This Northeast Indiana small town is hosting big city art exhibitions

Fort Wayne has a lot to offer in the way of art and culture, but you’d be remiss if you didn’t consider the offerings of communities just outside of the city’s boundaries. And you don’t have to drive as far as Chicago to see exceptional artists who might become your new favorites.

One growing hub of art and culture in Northeast Indiana is the railroad town, Garrett, with a population of 6,542 about a half hour North of Fort Wayne.

As you enter Downtown Garrett, you’ll pass the library, a barbershop, a hardware store, a gas station, and city hall. Eventually, you’ll find a majestic building with the words “Garrett State Bank” in relief on the Indiana limestone header of the stately structure.
Garrett Museum of Art
This building, at the corner of King and Randolph Streets, has been home to the Garrett Museum of Art since it opened its doors in 2008. The museum was started by community members who convinced the former occupants of the building to let them use the facility for an art museum. Garrett State Bank’s main branch is now located across King Street.

When the museum opened, it focused primarily on displaying the works of local and regional artists. One of the mainstays of the institution was its annual members’ show, which allowed anyone who was a member to show their work in the galleries.

Jim Gabbard, the museum’s third director, and Angela Green, the gallery coordinator and curator, began talking a few years ago about changing the scope of what the museum had to offer, and those conversations laid the groundwork for a new initiative bringing art from larger cities to this small town.

Green and Gabbard say they wanted to bring artwork to Garrett that people may not be able to see without traveling to places like Chicago or New York.

“Jim and I talked about: How can we better enhance people's art-viewing experience?” says Green. “So that's how it started, just dreaming and talking.”

They followed up on this dreaming and talking with planning. They told the DeKalb-based James Foundation about their plans and secured the foundation’s support for the museum’s new initiative with the goal to show artwork that would draw more visitors from beyond DeKalb County.

With some major funding in hand, Green and Gabbard began looking at their wishlist of artists to bring to the Garrett Museum of Art. One of the artists on Green’s list was Vivian Maier. Maier was a photographer who lived from 1926 to 2009, but did not gain notoriety until after her death. Her life was mysterious and became the subject of the documentary “Finding Vivian Maier,” as John Maloof, who discovered her work after purchasing a box of negatives at an auction, began trying to uncover who she was.

Green first became a fan of Maier in 2013 after seeing some of her photographs in Chicago. 

“I just happened to be in the building where it was showing on the very first showing of it, and it was intriguing,” she recalls.

After that, she started picking up every book about Maier as it was published. Fast forward a few years, and she’s working at the Garrett Museum of Art, curating shows and driving this new initiative. Green thought it would be a dream to have Vivian Maier photos at the museum so she began a two year process of trying to find out how to bring them to Garrett. 

The Howard Greenberg Gallery in New York exclusively handles all of Maier’s photographs, so she got in touch with someone at the gallery; then the pandemic hit in 2020, and everything was put on hold. Finally, it all came together in 2023, and “Vivian Maier: Street Photographer” opened at the Garrett Museum of Art on Jan. 13.

Gallery Coordinator and Curator Angela Green and Museum Director Jim Gabbard install a photograph by Street Photographer Vivian Maier.“It was more complicated than any other show I've ever done,” says Green.

But the Vivian Maier show wasn’t the first national exhibition to come to the Garrett Museum of Art as part of their initiative. “Edward Curtis: Shadow Chaser” opened Jan. 14, 2022, as the culmination of a lot of hard work, too.

“That show was our biggest one to date ever,” says Green. “We had a little more than 800 people attend.”

Edward Curtis was an American-born, self-taught artist who documented the lives of Native Americans in the early 1900s. With his photographs and accompanying text, he created a multi-volume set of books called The North American Indian.

There have been other exhibitions at the Garrett Museum of Art, in between these bookends of nationally-renowned photographers. Shows have included work by Norman Rockwell and contemporary, conceptual photographer Brooke Shaden. There are more exhibitions on the schedule and in the planning stages, too, as Green and Gabbard continue to work on bringing their wishlist of artists to the museum.

Gallery Coordinator and Curator Angela Green and Museum Director Jim Gabbard install a piece by Edward Curtis.In addition to its exhibitions, the Garrett Museum of Art has been collaborating with other organizations to bring more awareness of the museum and drive visitors to see their shows. For the Vivian Maier exhibition, they worked with the Cinema Center in Fort Wayne to screen “Finding Vivian Maier” in March shortly before the exhibition closed at the museum.

The museum has organized pop-up galleries in Auburn and hung local and regional
artists’ work in corporate installations, including artwork hanging in a real estate company in Kendallville, a law office in Auburn, and in the Humane Society of DeKalb County.

Another project the museum has been working on is cataloging and publishing booklets about the art collected and donated to all the libraries in DeKalb County. Green has researched and written about the art, while Gabbard has photographed the artwork.

“Outreach like this definitely has brought awareness to our museum and brought us, visitors,” says Green. “We try to reach out to and collaborate with businesses and other (nonprofit organizations) so that we can help them, and they can help us.”

While they’ve gotten away from only exhibiting local artists, the Garrett Museum of Art still has a designated gallery space for local and regional artwork. There is a form on their website for artists interested in applying to have their work on display in this space.

And even though the space for showing local art at the museum is much smaller now, the Garrett Museum of Art still considers supporting local artists a major part of its mission. One of the upcoming shows, “Women Take the Walls,” will showcase 12 female artists from all over the country. The artists hail from as far as New York and Minneapolis, and as close as Indiana, Michigan and Ohio. After this inaugural show, it will become an annual exhibition.

A hand beaded exhibit by Monika Dipert, an artist from Minneapolis, MN, at the Garrett Museum of Art.Green says some of the artists in the upcoming “Women Take the Walls” show include women who have previously applied to have their work shown at the museum. Some became interested in showing their work after visiting the museum in the last few years.

Green and Gabbard dreamed of bringing artwork that they had always admired to Northeast Indiana. Now that they know it’s possible, the sky’s the limit.

“The next exhibition I want to have would be another by Edward Curtis because there are a lot of different facets of Curtis,” says Green. “Now I'm thinking I'd like to have the Vivian Maier color work, too. Those are just as beautiful as the black and whites. I keep adding to my list.”

Keep the Garrett Museum of Art on your radar, so you don’t miss the next show.

Lupke Gallery exhibit of Linocuts by Ramiro Rodriguez, an artist from South Bend.Garrett Museum of Art
100 S. Randolph St.
Garrett, IN 46738

Friday 5 p.m.-8 p.m.
Saturday 4 p.m.-7 p.m.
Sunday 1 p.m.-4 p.m.
Other hours are available by appointment.

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Read more articles by Jennie Renner.

Jennie Renner is a Hoosier native who has lived in the Fort Wayne area for most of her life. She believes that art, in all its forms, makes everything better. Her work can be found in Glo Magazine and Input Fort Wayne and self-published on Medium.