One year ago, the world came to a halt.
We stayed home. Restaurants closed their dining rooms. Our plans for concerts, travel, parties, and anything resembling a gathering were suddenly all canceled. Like many areas that connect with community and audiences, the arts felt the hard impact of this pandemic very keenly. From theaters to galleries, artists across Evansville and the Tri-State found themselves at home with no shows or performances to complete.
But, as the old adage goes, “the show must go on,” and it did. These four artists — representing the artistic disciplines of acting, painting, orchestral music, and medium art — share not only their stories, but the paths they forged during the pandemic. See how their creativity flourished and they found new ways to share their talents during lockdown.
To the average person, an empty wooden box is good for two things — trash and storage. To Wendy Turner, that same box is a blank canvas, an empty frame; the foundation of her next original piece of art.
The Arlington, Indiana, native is an assemblage artist. Assemblage (compared to its two-dimensional cousin — collages) consists of three-dimensional pieces created from multiple mediums and objects. Turner often uses boxes, pans, gutted machinery, and even water coolers as containers for her social justice-themed artwork.
“When I look back at my life and see the things I was doing as a kid, I’ve always been this,” she says. “I was fighting to have girls on the fourth-grade flag football team. As a kid, we were poor, so I had to make stuff with what I had around.”
Art remained a hobby for Turner, but her professional sights were set on social work. After earning her bachelor’s degree in social work from Valparaiso University, Valparaiso, Indiana, and her master’s and doctorate degrees at Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, she worked as a professor at Spalding University in Louisville, Kentucky.
Five years later, she was offered a job at the University of Southern Indiana. A professor of social work and director of the undergraduate social work program, Turner became increasingly involved in local social justice initiatives which eventually led her back to art in 2016.
“It finally feels like I am an integrated person,” she says. “I no longer have these separate silos of my life so they’re able to merge and overlap.”
Inspired by assemblage artists Joseph Cornell and Betye Saar, who she researched online, Turner made a name for herself in the Tri-State art scene. She won first place at the Ohio Valley Art League’s recycle exhibit show and in 2019 she met Billy Twymon and signed to his gallery Twymon Art (see page 42 to read about Twymon’s art journey).
Her show “Activist Art for Social Change” debuted in the gallery that year and featured pieces on environmental issues, racism, homophobia, immigration, sexism, and more.
Turner’s next show “…And Justice for All” sponsored by the Ohio Valley Art League will be July 27 to Sept. 22 at the Dick and Sheila Beaven Gallery at the Henderson Public Library in Henderson, Kentucky.
“I think of art as a way to kind of express myself and express my views,” says Turner. “Art — it speaks all languages, and anyone can learn from it and hear my message and see my message.”
While her art and activism are in-your-face statement pieces, Turner herself is a self-proclaimed introvert. The pandemic may have affected her profession — moving most classes online and cancelling her annual trip to Jamaica where she brings USI students to work in orphanages and nursing homes — but her art and personal life have thrived in the isolation.
Turner owns a 132-year-old home near Franklin Street accompanied by a 120-year-old carriage house where she houses her studio. The two-story brick structure is a treasure trove of supplies, machinery, and art.
“I have a lot of equipment because I never know what’s going to strike my fancy,” she says.
Assemblage may have been classified as its own art medium, but assemblage artists rely on the skills and techniques of more traditional visual arts. Turner becomes a painter, sculptor, illustrator, woodworker, and more to create her pieces.
Creative elements aren’t all it takes to complete her work. Turner draws inspiration from her social work background for her pieces and the paragraphs of historical, educational context that accompany them.
While she enjoys working on shows, Turner says it’s important that she keep up her artistic hobbies including painting miniature figures such as Dungeons and Dragons monsters. One of her full-size figurines was even featured and purchased as part of the Monsters on Main show at the Arts Council of Southwestern Indiana.
“It’s very important for me just to love art,” she says. “I don’t ever want to be a full-time artist. For me, being a social worker is my profession, being a professor is my profession, but being an artist is just who I am.”
— Dallas Carter
Painter, Gallery Owner
Art and business are two industries often heavily separated. We organize ourselves into opposing groups — left or right brained, creative or logical, math and science or English. Every day, despite the COVID-19 pandemic and the inherent struggles people of color face, Billy Twymon is bridging that gap.
It’s hard to find one word to describe the Detroit native who’s called Evansville home for the last 23 years. Owner of Twymon Art at 1730 N. Burkhardt Road, Twymon is an artist, entrepreneur, musician, activist — the list goes on.
Above all the 69-year-old is taking on the role of mentor and community-builder for marginalized artists in Evansville.
“My thought was there’s a lot of talent out here, how can I represent and educate that talent,” says Twymon.
