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Investing in Our Culture through Art in Downtown Fort Wayne

September 17th, 2018

How Public Art Investment Benefits Northeast Indiana's Economy

Twenty years ago, a trip to Chicago may have meant a ride to the top of Sears tower. Today, tourists flood toward public art like Cloud Gate, often referred to as The Bean. Anish Kapoor's $23 million public art sculpture helped Millennium Park become a destination location for tourists and locals attracting 25 million people a year. The Bean is now part of the city's brand, and with all those visitors comes money. But, The Bean doesn't only bring in the tourist dollars, it adds to the culture and the quality of community for those living in Chicago.

Fort Wayne, like most communities, is constantly working to build a resilient and healthy economy.  Quality of life is a key element of attracting the talent local businesses need to survive this competitive market.

Across the country, from large installations like The Bean to mural programs like the 'Unexpected Project' in Arkansas, people are supporting public art because they see the value it adds to their city's portfolio. Investment in public art can change an area, increase the quality of life, attract the talent, help the local economy and become a major positive aspect of a city's brand, putting a city "on the map."

Over the last decade, the amount of public art in Fort Wayne has been on the rise. We saw the successful implementation of IPFW’s Sculpture with a Purpose, the Mastodon sculptures, artist benches, the crosswalk murals on the Arts Campus, the murals by Jarrod Tobias and Wunderkammer Company's exterior – just to name a few.

I am proud to be part of another organization, Art This Way, working to bring more public art to Fort Wayne. Art This Way operates under the umbrella of the Fort Wayne Downtown Economic Improvement District (DID). We work to raise funds and liaison between property owners and artists to bring large-scale professional art installations to our downtown. The current focus of our organization are the alleyways within a two-block area of downtown. The property owners within these two blocks have generously signed agreements to participate in this program.   

We fund our projects through our annual Art Crawl fundraiser, grants and private donations. We have a structured application and jury process, which ensures quality installations. The entire community is welcome to apply for a majority of our projects. This year we hired three regional artists to install work. In the summer of 2018, we installed three new murals, and we will install more artwork in 2019.

What were once under-utilized alleyways are now home to photo-shoots, class visits and walking mural tours. Our program is about placemaking, activation and redefining areas of downtown.

We've made these alleyways a destination. While it is difficult to quantify, these murals, and the other public art installations in Fort Wayne, also help our city to attract and retain talent. Public art has the power to portray community inclusivity, and it brands us as a positive place to live and work.

I am proud of my city, and excited about its potential. We appreciate your support and investment as we continue our mission to saturate these spaces with public art and increase community quality of life.

Art This Way Art Crawl will be held from 5-9 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 21 in five downtown locations. Each location will feature a live band, an artist performing live, free appetizers, a cash bar and a gallery show.

To learn more about Art This Way or the art crawl, visit the website.

— Alexandra Hall, volunteer organizer of Art This Way