Northwest Indiana and through August we tripled our original goal by collecting over 1500 children’s books.”

In September, a group walked door to door with their wagons through six Hammond neighborhoods to distribute the collected books.

“After visiting over 900 homes and handing out more than 700 books, seeing family after family full of smiling children with books in their hands was something that will always remind us of why we do what we do,” Lohr says. “We have continued distribution of books at community gatherings and at Hammond parks during lunch hours.”

The second half of the year set into motion a partnership with the education department of the Northwest Indiana Symphony Orchestra that made possible master classes for the benefit of our students and the community with Baritone Yohan Yi in February and pianist Marta Aznavoorian in March, who were both in the Region performing with the symphony, Lohr says.

“This not only gave our students the opportunity to work with musicians at the top of their field but allowed us to cultivate a relationship with Marta Aznavoorian, who later was guest speaker at our Spring Concert at Purdue University Calumet in April,” Lohr says.

Future plans include expanding Book Brigade to include more neighborhoods and a new goal of collecting 2000 books during the month of August, Lohr says.

“We also hope to expand enrollment through our participation with the city of Hammond’s voucher program, which will enable even more families to receive financial assistance,” Lohr says. “In terms of programming, we are beginning efforts this fall for the establishment of a 100-member vocal orchestra.”

The arts are important because they bring us together, Lohr says.

“The arts are the universal language of sharing,” Lohr says. “Through the arts you share knowledge, emotion and time. As people participate in the arts they become more understanding of each other and therefore more compassionate and through the process, this shared knowledge and understanding creates limitless interpretation.”

That is why the arts have something for everyone and every community, Lohr says.

“Through the study of music theory, diction, and the background behind individual pieces of music the process shows our students, through personal experience, that great things are only achieved through diligence,” Lohr says. “This remains key throughout their lives and gives them the discipline to be able to reach their outstanding potential.”