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Miller Beach Art District Executive Director Meg Roman and Gary schools Emergency Manager Dr. Peter Morikis

Gary schools art collection is safe

Contributed By:The 411 News

Emergency manager didn't know Chicago Picasso replica sale had to go through Gary's mayor

The alarm bell sounding over the auction of a wood model of the Chicago Picasso sculpture owned by the Gary public schools has brought concerns about the future of paintings also owned by the school corporation.

The 12.5-foot plywood replica was donated to the Gary schools following construction of the steel sculpture by US Steel’s American Bridge Division in Gary. The Chicago Picasso is 5 stories high, weighing 100 tons, and sits in Daley Plaza where it was installed in 1967.

In January, Rebecca Wyatt, Gary’s 1st District City Councilwoman found the replica listed on the Kraft Auction website. The school system has used Kraft auctions for the sale of most of its unused items and fixtures. Kraft’s website also shows the sales results of the 2018 auction of amateur artwork from the school district’s Wirt-Emerson Collection.

The wooden replica’s home is the Gary Career Center, where it sits on a base with plaques of newspaper stories chronicling its history.

Wyatt alerted Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson and the auction was suspended. Wyatt said the school district’s emergency manager did not follow the law that the Gary mayor must be notified 30 days prior to the sale of school properties. Wyatt also chairs the city council’s Art, Culture & History Committee and wants the replica to remain in the city.

Kraft found a buyer, but the transfer to the highest bidder stalled upon the city’s objections.

At last week’s public meeting at West Side with Dr. Peter Morikis, the Gary school’s emergency manager and Mayor Freeman-Wilson, Dr. Morikis explained he didn’t know about the requirement to inform the mayor.

We have been working with the mayor, Dr. Morikus said, and the auction is now extended to March 15. There was a high bid of $20,000 for the plywood model when the auction was interrupted.

“I understand your concerns and the feelings behind the artwork stored in Chicago and it is safe,” Dr. Morikis said. “The selling of artwork is nowhere near the top of my priorities.”

There is no plan to sell the artwork, Morikis said. “We have many other issues. Improving our student learning, our graduation rate, our career and technical education, expanding our career center, our elementary schools, improving our I-Read and I-Step scores.”

Gary’s art collection grew over the years from donated and purchased paintings, displayed throughout the districts buildings. As buildings closed with the downsizing of the district, the paintings were redistributed or stored. At least publicly, the number and value of the Gary schools collection is unknown.

“I’m an artist and I love art, but I would be happy to let all that artwork go if we can get money to get some permanent principals in our schools, to pay our teachers, to get textbooks,” Kim Kimble said, a parent with two children attending Gary schools.

Gregg Hertzlieb, Director of Valparaiso University’s Brauer Museum of Art said, “In 2006, the Brauer held an exhibit of the Gary school’s Frank Dudley collection. We have the capabilities to store the art, display it, and use it for research.”

Meg Roman, Executive Director of Gary’s Miller Beach Art District said the paintings could be displayed locally. The art district operates the Marshall J. Gardner Center for the Arts on Lake Street.

Mayor Freeman-Wilson asked for volunteers to join a working group to discuss and determine the process for storage and display of the paintings. “We need a viable plan that would have input from the school district, city hall, and the community.”

Plywood model of Chicago Picasso at the Gary Career Center

Rebecca Wyatt and Maria Strimbu

Story Posted:03/05/2019

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