What started off by a small group of people who wanted to showcase the works
of local artists has blossomed into one of the region’s cultural gems.
And this Friday, the public is invited to help support, and help celebrate,
the Chesterton Art Center at a gala honoring the center’s 50th anniversary.
To be held at Sand Creek Country Club, the “Art After Dark” gala will
include food, dancing and a silent auction.
The milestone anniversary celebrates the work by local artists, art
supporters and the army of volunteers that keep the building at 115 S.
Fourth Street one of the most active places in the area.
The center includes a gallery with the works of area artists, a gift shop
and an ever-expanding offering of art classes. The center also hosts various
activities that may not seem directly related to art, such as the recent
seminar about Indiana’s first certified “green home” in Burns Harbor, and
community gatherings, such as yoga classes and Lions Club meetings. As Art
Center executive director Judy Gregurich sums it up: “There’s always so much
Recently, Gregurich and Art Center Board President John Mullin talked about
how the center has changed and grown over the years, as they looked through
one of the center’s 15 meticulously cared for scrapbooks. True to the nature
of the art center itself, the scrapbooks don’t just include photos and
newspaper clippings about the Art Center per se, but also announcements and
news about local artists and art in general.
The Art Center has its roots in the Chesterton Art Fair, which got started
53 years ago by Hazel and Vin Hannel and Harriet Rex and Norbert Smith. The
first fair was held in Furnessville. The fair then moved to Thomas Park,
then to St. Patrick’s, then to the Indian Oak Inn property, until settling
at its current location in Hawthorne Park in Porter.
Today, the fair is ranked as one of the top 100 art fairs in the nation and
serves as the main funding source for the Art Center.
Of course, the weather can make or break any outdoor event, and the Art
Fair, always held on the first weekend in August, has had its share of
disasters, with either sweltering heat or near-tornado conditions. “You pray
a lot,” Mullin said about the weather.
Three years after that first fair, the small group of artists formed the
non-profit Artists and Craftsmen of Porter County (AACPC). Those founding
AACPC members apparently felt that the fair wasn’t enough and that the
community needed a place for artists to show their works year round. In
1967, the group purchased an old machine shop on Fifth Street, with Mullin’s
father mortgaging his own home for the building. “He’s a dreamer,” Mullin
said of his father’s interest in getting a local art center.
The building was a grimy machine shop with a bit of history of its own: The
first folding chairs were invented here by the family of Howard Johnson,
before the patent was sold to the Sears Company. Upstairs, “Victory to the
U.S.A.” is hand printed on the wall, inscribed the day after the Pearl
Gregurich and Mullin note that while it’s a definite benefit for the Art
Center to own its own building, the old place had to be renovated and must
be continually maintained. They chuckled as they reminisced about some of
the work that went into the building. Volunteers poured 300 pounds of
concrete to level the old floor, and for the longest time, women would get
their heels caught on the concrete block floor. Eventually, the Art Center’s
board of directors was convinced to add carpeting. Another change: Art works
are now hung on nice, smooth walls -- a big contrast from the old peg boards
in use for years.
The art center places equal importance on the gallery section as well as the
class offerings. The gallery showcases local artists, with the center
receiving a very modest commission for each piece sold. Gregurich noted that
many of the artists who exhibit are lobbyists who at first find it difficult
to take the very public step of exhibiting their works. The Art Center gives
them the opportunity to take that important first step, by inviting the
artists to participate in non-juried exhibits. “This gives everybody an
opportunity,” she said.
The Art Center hosts 15 different shows a year, including two featuring the
works of Duneland School students. It also hosts annual shows, such as the
juried Chesterton Women Club’s show and the Duneland Weavers Guild show. It
sponsors ArTour, a fall event that partners with local businesses in
showcasing artists, and ArtComp, held every other year.
A wealth of public programs are offered at the center, such as the upcoming
weaving and spinning class on Nov. 6 and a partnership with Duneland Resale
Shop in which seniors can take watercolor classes for free. The center’s
outreach extends beyond Duneland: Tours and programs have been given to
students from Portage and Kouts, and clients of ARCH in Lake County help
About 200 classes are offered annually for all ages, from pre-schoolers to
senior citizens. The classes used to be crammed in with the gallery section,
until 18 years ago, when the art center took the major step of adding onto
its building. Gregurich said the addition was a necessity to accommodate the
growing demand for art classes. The center regularly adds new classes,
particularly when requested by patrons. “We’re open to just about
everything,” she said.
Volunteer Wendy Marciniak said the art classes are very affordable, with the
center itself taking a sliver of a cut. The classes are meant to be
affordable, she said, so that people, including children, will be able to
explore new experiences in art.
Gregurich speaks passionately about the art center’s activities, but one
that seems to excites her the most is the outreach with youth. In addition
to youth art classes, the art center hosts a Saturday series, “I’m An
Artist,” with local Girl Scouts that culminates in a reception of their
works, as well as tours with local students and special art events with
groups such as the Boys and Girls Clubs.
Gregurich said it’s inspiring to see the interest in art spanning
generations in families, as the children often bring in their parents or
grandparents to show them their works on display. “We meet so many wonderful
children,” she aid.
The Art Center has 454 members, less than half of whom are actually artists.
Events and activities are carried out largely by a volunteer crew of roughly
250 people. “People appreciate what we do for Northwest Indiana,” Gregurich
The original founders of the Art Fair and the Art Center had a big vision
for the organization that keeps expanding today. “We always need to keep
seeing a vision,” Gregurich said. “That’s what makes an art center.”
Art After Dark
The Art Center’s second annual gala and anniversary celebration, “Art After
Dark,” will begin at 6 p.m. on Nov. 5 at the Sand Creek Country Club, with
proceeds going to the center’s building fund, which includes a start toward
a new building project. The event will include a cocktail hour at 6 p.m.,
dinner at 7 p.m., a silent auction, presentation of the Patron Award, and
dancing. For tickets, call the Art Center at 926-4711 or Chairman Rita Berg
at 365-8165. Tickets are $50 each.
For more information, see the website at