Opened in February 2016, Twymon Art currently has 12 committed artists (commitments are a minimum of two years). Every piece meticulously featured in the gallery, from paintings to sculptures, is for sale.
Besides offering stipends for framing and other materials to elevate an artist’s work to a professional level, Twymon works closely with his artists, especially people of color, to make connections between business and art.
“A lot of African Americans, especially younger African Americans, are afraid of that system because bureaucracy has been used against them basically throughout the existence of government,” he says.
The gallery provides each artist with digital marketing tools, personalized shows and events, and opportunities to sell their art. Making a living off art alone is often the launching point for many artists to become professionals.
“I’m trying to teach that you can protect yourself from a business perspective,” says Twymon. “That’s part of giving an individual confidence, giving them the ability to know that they don’t need to be intimidated by bureaucracy. And I’ve learned that myself.”
Twymon produces mainly contemporary and abstract paintings, with several signature techniques including sliced canvas and drip-style washes. Like many of his artists, he is completely self-taught.
After an early retirement in his 50s, Twymon shifted focus to his artistic side. Aside from his pieces in his gallery, he has donated four paintings to the African American Museum and sits on the museum’s board of directors.
“I think we all have a voice. It’s how we let that voice be heard and for me, it’s through my art,” he says.
While his art career has found success, Twymon isn’t done making an impact. The gallery, like most of the art world, has been affected by COVID-19. Events were cancelled and moved online, tours are by appointment only, and recruitment has decreased.
COVID wasn’t the only major event in 2020. Social justice issues, such as the Black Lives Matter movement, grabbed the spotlight and brought attention to the forces Twymon and his artists have worked against their whole lives.
“Even though we’ve gone through a tumultuous year, with all of the social issues that have been right in front of our face, I think a lot of times — Americans in general — become relaxed and complacent,” says Twymon. “I’m so happy to be working with people who have passions and want to see change.”
Drums for Enlightenment is a drum circle started by Twymon and his friend Charles Sutton, held at the gallery from 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. every Saturday. Eight to 10 people can sign up via Facebook or Instagram and be a part of Twymon’s socially distant efforts to cultivate creativity and conversation to move forward from the events of 2020. Twymon and Sutton also continue adapting to the needs of marginalized art communities. They plan to expand the Drums for Enlightenment projects and want to open an event space on the south side of Evansville — projects that won’t be possible without local artists.
“What has kept me alive and energized about doing this is having the other artists come in,” says Twymon. “Twymon Art would not be Twymon Art without the artists that have participated.”
— Dallas Carter
The performing arts are unlike other mediums. Embracing and executing performed roles takes a complex, sometimes excruciating, toll on thespians who work tirelessly to perfect their characters.
While she has performed in more than 30 productions and acted in theater for most of her life, Megan Leavitt still fondly remembers the roles that struck a nerve in her.
Playing Fred Phelps in the Evansville Civic Theatre’s production of “The Laramie Project” in early December, she says it was a struggle to embody the role of someone so hateful. “The Laramie Project” follows the aftermath of the 1998 murder of gay University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard in Laramie, Wyoming. Phelps is a member of the Westboro Baptist Church who picketed Shepard’s funeral, while making many homophobic remarks.
“I didn’t realize how much it was affecting me until toward the end of the performance,” says Leavitt. “But to internalize someone who says horrible things about gay people, and I have numerous gay friends and to be that person to be saying them to people who I know and to not take that personally and get through that can definitely be a struggle.”
“The Laramie Project” was one of many back-to-back shows Leavitt performed at the Civic Theatre before the pandemic shut down in-person operations in March of 2020.
In her acting, Leavitt, a member of the Civic Theatre’s Board of Directors for the past two years, utilizes the Sanford Meisner technique, named after the legendary actor and theater instructor from the mid-1900s. The technique is rooted in instincts and reactions and creating reality in imaginary circumstances by reacting naturally but as another person.
“Not every performance is going to be the same and that’s what I like about theater,” she says. “You can have those variances in those performances even based on what’s going on with an actor personally.”
Leavitt grew up performing, dancing at Jan’s School of Dance in Evansville as well as coming to see shows at the Civic Theatre with her grandmother before taking an acting class there when she was 15 years old.
She came back to Civic Theatre in 2017 for their production of “The Crucible,” which was her first time doing a show in about 10 years. She was cast as the detached Elizabeth Proctor. The University of Evansville Theatre Department graduate says in a way, arts and theater saved her life.
“Being introduced to arts and having a family who was very accepting of it and very creative and being able to express those things was really helpful growing up,” she says. “It exposed me to a lot of different cultures, a lot of different walks of life, people, and experiences that I wouldn’t be exposed to without being introduced to theater.”
