New direction for South Bend starts with Ignite Michiana

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Staff Writer

Andrew Elegante giving an introduction about the event to the audience. Preface Photo
Andrew Elegante giving an introduction about the event to the audience.
Preface Photo

Just as the newly renovated State Theatre has been reinvented, the City of South Bend is ripe for its own positive change—and it’s all made possible through the commitment and passion of people in the community.

The doors opened to the public for the first time in years at the new and improved State Theatre Thursday evening on March 28 for the sold-out Ignite Michiana show.

“Tonight the purpose of Ignite Michiana is to change the way people talk and think about our city,” said Event Organizer Willow Wetherall, as she took to the stage to give for a lively welcoming speech to the audience of nearly 400 people.

The event showcased talks on sustainability and innovation in a unique format; 18 presenters, 5 minutes and 25 slides to deliver an enlightening evening of sharing ideas.

It drew a diverse crowd ready to be a part of what could be just the beginning of the city heading in a new direction.

“The people power in South Bend has become a reality. So take a look around because this is exactly what South Bend’s comeback looks like,” said South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg to the audience after joining Wetherall and Andrew Elegante, general manager of the State, on stage.

The State buzzed with excitement as people filed into the main showroom to finally see the new look of the old State Theatre.

“The volunteers have done a great job cleaning up the State and generating a fantastic looking space that can now be used as a community hub,” said Elegante gesturing around at the transformed venue.

People paused to take in their surroundings. Purple and blue lighting from the ceiling bathed the showroom with a glow.

After taking it all in, people started to find friends and new acquaintances to converse with before being seated for the show.

Some ordered a few drinks from the bar or tried out the gourmet macaroni and cheese.Others danced to the music played by the DJ spinning tracks to the left of the stage.

On stage the Ignite Michiana logo was displayed on the big screen with red draping curtains on each side.

Rows of seats began to fill with a blend of people; from college-aged geek-chic hipsters to esteemed business professionals to other interested South Bend residents of the older generations.

The evening of rapidly presented ideas progressed with topics such as gardening and urban agriculture, science cafes, eating healthy and local, changing water consumption, rain barrel projects and renewable energy.

Each idea had a core message that presenters spoke passionately about.

“Water rights are human rights. Every time you buy a bottle of water, we support the privatization and corporatization of a public good and basic human need,” said Myles Robertson, sustainability consultant and IUSB alumni. His presentation was about switching back to tap water.

“The different ideas showcased tonight will give people a chance to glimpse a movement to energize the city,” Robertson said before taking the stage.

The audience applauded and cheered when Scott Ford, executive director of Community Investment for the City of South Bend, said that the Studebaker Plaza will be open this summer.

An image of plaza was shown on the big screen.

He said what was once an industrial property will now be used as a vibrant outdoor public courtyard.

Boniface Njuguna, executive director of the Green Youth Foundation, presented his project of repurposing plastic two liter bottles into solar lamps to provide lighting for parts of Africa.

During the presentation he gestured to glowing solar lamps fashioned as center pieces on the tables behind the seating area.

After the show the freshly energized audience mingled and socialized with the presenters, event organizers and volunteers, expanding the conversation on the recently discussed topics or just enjoying a night to be proud of South Bend.

“It was a rush and I am so happy to be a part this movement,” said Sarah Lowe, a graduate student at IUSB who shared her journey to become a “locavore,” someone who eats locally grown food.

Ignite Michiana at the State Theatre in downtown South Bend. Preface Photo
Ignite Michiana at the State Theatre in downtown South Bend.
Preface Photo

“The state of our city rests on old strength and new hope, and we have everything it takes to open the next chapter in South Bend’s city,” said Jonathon Geels quoting Buttigieg during his presentation on energy efficiency.

Hearing so many different yet equally refreshing ideas gave new perspective to many on all the ways the public can help the City transition for the better.

It is through this “people power” that the State exceeded their fundraising goal of raising $1300 by the end of this event.

Funds raised go into the crowd-funding campaign aimed to cover costs of projects associated with improving the State. The idea behind the reinvented venue is just that—an idea that started with one thought and led to people taking action.

“It’s a turning point for South Bend so let’s keep it moving in the right direction,” said Wetherall in her final remarks near the close of the evening.

To learn more about the Ignite Michiana event you can visit: or their Facebook page.

To stay updated on the State’s progress visit or find them on Facebook.

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