MICHIGAN CITY | Colby Aitchison and his family went to a movie Friday in Michigan City then made the short drive to the city's revitalized downtown to browse and look at the art.
''We love art. It's really cool,'' said his wife, Jennifer Aitchison.
The Aitchisons on their adventure were pleasantly surprised to see newly erected sculptures their 6-year old son, Ben, couldn't keep stop gazing at or touching.
The Chesterton family's reaction to the transformation in the city's downtown in recent years is what leaders behind the city's art movement are banking on to further drive the very noticeable change that has occurred swiftly in the last three to four years.
''You see more people walking the streets. That is what's so great about it,'' said Diana Scott, owner of Lakefront Salon and Spa at 524 Franklin St.
Eight newly erected sculptures on Franklin St. between 5th and 9th streets and at Charles R. Westcott Park on Michigan Boulevard at U-S 12 and Washington Park at the lakefront were unveiled Friday.
The effort is called Sculptfusion and its aim is to enhance the art movement that's been key to luring more traffic to the downtown and filling up the many once empty storefronts.
''People are responding. It's coming alive,'' said Ed Graveline, a Michigan City resident looking to buy one of the downtown buildings.
Carolyn Saxton, president of the city's public art committee, said each of the sculptures is being leased for one year at $2,000 apiece from private artists.
They were chosen from about 50 entries.
She said the sculptures can be purchased from the artist at any time and plans are to bring in 12 new sculptures next year and maybe even more the following year.
''Studies have shown that tourism increases as a result of art work in a community,'' said Saxton.
The blue collar roots in Michigan City have long run deep.
Michigan City Mayor Ron Meer said change is difficult but furthering the art movement with sculptures, for example, is the direction the city is taking.
''Seeing all of the sculptures up what an impact it has and it looks very, very classy for Michigan City. I believe deeply this will be contagious and spread throughout our city,'' said Meer.
Much of the revitalized downtown is in what's known as the Uptown Art District formed several years ago after investors came in and purchased many of the once vacant or underperforming buildings.
Some of the investors are artists who live and work in at home studios and sell or display their creations in galleries.
Saxton said a major boost to the movement could be forthcoming in the fall when the long abandoned Warren Building, a former six story hotel at 7th and Franklin St., could start being renovated.
Units would be created for as many as 100 artists to live, work and display their creations in galleries on the first floor.
Scott remembers the days when a majority of the downtown consisted of little traffic flow and mostly boarded up buildings.
The change has meant a busier cash register at the hair salon she has owned since 1985.
''The traffic has made a big difference. There's quite a bit of difference,'' said Scott.