Leavitt, who works a day job as an eligibility specialist with the Indiana Family Social Services Administration, was on a roll after rejoining the Civic Theatre, performing in the aforementioned “The Crucible,” “The Laramie Project,” and many others. She most recently starred in “BFF,” which bridges the past and present of two coming-of-age best friends. This was her first performance since the pandemic shut down productions at the Civic Theatre. It was filmed entirely over Zoom and streamed through the Civic’s website.
The pandemic was tough, says Leavitt. Not having the constant work and thrill of rehearsing and performing on a regular basis threw her off-kilter. She missed the energy from a live audience and the feedback she received from a plot twist, such as a collective gasp, crying, or laughing.
“That was a really weird experience because you’re not really reacting to the person, you’re reacting to the image you are getting of the person on a little bit of a delayed format,” she says.
Despite the challenges and hardships, Leavitt continues to live out her dream on stage. She credits her role in “The Crucible” for reminding her of why she loved theater — every performance is different, helping her to be alive in the moment.
“For me, it’s the surprise of the unexpected performance,” she says. “You feel really alive.”
— Riley Guerzini
Conductor, Music Director
There was no standard or musical inclination in Roger Kalia’s family, other than an appreciation for creative, performative art. A young Kalia growing up in the small town of Manhasset, New York, on Long Island, however, found himself pulled down a path toward a career in music.
“What changed my life was when we had the opportunity to see the New York Philharmonic,” says the 36-year-old. “During that performance, I noticed the conductor and how much of an influence on the sound that conductor had. That stuck with me.”
A year later, Kalia joined the Metropolitan Youth Orchestra of New York where he was able to tour China with friends and fellow musicians. The trip changed him, he says, deciding music was something he wanted to dedicate his life to.
Though he was born in New York, Kalia is no stranger to Indiana. He began his musical studies at the SUNY Potsman’s Crane School of Music in upstate New York, majoring in music education and trumpet performance. Having solidified in his mind he wanted to become a conductor, Kalia began graduate studies at the University of Houston, Texas. He then came to Bloomington, Indiana, enrolling at Indiana University for his doctorate in orchestral conducting.
“When I was studying at IU (from 2009 to 2013), a lot of my friends played in the Evansville Philharmonic Orchestra. And they told me how it was a really good orchestra,” says Kalia.
That combination of knowledge about EPO from friends and fellow musicians, as well as learning about the high level the orchestra played prompted Kalia to do a little more research on the organization. Pulling up photos of the historic Victory Theatre and seeing a diverse repertoire being performed was the final push in convincing him to apply for the open music director position three years ago.
The long process (which included Kalia leading a performance of the EPO) concluded with Kalia being chosen as the new director in early April 2020. Plans to host a concert to introduce the new maestro as well as bid farewell to longtime music director Alfred Savia began. But COVID-19 quickly changed that, as it did many things last year.
“It was tough. There was talk of moving the introduction to May and then we realized we had to cancel the rest of the season,” says Kalia.
But the EPO staff was not ready to give up easily — a virtual announcement (the first of its kind) of his hiring was held, with Kalia and staff members dressing up for the occasion. While he was still in California at the time, he says the event was still very special.
“It was well attended by more than 100 people online. It was really meaningful — even though we couldn’t be together it was a real celebratory event,” says Kalia.
After that, the real work began; finding a way to still bring the music of the EPO to Evansville and the Tri-State during a pandemic. It was a challenge Kalia never imagined for his professional conducting career. Though in-person gatherings were limited, Kalia and his staff still planned a 2020-2021 season, making the announcement live on Facebook (one of the first orchestras in the country to do so).
“One challenge was the actual program, because we had all these restrictions in place with social distancing and the number of people who could gather,” says Kalia. “I was amazed by what we were able to accomplish by just working together.”
There were other silver linings as well — the openness of communication between himself and the musicians of the orchestra through regular Zoom chats; performances for the Songs of Comfort series; the At Home with Roger Kalia series, which gave him a chance to interview and shine light on individuals in the orchestra — all of them ways to keep connected with the public.
When the season officially kicked off in September with the theme of “Connect and Celebrate,” Kalia and the EPO were overjoyed at being able to welcome a small audience into the Victory. And keeping with the theme, Kalia commissioned his friend, composer Paul Dooley, to create a new piece titled “River City,” all about Evansville and celebrating the orchestra.
Though Kalia and the EPO could have never thought something such as the COVID pandemic would change their industry so much, they have never let it stop them from keeping the music playing.
“I never would have imagined my first season starting like this. But you know, for every concert we’ve figured out a way to connect with our community in some way, and that’s been really special,” says Kalia.
— Trista Lutgring
Built for the Arts
Many communities embrace art as a foundation to their way of life, but the Jasper Community Arts take it one step further.
