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Greg Swiercz | South Bend Tribune
Artist Joseph Segura’s print studio will occupy a former gymnasium in a vacant South Bend community center being transformed by Notre Dame.

Notre Dame turns empty building into arts, culture center

– For decades, the red brick building on West Washington Street dispensed health care services and free milk to poor families.

When its halls went silent a decade ago, the building fell into disrepair. Some people wondered whether it would be torn down or fall victim to fire or vandals.

The former Hansel Neighborhood Service Center at 1045 W. Washington St. has found new life as the University of Notre Dame’s Center for Arts & Culture. It’s being readied for its new role providing artistic and cultural experiences for community residents.

Children’s voices again are heard in the hallways, thanks to a pilot after-school tutoring and arts education program that launched this month.

When it officially opens in March, the two-story building will contain:

•The Notre Dame Crossroads Gallery for Contemporary Art, featuring changing exhibits.

•Segura Fine Arts Studio, a commercial print studio led by artist Joseph Segura.

•Notre Dame’s community relations office.

•Programming, including tutoring, art education, public lectures, a summer youth innovation camp and other events.

A community open house March 27 will mark the opening.

“There will be activities here you won’t find anywhere else in the city,” said Gilberto Cardenas, a Notre Dame professor and the center’s executive director. He formerly was director of the university’s Institute for Latino Studies.

In the tutoring program, about 20 children in grades 2 through 4 visit the center after school four days a week for tutoring followed by an hour of art-based enrichment activities, literacy program director Jennifer Wittenbrink said.

The Center for Arts & Culture will host collaborative events with other nearby cultural institutions, including Indiana University South Bend’s Civil Rights Heritage Center, which is just across the street.

Renovating the building for its new use required a $2.8 million partnership that involved Notre Dame; the city of South Bend; South Bend Heritage Foundation, which owned the building; the Community Foundation of St. Joseph County; Florence V. Carroll Charitable Trust; St. Joseph Regional Medical Center; and Vanir Construction Management of California.

A glazed terra cotta artwork of a swaddled baby against a blue background, original to the building, remains above the front door. It’s a replica of a piece created by Italian Renaissance sculptor Andrea della Robbia.

“The plan was to preserve as much of the architectural character as possible,” Rucker said. Inside, the original staircase and terrazzo tile floors remain.

The art gallery, a kitchen and offices are on the main floor. The second floor contains multipurpose rooms, more offices and a computer laboratory.

Winter light streams in the glass-block windows of the center’s former gymnasium, which has been transformed into a studio for Segura, an artist who works in both printmaking and film.

“It’s a very beautiful space,” he said. “The light here is amazing.”