STORY BY JONATHAN GRANT
PHOTOS BY MAE STIER
For the past few months, Culture Keeper's founder and creative director has been full of so much enthusiasm about all the good things that are happening in his hometown. We decided it was time for him to spread that love beyond Facebook. So here in a special two-part article are some of the vibrant things happening in an Indiana town that doesn't make the headlines all too often. Culture Keeper readers, read on and then think of letting us know what's great about your hometown!
A lot of my conversations in Paris, London, and Chicago include my hometown. I can't stop talking about South Bend/Mishawaka and all the cool developments in that region. South Bend and Mishawaka are two separate cities, but they are geographically and culturally united, so I often refer to them interchangeably. My family has lived here since the 1930's, which is not long by any means, but is long enough that when I visit, I constantly bump into family friends. At the market, I often meet people who tell me that my great-grandfather (a barber) gave them their first haircut. It is that kind of "being known" that I could never re-create in another place. So I am a bit biased when it comes to cities: I think my hometown is the bees-knees.
A few months ago I chose to come back to this area (at least for a season of my life) from Paris because it is a place where I know I can create real change and help build a more just world. France offers me many things, but I am far from the cogs of innovation and politics when I am there. Back in South Bend, I feel like I can accomplish tangible good.
I also have other reasons to be excited about this area. Besides millions of dollars in recent development, the city has a level of civic engagement that I have not found anywhere else. It is one of the few places I have lived where the community feels empowered to form her own future identity. Civic engagement is at an all-time high.
Part of that engagement has to do with a gathering space called The Pool that was formed some years ago by a rad kid named Gus Bennett who now lives off the coast of Bahrain. He opened up his apartment (literally a pool in an old high school) for free concerts. That space sparked conversations that had been trying to emerge for some time.
South Bend also happens to be the home of America's coolest mayor. Pete Buttigieg is young, intelligent, and gay. His leadership has made South Bend in particular an epicenter for innovation, entrepreneurship, and open-hearted-ness. He is the one politician I have ever met who is universally admired. Seriously, everyone loves him. He is basically the city's mascot. After the turmoil at Ferguson, Missouri, Pete invited citizens to dialogue over coffee with police. This has become a new tradition for the city and typifies our community's new approach to problem-solving.
I've also spent the past 10 years watching as friends take over abandoned spaces and fill them with art and emerging small businesses. It seems like anything is possible here. I'm currently living in a house with some of those innovators: artists and patrons who are dreaming up a new vision for our community. Our neighborhood association is teaming up with Habitat For Humanity for the next few years to assess ways to collaboratively make our tiny hood a better place to live for those who are most vulnerable.
I'm rather smitten with this region. For me, it is full of good vibes and innovating citizens. I am eager to see what we will all dream up together.
Now head directly to Part 2 of today's article for a South Bend/Mishawaka city guide!
Jonathan Randall Grant is always exploring the intersection of aesthetics, culture, and theology… and he can’t stop traveling. He splits his time between South Bend and Paris. Jonathan paints for churches, writes books for children, advocates for his friends on the front lines of peace-building, directs photo shoots, and goes swimming every chance he gets. Diana Vreeland is his spirit-animal. He’s on Instagram here.