Special to the Tribune-Star
TERRE HAUTE —
In a scene from the 1982 comedic movie “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid,” a mad scientist throws a switch that destroys the city of Terre Haute. In response to the city’s demise, the movie’s lead character, played by comedian Steve Martin, mutters this line:
“They were just about to get a public library.”
Martin’s now-famous words underscore the stereotype of a small Midwestern city that most people would prefer to pass than visit.
However, some things have changed in Terre Haute since the early ’80s.
Last month, Terre Haute’s outdoor art was featured in Home and Away Magazine, a AAA auto club publication that Magazine Publishers of America lists as among the top 100 most-circulated magazines in the United States.
Eight of these new outdoor sculptures are scattered within walking distance of several art galleries and a historic restaurant in downtown Terre Haute.
This area creates a spot for art lovers and the art curious to spend the day.
“We have a lot of art around here, and we don’t want it to be a secret,” says Jon Robeson, executive director of Arts Illiana, an organization that supports a variety of local artwork by distributing funding.
Visitors can begin at South Seventh Street, where a series of banners, each displaying a yellow paintbrush sweeping over the silhouette of a cityscape, proclaim in large letters that the viewer is in the “Terre Haute Arts Corridor.” Free, two-hour street parking is throughout the area, including the nearby Wabash Avenue and Ohio Street, and parking can be found for a fee at a garage on South Sixth Street.
Before strolling the corridor, guests can stop by the Art Spaces nearby on Ohio Street and pick up a brochure that provides a map and detailed description of the outdoor art, much of which can be seen by visitors as they travel among the galleries. Art Spaces itself displays no artwork, but it’s the reason the outdoor art exists. The not-for-profit organization established the collection of sculptures, which are free to view, according to Mary Kramer, the organization’s executive director.
She describes Art Spaces’ mission: “to change landscape with sculpture to bring people here and change it up for residents.”
“It’s working,” she adds.
On South Seventh Street, The Swope Art Museum, which opened in 1942 to national acclaim, displays some world-class art. The free exhibition includes a screen print of Marilyn Monroe created by internationally known artist Andy Warhol, and a painting by Grant Wood, best known for his famous painting titled “American Gothic.”
In addition to its regular exhibitions of works by 19th- and 20th-century artists, the two-story museum also provides exhibitions that change throughout the year, and include work by award-winning regional artists.
Potential visitors, both local and from abroad, can check the museum’s online schedule of events (website address available in column on left).
“It’s always good to come back because of the rotating exhibits,” says Lacie Lewis, one of the gallery’s attendants.
Visitors can also pick up free maps of the Arts Corridor and surrounding area at the museum’s front desk.
Arts Illiana, on North Sixth Street, displays exhibitions, including photography, that rotate throughout the year and are announced online. Visitors can view work by regional artists and also leave with souvenirs: original artwork and other handmade items can be bought in the gift shop.
Robeson stresses that art is more than paintings, drawings, sculptures and other so-called “static” exhibits. The community’s art also includes the living work of musicians and actors. Robeson recommends visitors check online schedules for performances by the Community Theatre of Terre Haute, Crossroads Repertory Theater, Putnam County Playhouse, Parke Players and other groups.
Parents who bring children might also appreciate the opportunity for outdoor events. Robeson mentions that children might need a break from a stream of indoor exhibits.
“This time of year is good to see things that aren’t static, he says, suggesting that visitors might want to round out their day trip with an outdoor concert. Robeson recalls a time when he took his family to see an outdoor concert by the Terre Haute Community Band.
“It was a beautiful location,” he says. “There were fields … and the kids could get up and run.”
Visitors can also add variety to their trip at the Halcyon Contemporary Art Gallery on South Seventh Street. Here, contemporary artists work in a section called The Project Room, which includes experimental art that includes sound and other unusual media, along with the more traditional paintings, sculptures and photography. The focus is on regional artists living and working in the Midwest.
The Arts Corridor includes a spot where visitors can grab a bite and continue the tour of local attractions. The Clabber Girl Museum on Wabash Avenue offers modern fare such as coffee, tea, sandwiches, salads and more but includes an old-timey museum on the side. The museum displays antiques from 1850s until the early 1900s.