The Story Behind Mural Fest: The Power of Partnership

By: John Sampson on October 8th, 2020

Mural Fest

How Mural Fest Brought the Region Together, Again

Northeast Indiana’s Make It Your Own Mural Fest is now history. The remnant of the fest is far more than 11 stunning murals. We are a better region because we led the charge together. Great regions are not made by beautiful and lasting public art. Great regions produce stunning murals because of the commitment of great partners. Without our partners, Make It Your Own Mural Fest would be nothing more than an idea wanting a place in history.

After months of detailed planning and collaboration with the 11 counties that make Northeast Indiana a rich and diverse community, 11 new murals of public art have enriched the quality of our place.

As a result, we have new relationships that strengthen our fabric of connection. We have accomplished with great success an event never attempted before. And, we received a healthy dose of national acclaim as Forbes put it this way, “Northeast Indiana Becomes the Canvas For ‘Make It Your Own Mural Fest’”.

This was no trivial feat and certainly came with an inherent risk of failure. 

At the outset, there was a serious concern for finding sufficient funding. This concern was heightened when the Indiana Tourism Council declined a primary grant request. We realized how steep the mountain suddenly appeared as we redoubled our sponsorship efforts. In the end, multiple sponsors rose to the occasion to assure that murals, artists, supplies, events and marketing efforts could be supported at a very high-quality level.

Make It Your Own Mural Fest was supported by a diverse list of key businesses that believed in the Mural Fest and its potential to put Northeast Indiana in a national spotlight to attract and retain talent. Mural Fest was made possible through sponsorships or grants from 3Rivers Federal Credit Union, Ruoff Mortgage, Ambassador Enterprises, Flagstar Bank, NIPSCO and the NiSource Foundation, Farmers & Merchants State Bank, Cole Foundation­­­, Fort Wayne Public Art Commission through the City of Fort Wayne, Canterbury School, Avangrid Foundation, MacAllister Rentals, Hagerman Construction, Fort Wayne’s Downtown Improvement District, media sponsor WPTA, Arts United of Greater Fort Wayne, Inc. and the Indiana Arts Commission.

What would we have been without the generosity of those sponsors? We are better together because of them.

The Regional Partnership team conceived the project as a means to activate the Make It Your Own brand for talent attraction. The project seemed to have all the right ingredients. From quality of place to regional collaboration, it had enough of Northeast Indiana’s secret sauce to draw national attention. We surely didn’t appreciate what it would require to organize Mural Fest, attract regional and national artists and work closely with tourism leaders.

What would we have done without the professional staff at Arts United, our consultant Alex Hall and the accomplished regional and national artists?  We are better together because of them.

Artist Claudio “Remix1” Ricco was born in Mexico City and has since spent his years traveling the world installing art in locations such as Europe and Australia. When Remix1 came to Northeast Indiana to install his mural in North Manchester, he wanted to do just one thing in his free time—visit a farm. So, in the name of Hoosier hospitality, Make It Your Own Mural Fest liaison and director of Manchester Alive Brooke Vanderpool took Remix1 to visit a quintessential Hoosier farm. Because of Vanderpool’s kindness, connections and generosity, she was able to invite Remix1 to visit a farm, milk cows and even feed a calf.

Mural Fest not only put the region on the map through national media coverage in Forbes and Midwest Living, but it also told the story of what it’s like living and working in Northeast Indiana through the eyes of artists like Remix1. Now, when Remix travels the world, he can tell the story of how Northeast Indiana welcomed him to the community and helped make his dreams come true, just as he made our dreams come true through his mural.

We had never conceived Mural Fest before, let alone commit to such an undertaking with the diverse interests of 11 counties of economic development organizations and the convention and visitor bureaus. We had no idea whether each community could afford the time, energy and community leadership essential to commit to this project of collaboration with hundreds of community officials and residents. 

What would we have been without the commitment of local community leadership?  We are certainly better together because of them.

Mural Fest thrived only because the hundreds of volunteers from across Northeast Indiana’s 11 counties donated countless hours in virtual meetings, traveled many miles scoping out mural locations, led numerous conversations to build partnerships and created new opportunities to activate the Make It Your Own brand. Each county had a steering committee to identify locations for a mural, act as a liaison with the property owner and the festival committee, help with mural logistics, appoint juror(s) from each county, work with the event committee and promote the festival in their county. This is what makes Northeast Indiana unique—it’s our ability to tackle difficult initiatives together to transform our region.

And, how were we going to provide lifts for every mural site? Thankfully, Hagerman and MacAllister came to the rescue!

MacAllister delivered all of the boom lifts and scissor lifts for Make It Your Own Mural Fest, which helped to ensure all artists were safe installing their artwork. From coordinating different delivery schedules for each county and driving over hundreds of miles within the region, MacAllister went above and beyond to make Mural Fest a success. Sean Kline, rental representative with MacAllister, provided outstanding customer service and was available at the drop of a hat. Mural Fest proved to be a ton of coordination with day-to-day adjustments and changes. Thanks to Sean and the team at MacAllister and Hagerman, Mural Fest was not only a success, it was also done safely!

All of these pieces came together because of regional business leadership and community involvement, yet the key was telling the story. Who would get the word out with the right message to emphasize the purpose of talent attraction and retention? 

WPTA stepped in looking for a story that wasn’t just about an event but a story to capture the heart of a new and collaborative region; targeting big, difficult challenges and working together to elevate the course of our future.

Led by General Manager Merry Ewing, WPTA told the story of Mural Fest over the course of the festival, and also published a 30-minute special showcasing the positive impact Mural Fest made on each of Northeast Indiana’s 11 counties. Anchor Krista Miller and Executive Producer Daniel Beals with WPTA traveled the Make It Your Mural Fest Trail to show viewers the power of murals and the power of partnership happening in Northeast Indiana. The duo started in Miller’s childhood roots in Adams County where she was able to contribute to the mural in downtown Geneva painted by Indiana artist Zach Medler, who is also originally from Adams County. Click here to watch the 30-minute special. 

Before we were done, a video captured 11 counties, 11 days and 11 murals, together as one region.

The Mural Fest was not just about murals. Of course, we will treasure the contributions of public art for years to come as they reflect the story of this amazing region. But, great places are not borne by public art. Great communities are reflected in the quality of place fueled by the leadership and collaboration of great partners.

This is the power of partnership, and that’s why we pursue with urgency, a shared vision.

“Working together, Northeast Indiana is a magnet for the best businesses and talent and is recognized as one of the nation’s most prosperous regions.”

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Want to see the before and after photos from Mural Fest?

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