Heidi Wagner Highlights Racine LGBTQ Culture

Racine has had a resurgence of art and galleries in this past decade with the popularity of the Racine Art Museum and the numerous murals that adorn the walls uptown. There’s also a burgeoning photography scene where people like Rene Amado and Heidi Wagner make their marks with exhibitions that highlight the unique cultures of Racine County.

Wagner has been around the country capturing the stories of nursing home residents for a decade and has now turned to capturing her hometown of Racine. The Passions Project LGBTQ+ showcase is a tribute to her fellow members of the LGBTQ community. Aided by the United Way of Racine and the Racine Arts Council, the exhibit runs through December at the Social on Sixth space at 324 Sixth Street. Wagner sat down to discuss her community, inspiration, and themes within the photography.

What inspired you to begin this project?

I started the project 10 years ago and initially, I started it because I was working in a retirement community. The first 10 years I’ve been working on it, I’ve applied the project to photographing older adults to bring attention to ageism. However, I knew the project had an opportunity to be influential through talking to people living on the margins. People don’t always have positive views on aging so I wanted to highlight the amazing things they were doing.

Has traveling changed your perspective of your hometown?

Absolutely. I left Racine when I was 19 years old and I’m back 31 years later. My perspective has changed in that the reasons I left it are the reasons why I love it now. When I was younger, I wanted to be in a bigger town and now that I’ve been away, I appreciate how Racine gives me the space to be myself.

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In what ways do you feel the LGBT community and Racine influence one another?

Each shows the other how it needs to grow. I look forward to people being able to see this project and connect with the LGBTQ community along with the LGBTQ community being able to connect with Racine as a whole.

Explain how the subjects from the current exhibition and previous exhibitions relate to one another.

The theme of asking the question “what’s your passion?” is a uniting theme. Passions are a way to connect and that’s always what I want people to see. I want them to see how the subjects are different than they are and how their passions are a way of bringing them together.

What distinguishes photography from other mediums in terms of capturing life and humanity?

Anytime you have a still medium, like photography, you have a moment to communicate what it is you have to say. It’s exciting and in other ways, it’s stressful because you’re looking for the moment with the right kind of vulnerability where they show you something they don’t show anyone else.

What do you hope people take away from this exhibition?

A greater sense of community and what community really means. Again, I hope they find the sense of connection.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

When I left Racine, I was young and felt like I needed to leave in order to be fully myself. As much as I recognize how Racine has changed, I also understand there’s a lot of work to be done. Anytime we can bring the community together and shine a light on people, especially passionate people, I’m excited to see how this project can motivate the community.

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