Formed in 1975, several prominent local community members collectively put up the money to build what is today known as the Jasper Arts Center, a 675-seat performance space. They reached an agreement with the City of Jasper, Indiana, and turned the facility over to them with the stipulation that the city create a government funded Arts Department similar to a Fire or Police Department, which is uncommon for a city the size of Jasper.
“I think it speaks to the importance the community places on the way they approach everything with a wholistic state of mind that we have business leaders, elected officials, and the community at large recognize the importance, not just of the nuts and bolts that make a city go, but also the important impact that the arts have on creating a place where people want to live,” says Jasper Community Arts Director Kyle Rupert.
The organization offers a multitude of programs, including 12 to 13 exhibits per year featuring local, national, and sometimes international artists, a public performance season that includes 12 shows that run from September through April, and dozens of classes and workshops throughout the year.
The venue also is available for rent by other area arts organizations, making it a cultural hub for Jasper and Dubois County.
“We cover everything from country music to choirs, quartets, dance, theatre. You name it, we’ve probably presented it,” says Rupert. “We even did a show on ice on our stage one year.”
Celebrating its 45th anniversary in 2020, Jasper Community Arts moved into its new offices at the Thyen-Clark Cultural Center, a years-long project they undertook in collaboration with the Jasper Public Library. With the increased space of the facility compared to the Jasper Arts Center, they now have three exhibit spaces for artists and have the capacity to host up to 18 exhibits a year.
With a more prominent location, Rupert says they are looking to continue to provide the public access to art and strengthen their artist community.
— Riley Guerzini
Eye of the Beholder
Where you can see art in the Tri-State
Arts Council of Southwestern Indiana
212 Main St., 812-303-3178
Home of the Bower-Suhrheinrich Foundation Gallery.
1730 N. Burkhardt Road, Ste. D., 812-205-8127
A gallery specializing in community-building events and exhibitions.
African American Museum
579 S. Garvin St., 812-423-5188
Art and exhibits representing African American history and culture in Evansville.
McCutchan Art Center and Pace Galleries (University of Southern Indiana)
8600 University Blvd. (on the USI campus), 812-228-5006
Hosting artists from USI and the community.
The Rumjahn Gallery and Framery
4521 Lincoln Ave., 812-250-1654
Custom framing and print services as well as art gallery.
1651 Lincoln Ave., 812-401-2299
A community gallery offering local exhibits and art classes.
Evansville Museum of Arts, History and Science
411 S.E. Riverside Drive, 812-425-2406
The cultural hub of Evansville filled with current and
22 Jefferson Avenue Art Studios and Gallery
22 Jefferson Ave., 812-459-5182
Weekly showings, events, and a rentable event/studio space.
Melvin Peterson Gallery (University of Evansville)
1935 Lincoln Ave., 812-488-2043
A gallery featuring works from students, alumni, professors, and community members.
1800 Lincoln Ave. (On UE’s campus), 812-488-2043
The home of UE’s art department.
Jasper Arts Center (Krempp Gallery)
100 Third Ave., Ste. A, Jasper, IN, 812-482-3070
A multi-discipline organization for arts with exhibits and public events.
New Harmony Gallery of Contemporary Art
506 Main St., New Harmony, IN, 812-682-3156
Rotating exhibits, educational programming, and a visiting artist program with USI.
Hoosier Salon New Harmony
507 Church St., New Harmony, IN, 812-682-3970
A fine art gallery with specialties in art from contemporary Indiana artists.
Mason-Nordgauer Fine Arts Gallery
510 Main St., New Harmony, IN, 812-682-6127
Fine arts gallery hosting local, national, and international artists.
Unspoken Art Studio (& Gallery/Tattoos)
7151 Savannah Drive, Newburgh, IN, 812-805-0083
A local gallery with adult and children’s art classes.
Henderson Area Arts Alliance (Preston Arts Center – performing arts)
2660 S. Green St., Henderson, KY, 270-826-5916
Promoting tourism, education, and development through the arts and humanities and performances at the Preston Arts Center.
OVAL (Ohio Valley Art League) Gallery at Citi Center
230 2nd St., Henderson, KY, 270-844-2330
A nonprofit art organization promoting and display art from local sources.
Rotunda Gallery in Library
101 S. Main St., Henderson, KY, 270-826-3712
Small rotating displays of local art and artifacts inside the Henderson public library.
Audubon Sculpture Walking Tour
101 N. Water St., Ste. B, Henderson, KY, 270-826-3128
Maintained by the Henderson Tourism Commission, this walking tour takes visitors several miles through downtown Henderson to see life-size bronze sculptures by Raymond Graf inspired by the paintings of John James Audubon.
Performance Art/Art Spaces
Think Pink Productions
Shanklin Theatre (UE)
USI Performance Center
Evansville Civic Theatre
Old National Events Plaza