Lockport reopens state shuttered museum, calls on artists

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By Frank Vaisvilas Daily Southtown

Lockport turns to “The People’s Show” to reopen its Illinois Museum

Lockport Mayor Steve Streit was dumbfounded when state workers suddenly packed up exhibit pieces and closed the Illinois Museum in the city’s downtown July 1 without informing him, and he vowed to reopen it.

“If Springfield can’t do it, we’ll do it,” he said at a July city council meeting. “Let’s fill it up. Let’s make a statement.”

The museum served as an art gallery and featured exhibits from artists around the country.

Gallery director John Lustig said he had to close the museum and return the artwork to its owners because the state stopped paying for the building’s insurance during the current budget crisis. The state’s fiscal year ended in July and nothing has yet been budgeted toward its museums.

The museum gallery is located in the historic Norton Building, 201 W. 10th St., which was built around 1850.

Streit said the city could’ve provided insurance for the building without the exhibit for the city’s 2015 Summer Art Series having to be cut short.

Now, the city has stepped in to provide insurance for the building at no additional cost, according to Lockport finance director Lisa Heglund, by simply adding it to the city’s policy.

But the artwork originally displayed had already been cleared out, so Streit and Lustig are calling on local artists to contribute to a new exhibit.

Lustig said the gallery can fit about 120 pieces of art and the “The People’s Show” exhibit is non-juried, meaning all skill levels are welcome.

He said people can begin bringing artwork Sunday afternoon and throughout the daytime hours during the week until the exhibit is filled for Friday’s opening. An event on Sunday also includes product demonstrations Dick Blick art materials and crafts for children.

Lustig said he’s open to accepting all kinds of artwork but will usually steer away from anything too political, controversial or violent.

One featured artwork in the show will be that of Julia Haw whose work had been in the gallery before it was closed.

She said rather than returning with the art she had originally displayed she wanted to work on a piece that comments on the state’s budget woes and lawmakers’ readiness to cut funding for the arts.

“I think people will understand it right away but will probably be a little upset,” Haw said.

It’s unclear when or if Springfield will continue funding for the Lockport gallery.

“Even if the budget passed today it would take two to three months just to get everything back up,” Lustig said.

So he said he expects “The People’s Show” to run for at least three months.

Meanwhile Lustig, along with many other state workers, is uncertain if he’ll be permanently laid off and hopes a budget passes soon and includes funding for his agency.

He said the museum’s annual operating expense is about $190,000, but utilities are not figured into that budget.

If his Lockport gallery has a future, he said the next exhibit he’d like to work on includes the toys of yesteryear, such as Lincoln Logs and Raggedy Ann.

Frank Vaisvilas is a freelance reporter for the Daily Southtown.

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