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Left: Standing underneath the Center Street bridge in the warehouse district south of downtown Bloomington, Chris LoPinto of Chicago, strung his guitar before a concert with his band, Devil's Pie.

 

Below: Jay Myers describes her vision for a building sized video projection of fine art work on a building in the old warehouse district south of downtown Bloomington.

 

 

Photos by David Proeber

Art under the

Bridge

 

By David Proeber

Pantagraph Photo Editor

 

Gathered under a bridge in the dark recesses of Bloomington's historic warehouse district, a crowd of fine arts patrons marveled at the unfolding of a small miracle.

 

Surrounded by paintings, photographs and a variety of performance artists, the neighborhood had all the trappings of an embryonic arts district.

 

You wouldn't call the Main Street bridge south of downtown a bridge to nowhere.

 

The two bridges that carry U.S. 51 traffic between downtown and Bloomington's South Hill neighborhood thread their way between several 1870-era warehouses that tower over the bridges.

 

"I never envisioned an arts district here," said Steve Hermes, one of several property owners in the area that houses an estimated 25 businesses.

 

"The district is changing," he said.

 

The impetus is that artists and craftsmen have found the low-rent district appealing, said Karen Schmidt, the Bloomington alderman who represents the warehouse district - a neighborhood she half-jokingly calls SODO - South of Downtown - a reference to New York's famous SOHO arts district.

 

David Hall, a Bloomington poet who organized art exhibits and performances this summer under the Center Street bridge, said the district isn't the scary place you'd imagine at night - although Schmidt admitted it was time the city spent some money on infrastructure, repairing streets and improving lighting for the neighborhood.

 

"We're getting foot traffic through here as people attend sports events and conventions at U.S. Cellular Coliseum," said Jay Myers, owner of Blue Jay Computers, a computer repair business that is ground zero for SODO's artistic community.

 

Myers agreed to let Hall curate exhibits and performances in her repair shop this summer. The shows began last spring and were held on the last Saturday of the month. Some of the evenings brought as many as 200 people to the district. Hall said this year's season is over, but he hopes to resume the events next spring.

 

Some of the artists featured in September included

 

Bloomington's William Hutchison, a poet/essayist, who read his poem, "This Bridge" on the emotional significance of the bridge that cuts its way through the district, and musician Marc Germain of Madison, Wis., who performed Renaissance music on an acoustic guitar.

 

"A lot of us have a dream of what this place could be," Myers said. "It's a very pleasant place to be."

 

For two Illinois State University alumni, the dream already is becoming a reality.

 

Located in a building that was once operated by Johnson Storage, Jason Mack and Rob Elliot have taken up residence on the first floor of a massive warehouse that once was the site of a historic speakeasy and police raid.

 

The two glass artists gather up recycled bottles and other odds and ends and melt it in their gas furnace to make the raw material for their fine art sculpture.

 

"People are beginning to come down here," Mack said, "They didn't use to."

 

The two full-time artists call themselves the Mack Glass Co. Their aspirations are as big as some of the massive glass-wound sculptures that fill their warehouse studio.

 

They have already purchased a parcel of land between the two bridges adjoining the Constitution Trail and have announced plans to build a sculpture park for their glass art.

 

"We're looking for some partners to help sponsor it," Mack said.

 

Elliot said the park would be self-sustaining. Solar-powered lights would illuminate the sculpture and a glass recycling dropoff would provide raw materials for future works, he said.

 

Down the block in another warehouse, the muffled sounds of high-energy rock and roll can be heard late at night.

 

It is a practice session for the band Zeroshift.

 

Five musicians between ages 30 and 40 practice guitar music that is turning the band into a regional act, with performances aimed at Chicago and St. Louis.

 

The band members are all working professionals in the Twin Cities.

 

"The district is the perfect place for us to practice," said band member Dave Brochman of Bloomington.

 

"We don't have to worry about neighbors objecting to how loud we practice," he said.

 

Mike Kaptan, owner of Old Warehouse Antiques and Collectibles, recently located in the district after outgrowing his home-based eBay antique business.

 

"I started out storing antiques in a spare bedroom and eventually outgrew my garage," he said.

 

"There's a lot I can do with 3,200 square feet."

 

While no one is willing to say the warehouse district is on an artistic level of SOHO just yet, Schmidt said the district's proximity to the U.S. Cellular Coliseum just a block to the north makes it a potentially valuable city resource.

 

Within the last six months, developers from Chicago and Champaign have looked at the district as a potential investment opportunity, she said.

 

"My hope is that we'll be able to protect the historic nature of the district."

 

 

Rob Elliot, left, and Jason Mack of Mack Glass Company, build one of their massive fine art glass sculptures from recycled glass in their studio in the old warehouse district south of downtown Bloomington.

Arts patrons gather for a fine arts exhibit and performance art evening at Blue Jay Computers in the old warehouse district.

David Hall hangs a photograph in Blue Jay Computers before a fine arts evening event in the old warehouse district.

Marc Germain of Madison, Wisconsin, tuned his guitar before playing classical music in the old warehouse district south of downtown Bloomington.