HOBART — The Southlake Mall overflows with the latest shoes, the trendiest jeans, redolent candles, even sweeter-smelling cinnamon rolls and all the manifold culinary delights the food court has to offer.
One can browse the most stylish fashions, play video games or scour the racks for sales.
Now one can also get a dose of culture at Northwest Indiana’s biggest mall. Indiana University Northwest has brought the arts to the Calumet Region’s largest temple of commerce, the super-regional Southlake Mall at U.S. 30 and Mississippi Street in Hobart.
The IUN School of the Arts opened the Pop-Up Art + Action interactive exhibit in a former Albert’s Diamond Jewelers Store on the second floor at the center court of the mall. It’s an oasis of art and culture tucked amid stores like Lids, Hot Topic and Clark Street Sports in the bustling shopping center.
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“This has really been a labor of love project for me and the school of the arts,” said Lauren Pacheco, IUN’s director of arts programming and engagement. “I think there’s a wonderful opportunity to think about how IUN is expanding off of campus, extending into different spaces. When this opportunity presented itself, I thought this is a really rare opportunity for us to think about tapping public imagination, curiosity and different levels of engagement with creative practices and how they interact with artmaking.”
The exhibit showcases the work of artists from IUN and Northwest Indiana. It also highlights IUN’s new Arts and Science building, School of the Arts offerings, galleries and theaters, as well as cultural institutions in the community like the Chesterton Art Center and the Lubeznik Center for the Arts.
“It’s an opportunity for us to show off the cool, creative amenities we have on campus at the School of the Arts like 3D printing machines or large-format printers but also ways we can engage our local artists and alumni artists, presenting them in this type of environment,” Pacheco said. “But the challenge is it’s a nontraditional space. How do we make it interesting and cool and not like a jewelry store? We’ve been thinking about muralism and what that can look like, conceptual muralism that plays with color schemes, vertical and horizontal surfaces we have to present different types of artistic mediums to the public.”
Southlake Mall operator Pacific Retail has been looking to incorporate the arts more in all its shopping malls as a portfolio-wide initiative, said Kristyn Filetti, marketing and business development manager.
“Being a great community partner is one of our goals,” she said. “Being able to bring this to the shopping center to give our shoppers another experience while they’re shopping is something we’re very excited about. There’s something for everybody to enjoy in this space.”
The pop-up art gallery is located on the second floor between Yankee Candle and the former Carson Pirie Scott department store. It features many interactive elements, including artistic miniature golf holes that reimagined “the wildly popular 1988 exhibition Par Excellence at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago” and were recently displayed at both IUN and the Elmhurst Art Museum.
The space is far from stuffy.
“It’s really important for us to give people the opportunity to handle artworks and artifacts and objects because that’s just really cool,” Pacheco said. “It’s different than the way we normally interact with museum environments and gallery spaces. I love the idea of bringing in 35 mm slides. A lot of young people don’t really know what that is, so I say it’s how we used to look at images before the internet. What I wanted to do is to fill that gap here in the Region and provide exposure to these iconic classic pieces we’ve seen in museums.”
Visitors can check out portraits, write down bucket list items on a “Before I die” board or grab a free “Help each other” yard sign from artist JB Daniel, who’s based out of Chicago’s Pullman neighborhood.
A book nook displays selections from the School of the Arts library. Pandora jewelry boxes were turned into a mini museum that displays smaller objects and artifacts. Moving walls were brought in from IUN’s traveling Pop-Up Art + Action exhibit that’s been displayed all around the Region to create more space to display paintings, photographs, graffiti pieces and other artworks.
“The pop-ups are still happening outdoor in the public sphere,” Pacheco said. “The past year we have been going indoors at the Chesterton Art Center and South Shore Arts Center. The beauty of this pop-up system is that it can go indoors and outdoors. It helps fill the space and allows for different surfaces. But it was a natural placement. At any point, if we need to take structures out, we can roll it out into the community. There are no other interior walls to hang artwork, and that’s a challenge when you work with artists.”
Ish Muhammad is one of the many local artists on display in the mall exhibit.
“IUN did a great job in how they designed all the artworks on display in conjunction with all the interactive activities here,” he said. “I really like that people can experience art differently here. Normally you can go and look at it. Here you can look at it, touch it and play with it.”
Muhammad has a few abstract pieces up at the exhibit.
“An experience like this you would tend to find in a museum,” he said. “You have a museum-quality exhibition in a shopping mall where it literally pops up on you. You can take a moment to unwind while shopping, take a moment to be with the art. It’s nice to see IUN not only be inclusive of their student artists but also the art community itself. It helps. It helps all of us. It helps retain artists in Northwest Indiana. They’re helping debunk the myth that you’ve got to leave Indiana to be successful as an artist. Exhibitions like this help do that.”
Artist Cathy Freeman is using the space for her Color Theory art project in which she’s collecting skin tones and stories from participants.
“The Color Theory project started as an investigation of human skin color and wanting to take that out of context of social terms and just appreciating the beauty of the color,” she said. “Then I started thinking about Josef Albers’ study that got me thinking about using these colors and collecting these palettes and creating artworks where I can let people sort of explore themselves.”
Visitors pose for photos and record anecdotes on-site to contribute to the reference library of colors and tales she’s building for future artworks.
“I’m really asking people to participate in this project because I’m wanting to represent a wide scope of the population in this area,” she said. “You will be contributing your unique palette to these artworks and your unique store. It can be a very short story. It can be a pixel point of your life. This is a very diverse project.”
The Legacy Foundation, IUN’s Office of Diversity, Equity and Multicultural Affairs and a Chancellor’s Innovation Grant at IUN help fund the project.
“It’s spectacular,” IUN School of the Arts Dean David Klamen said. “Lauren and her team did such an amazing job of transforming this space from a lost space into something that is beautiful, engaging and thoughtful and very inviting to the public. It’s to connect with an audience that we might not normally have on our campus. And also to give the opportunity for the arts and other disciplines to help connect with folks here in the Region. It’s a way for people who might not normally show up on our campus to get a sense of what we do but also to provide a sense of entertainment and information to people who are interested.”
Exhibits and art will be changed out to keep them fresh and interesting.
It also will host programming such as brief lectures and workshops, including on button making, 3D printing and imagination journals. At least three or four activities will take place every month.
“We want it to be hands-on and interactive. We don’t want it to be elitist or institutional,” Pacheco said. ”
We want to keep some of that fun playfulness in the project.”
The pop-up exhibit will be on display through the end of the year or at least the fall unless the space gets leased out sooner.
“We’ll be here as long as they allow us to stay,” Pacheco said. “We don’t want things to be on display for long periods of time. We really want to rotate. There’s new artworks happening in the studios. There’s new artworks local artists are creating. This helps us showcase the very best talent in the Region and at IUN.”
For more information or updates, visit facebook.com/iunschoolofthearts.
PHOTOS: IUN pop-up transforms former Southlake Mall jewelry store into art museum-like experience