The Crusader Newspaper Group

Thumbs up for Gary Public Library and Cultural Center

Contributed By: The 411 News

Progress came with a price for Saturday’s opening of the newly remodeled Gary Public Library and Cultural Center.

It was nearly six years ago when financial problems brought on by state property tax caps, reduced revenues, and set in motion a year of tumult and anxiety about the viability of the city’s library system. It was 2012, a new library director had been named, an unpopular plan for re-organization to close branches and convert the main branch into a museum was in place, and frictions among board members prevailed.

Eventually the museum plan was scuttled, replaced by a new vision to make the main branch a library and cultural center. Cost cutting remained the issue. The main branch was closed for renovations with services shifted to the DuBois Branch in Midtown. The Brunswick Branch closed; reduced hours were set for the Kennedy Branch in Glen Park and Woodson Branch in Miller.

Those times were in the past as hundreds upon hundreds came to take a look at the future of the library and cultural center. A vestige of those turbulent times, the DuBois Branch officially closed Friday, a day before the reopening.

Members of the Senior Citizens Friendship Club were among the visitors, proudly announcing their group will return to the library for their meetings.

A new high-tech circulation desk welcomed visitors. The card catalog was gone. See-through computer labs, a 20-station lab for children and about twice that number of stations in a lab for adults were in use.

There is a large, new WI-FI Lounge with vending machines and a microwave oven.

The Children’s Library is now in the open floor space. Watching her son get his face painted, Alisha Gaffney said, “I came to the library all the time and my favorite part was the doll house in the Children’s Library. I was looking for it and was told the doll house is being restored. They’re looking to find a place for it.”

Her husband Darnell was also a frequent library visitor. “I like the WI-FI Lounge the best. It’s probably the only one like this in the city of Gary that’s open to the public. I like the glass walls so you can talk to people without disturbing the people in the rest of the library.”

Darnell said the lounge would be a good place to offer coffee and sandwiches for sale. “It’s nothing like a donut or a Danish pastry to hold you over.”

A community room with a complete kitchen replaced the Children’s Library.

On the second floor, gallery walls presented “Graffiti A Head,” an exhibit by East Chicago artist Felix Maldonado. The building size Jackson 5 mural on Broadway, in downtown Gary and a smaller version along Lake Street in the Miller section are his.

Maldonado answered yes to being a graffiti artist, a style that does not carry the denigration it once held. “These are my peers,” he said about the images of fellow graffiti artists from Chicago and the Midwest. “I’m trying to document my peers from the golden age of hip-hop. Graffiti is one of our greatest art movements since jazz. I want to preserve its history.” Maldonado composed the 5-foot by 6-foot images from photo shots and only used spray paints.

Performances by a band, the Jazzy Ladies & Gents Line Dancers, and poetry readings gave the library a chance to show off its renovated auditorium that has a new theatre stage and sound room. Library programs coordinator Lakeisha Bridgman said Mark Spencer, director of the West Side Theatre Guild helped set the room up, providing technical advice for the new theatre.

For Black History Month, the theatre will present Spencer’s production of “The Meeting” on February 17 at 3 p.m. The play is a depiction of a supposed meeting of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X. And it’s free to the public.

Bridgman said the library wants the theatre – it only seats one hundred – to serve as another performance space for the city. “We know it’s not the biggest, but it’s a nice space, perfect for small performances. Everything in the city doesn’t have to go to West Side. This is another option.”

Maxine Simpson, dance instructor for the Jazzy Ladies & Gents, asked for information about bringing her group’s events to the library. Bridgman said the community room and theatre won’t be available until March or April, after the administration sets policies on their rentals.

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