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IU Northwest professor researches urban-arts success story in Bilbao, Spain

Two-month visit prefaces major November conference on arts and urban renewal at Gary campus

Prof. Eva Mendieta, associate professor of Spanish at Indiana University Northwest, recently spent two months in Bilbao, Spain, where she researched how the arts helped to transform that once-depressed city into a thriving hub for artistic expression, and where she gathered ideas for how Northwest Indiana might follow that same path. Mendieta’s research was conducted in preparation for the upcoming conference, Drawing the Lines: International Perspectives On Urban Renewal Through The Arts, which IU Northwest will host Nov. 2 through Nov. 4.

“My trip this summer was in many ways a follow-up to an IU Northwest institutional visit to Bilbao that took place in May last year,” Mendieta said. “IU Northwest constituents and community leaders went to Spain to learn about the extraordinary cultural and economic transformation experienced by the city of Bilbao over the last 10 years, and to learn what aspects of that urban reconstruction might bear positive results in our own region.”

Mendieta said that Northwest Indiana could draw lessons from Bilbao’s experience because of the economic similarities between the two regions.

“In a period of about 10 years, Bilbao went from being a depressed steel city with an unemployment rate of 25 percent, a high degree of drug abuse and many other social problems, to becoming a vibrant, modern city and an international icon for the arts,” she said.

While in Bilbao, Mendieta met with numerous professors and administrators from the University of the Basque Country, the region’s major university, to discuss their experiences in Bilbao and ideas for the upcoming conference. These academic professionals, along with a group of the city’s urban sociologists, helped spread the word about the Drawing the Lines conference on an international level. They were also instrumental in contacting some of the internationally renowned scholars who will deliver keynote addresses at the conference.

“The idea for the Drawing the Lines conference came about after having learned about the ‘Bilbao Model’,” Mendieta said. “It will be an invaluable experience to bring together leaders and scholars from communities that have undergone profound urban renewal, along with leaders in communities that are currently going through that process. There are different ways in which arts and culture have internationally been effective vehicles of urban renewal; successful efforts include the building of flagship projects or cultural centers, such as the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, as well as cultural events or community-led renewal initiatives through arts and cultural activity. At the conference, our goal is to examine these different approaches, share best practices, and look at their debatable effects on the quality of life in the communities they influence."

Drawing the Lines is the first conference of its kind for the Northwest Indiana and Chicagoland areas. Participants will include: invited international experts on arts and urban renewal; local policymakers, legislators and civic leaders; artists and social and cultural entrepreneurs; city planners and economic development officials; and arts and humanities councils. Scheduled presentations from keynote speakers will address how creativity and culture influence community change; what role the arts and culture play in urban renewal; and what factors need to be considered on a local level when advancing urban renewal initiatives. Complementing these keynote sessions will be roundtable discussions, public forums, an urban poetry panel, and admission to the Basque Art Exhibit at the Northern Indiana Arts Association in Munster.

“We believe that this conference will develop a dialogue about how integral arts and humanities are to urban life in the 21st century, and how the particular communities in northern Indiana and Chicagoland can shape their own transformations,” said Robin Hass Birky, associate professor of English and co-organizer of the event.

“In this event, we join existing initiatives in renewing the area’s urban communities and revitalizing IU Northwest’s contribution and commitment to the Hoosier culture,” Mendieta said.

The Drawing the Lines conference will be held from Thursday, Nov. 2 through Saturday, Nov. 4 at IU Northwest. Registration is open to anyone who would like to attend, and costs $245 for all three days or $80 per day for single-day sessions on Nov. 2 and 3, and $40 for Nov. 4. These prices include lunch. The cost for multi-day registration will increase to $295 for those registering after Oct. 1. College students and Gary, Ind. residents may attend Drawing the Lines for free, although lunch is not included with free admission.

For more information, or to register for the conference, visit



Media Contact:

Christopher Sheid

Michelle Searer
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