Heidi Wagner sheds light on Racine’s LGBTQ culture

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Racine has seen a resurgence in art and galleries over the past decade with the popularity of the Racine Art Museum and the many murals that adorn the walls downtown. There’s also a burgeoning photography scene where the likes of Rene Amado and Heidi Wagner are making their mark with exhibits that showcase Racine County’s unique cultures.

Wagner has traveled 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 fellow members of the LGBTQ community. Aided by 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, her inspiration, and the themes of photography.

What made you want to start this project?

I started the project 10 years ago and initially started it because I was working in a retirement community. The first 10 years I worked on it, I applied the project to photographing older people to draw attention to ageism. However, I knew the project had the opportunity to be influential by reaching out to people living on the margins. People don’t always have a positive view of aging, so I wanted to highlight the amazing things they do.

Has traveling changed your view of your hometown?

Absolutely. I left Racine when I was 19 and came back 31 years later. My perspective has changed in that the reasons I left him are the reasons I love him now. When I was younger I wanted to be in a bigger city and now that I’m gone I appreciate how Racine gives me the space to be myself.


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How do you think the LGBT community and Racine influence each other?

Each shows the other how to grow. I can’t wait for people to see this project and connect with the LGBTQ community as well as the LGBTQ community being able to connect with Racine as a whole.

Explain how the subjects of the current exhibition and previous exhibitions relate to each other.

The theme of asking the question “what is your passion?” is a unifying 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 from them and how their passions are a way to bring them together.

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

Whenever you have a fixed medium, like photography, you have a moment to communicate what 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 that 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.

Would you like to add anything?

When I left Racine, I was young and I needed to leave to be fully myself. As much as I recognize how much Racine has changed, I understand that there is a lot of work to be done. Whenever we can bring the community together and shine a light on people, especially the enthusiasts, I’m excited to see how this project can inspire the community.

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