From Offices to Galleries: Making the Lubeznik Center for the Arts

From Offices to Galleries: Making the Lubeznik Center for the Arts

Before the Lubeznik Center for the Arts building housed collections of contemporary art, it housed a whole lot of office space.

For a quarter century, Michigan City’s community art center was known as the John G. Blank Center for the Arts and resided on 312 East 8th St. in the city’s former public library. John G. Blank, who served for several years as the President of the board of Directors for the Michigan City’s Community Center for the Arts, purchased the neoclassical Indiana limestone structure in 1975 and donated it to the arts center. Blank passed away shortly thereafter, and the Center was renamed in Blank’s honor, officially opening its doors in 1978.

Flash forward to 2002 when Shirley Lubeznik, a long-time supporter of the Art Center, donated a new building at 101 W. Second Street. Since opening La Porte County’s first McDonald’s restaurant in 1961, Shirley and Jack Lubeznik steadily built a fast food empire and managed their growing business within that very building. Shirley gifted the building once the company expanded and scattered operations across La Porte and Porter Counties.

The Center was renamed to the Lubeznik Center for the Arts, opening its doors in 2004, continuing to wow visitors to this day.

According to Amy Davis Navardauskas, Marketing Director for the Lubeznik Center, the space that’s now a beautiful gallery is quite unrecognizable from the facility it once was.

“It was an extensive renovation,” Navardauskas said.

The Hyndman Gallery, named after the architect who designed the building, is a half-circle room that once comprised a row of offices set against a wall of windows.

“If you look at the outside of our building where ‘Lubeznik Center for the Arts’ is lettered, that used to be all windows, and we walled that in to make a traditional space where we can hang paintings,” Navardauskas said. “I understand there was a lot of contention over whether to take out the windows or not, but they opted to do it, so that makes that dramatic half-round space for our gallery.”

Navardauskas agreed that the space is one of the features that elevates the Lubeznik Center’s affect.

“It’s architecturally significant, it’s dramatic, so it works really well for [a gallery],” she said.

While some of the original offices are used for their original administrative purposes, still more spaces are used for additional galleries and educational spaces. The educational aspect of the Lubeznik Center has continued to flourish since its move to Second St., with an expansion of inhouse afterschool programs, summer camp programs, and opportunities for area artists to exhibit their work. Another shift that has occurred is the standard of exhibitions curated.

“Since the time we’ve reopened, we’ve seen a transformation in the focus of what we exhibit here,” Navardauskas said. “We first opened with a Victor Skrebneski exhibition, but we weren’t always able to bring that caliber of work. Over the years, we’ve been able to step up that curatorial piece, where we’re exhibiting people a little farther and wider, names that might be pushing the envelope more.”

All the stepping up paid off this past summer when the Lubeznik Center was able to showcase an Andy Warhol exhibition, making for one of the busiest summers (and early autumns) the Center has ever seen. The exhibition was wildly popular, and it also perfectly encapsulated one of the Lubeznik’s Center’s missions.

“We feel we provide a real cultural resource to the community. I think one of the things that’s different about us from art centers in neighboring communities is that we’re a little less afraid to challenge people’s ideas,” Navardauskas said.

“We’re very much about creating conversations,” she continued. “We’re not just trying to tell people what they’re supposed to think; we put it out there because we want to know what other people have to say about it. Starting that conversation is really important to us.”

Another reason the Center is a true resource is that many of the programs offered are completely free to the community.

“Art is not necessarily accessible to everyone, and we’re trying to make it accessible for everyone,” Navardauskas said. “For someone who lives below the poverty line, it’s not necessarily accessible for them to hop on the train and go to Chicago to visit the art museums—that’s an expensive day! We’re invested in making art accessible to everyone, regardless of their ability to pay.”

The Lubeznik Center for the Arts is funded completely through donations and grant money. Navardauskas said the common misconception is that the Center is endowed by the Lubeznik family. While the family is still invested in it’s present and future success, the center needs the support of additional grantors and individuals to carry out its mission.

“We’re really grateful that they’ve provided this facility and invested in our future,” Navardauskas said. “We want people to know that if you come to the facility to view the exhibition or if you’re taking a class, all of those funds go back into what we do and the resources we provide to the community. We need the community’s help to continue to provide this great resource.”

Plan your trip to the Lubeznik for the Arts today.