Make It Your Own Mural Fest: It’s Not Just about the Murals

August 31st, 2020

Mural Fest

Attracting Top Talent for Business Attraction Key for Mural Fest Goals

“We don’t care about murals!” was the feedback I received recently about Make It Your Own Mural Fest. Ouch! That really stung after over a year of collaboration with hundreds of regional partners and community volunteers in preparation for the first-of-a-kind event now transformed into an “experience” in the face of the pandemic. 

Sure, not everyone will understand or even appreciate why an experience of this nature or quality is important to the future of this region. While I admit the terse feedback has reverberated through my head, it should not have surprised me. Despite our efforts to make it very clear why the experience is critical to activate the Make It Your Own brand, there will be some who will not support the necessity of breathing life into our regional brand for talent.

OK, I am over it now. You don’t have to embrace the mural fest or even appreciate the importance of public art in the big picture of quality of place. This is a judgment-free zone.

With that said, I hope we are in majority aligned around the importance of developing, retaining and attracting talent to meet the current and future needs of employers. I am also hopeful that we are deeply committed to investing in the quality of our communities. And, of all places in Indiana, a region like ours without a major metro must be committed to working together and building relationships rooted in trust without regard to political borders. In a global war for good jobs, we are better together.

Mural Fest is Not about the Murals

Yes, we have numerous sponsors and hundreds of partners and community volunteers working to make the Make It Your Own Mural Fest amazing. This included the formation of local committees to select the best locations in each of the eleven counties which certainly comes with a fervent debate and difficult decisions. Then there were the 11 juries used to vet the artists that submitted concepts in response to each of the very distinct community profiles. Of course, the complexity of the pandemic had to be wrestled to the ground so that artists and residents alike could participate in the experience safely. 

But, I am reminding myself, it is not about the murals.

I almost failed to mention, we now have an amazing final lineup of artists coming from across the country. Rochester, New York; Wichita, Kan.; Portland, Ore. and Minsk, Belarus are the hometowns from afar to complement the artistry from individuals living closer to home from Defiance, Ohio as well as Fort Wayne, Huntington, Noblesville and Waterloo. We should be gratified to draw such an eclectic body of talent from hometowns near and far.

Northeast Indiana’s unique Make It Your Own Mural Fest will encompass 11 days, 11 counties, 11 murals; one region working together to draw visitors and national attention to the City of Fort Wayne and a Midwest region committed to winning an intense battle for talent.

Then Why Mural Fest?

Today, economic growth and regional development is all about employer access to skills and a talented workforce. Even over a decade ago, we knew that we had to be able to prove workforce availability in expansion, retention and attraction projects. It was different then, really. We were living in an age of high unemployment and lower wages. It was not a hard sell to demonstrate that workers were available at a pretty competitive rate. 

As the economy plodded along each year in recovery from the great recession, a new demographic emerged as millennials and young professionals began looking to live and work in “cool” cities. All of a sudden, the world turned on its head and we reached “full employment” with unemployment rates below 3% and workers being able to demand much higher wages and live practically anywhere. Companies and their business leaders have come to embrace that quality of place and amenities attractive to the new generation of workers were essential to assure a pipeline into the future. 

No, it is not about murals. With the Make It Your Own Mural Fest, we are writing a story about this unique, one of a kind place that we have become, together as a region. Murals are an investment in touching up our image. The experience brings us closer together as a region and a people committed to investing in the future of our communities. All together the mural fest is a statement about us, our quality of life and our commitment to the future talent needs of today’s employers.

And, for Northeast Indiana, it is about being connected, collaborating and confronting really tough issues. We have a population goal in the Vision 2030 process to achieve one million residents by 2030. This will be a difficult but utterly realistic goal for us to achieve knowing that other benchmark communities have grown at similar rates; not easy, but completely within our reach. We must be willing to think differently about building a region that's open and welcoming to a diverse population of visitors, immigrants and citizens. We must be open to individuals looking for a place where they can have meaningful careers, enjoy time with their families and being engaged in making Northeast Indiana their own.

Competing in the Global War for Talent

I remind myself frequently about our sister “state” in China, the Zhejiang province, and the second-largest city, Taizhou. Leaders in Taizhou sought and were welcomed to be the sister city of Fort Wayne, also the second-largest city in Indiana. As it turns out, Taizhou is a city of almost 6 million residents. I am pretty sure they don’t care about our murals. I have visited Taizhou more than once and observed their manufacturing and technology capabilities. I am also very sure business leaders in Taizhou do care about whether our employers have access to the best talent and skills necessary to compete head-to-head in a global marketplace. 

It is not about murals. It is about talent, quality of place and working together as a region to show what an awesome place we have become. We need to strut our stuff, paint the town and tell the story. We are a very unique collection of people willing to compete in a ruthless global marketplace for the best jobs and talent willing to make Northeast Indiana their own. 

See you at Make It Your Own Mural Fest!

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Make It Your Own Mural Fest is working with 11 muralists from around the country to install murals in Northeast Indiana's 11 counties. Want to learn more about the Mural Fest artists?

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