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The Importance of Buying Local Art

By Dan Swartz

Fort Wayne Reader


Every small art market has the same issue: how can we expand interest and sales, on a shoestring budget, and keep producing quality work? Fort Wayne is certainly no stranger to this phenomenon, with only a handful of small profit-based galleries and an even smaller group of dedicated non-profit organizations. The issue gets a bit stickier when factoring in the conservative nature of Fort Wayne’s geographical and cultural position, many times making the arts out to be alternative or outsider, and not a core human motivation.

All of this is why it is so important for communities like Fort Wayne to support local artists and galleries. Without the support of the immediate market in this city, artists who are not independently wealthy will find it almost impossible to spread out and find success in other comparable markets like Indianapolis, or larger markets like Chicago and New York. Thinking about this in economic terms helps by envisioning a single artist like a start up company. As the smart company begins selling product, they allocate money towards advertising outside of their immediate market, thus stimulating interest. An artist does this by entering national juried shows, and being a part of group shows in galleries. When a company is doing well in one market, it may have the available funding to expand business in another region. This would correspond in the art world to an artist being represented by a gallery or dealer in another city. Without the initial capital being raised in this market, many Fort Wayne artists will never be able to take their ability to higher levels and “export” their work from Fort Wayne into different markets.

Now, keep in mind that the local galleries have run into a serious cash flow problem. Without enough initial capital coming in from sales, they can barely even advertise to our small community, let alone support the undertaking of attracting art consumers from other markets around the United States. Of course, this is not an easily fixed situation-something like a chicken or the egg-but one can safely say that part of the blame comes from a lack of organization among the current businesses dedicated to the arts, and a lack of structural support at the public non-profit/government level.

As of the writing of this article, the Chamber of Commerce has two members which fall under the category “Art Galleries-Dealers Consultants,” — Sharon Eisbart Corporate Art and Northside Galleries. This is interesting for many reasons. First off, it shows that the majority of art organizations in Fort Wayne either A) cannot afford the $360+ membership cost of being a Chamber member, or B) that they do not see the benefit in joining. Sadly it is the latter which is more likely.

Two beacons of hope in this situation have been Arts United and FWMoA’s Trolley Tour. Arts United’s mission has primarily been to provide support to arts through “advocacy, allocations, facilities, and fundraising,” but the organization has also been going above and beyond to breathe more life into our communities for profit and non-profit organizations, mostly just by spreading the word. The Fort Wayne Museum of Art’s Trolley Tour is the other important source of visibility for our art community. For the past 10 years, many of Fort Wayne’s galleries have partnered up with area restaurants to create an amazing night of art, entertainment, and fine dining for the Trolley Tour. As the past events have shown, this event brings in a much larger and more diverse demographic than your average Fort Wayne gallery opening. These are the kinds of events, which are essential to a healthy art market.

Although this event is a significant boost for the galleries, its annual frequency cannot really boost each specific gallery’s year round attendance, which tends to fall into very low numbers. Much of this could be resolved by the creation of a monthly preview of Fort Wayne’s arts and cultural, much like a “First Fridays” program which has been a large assist and success in cities like Indianapolis. This program is supported by many of Indy’s art galleries, through IDADA (Indianapolis Downtown Art Dealers Association), which generates public awareness for, and markets the arts to Indianapolis. The IDADA is sort of the cross between an organization like Arts United with one like the Downtown Improvement District. This creates a more favorable economy of scale, especially for advertising and marketing.

All of this being said, the most important reason to consider buying Fort Wayne area art is because of its high quality. While we may not have the most diverse market, there are many amazing artists in our city right now from students to part-time artists, to those being sold outside of this area, and being collected in a serious way. Artists like Tom Keesee, Audrey Riley, and Justin H. Miller are represented by, and sell works through galleries in Indianapolis, South Bend, and Chicago respectively. Other artists like Daniel Dienelt, Nate Utesch, and Jeremiah Miser are making great work, but haven’t yet been discovered outside of Fort Wayne. And still, there are many very talented students to buy from each year from our cities Universities.

Through the cooperation of Fort Wayne’s current stable of galleries and organizations for the arts, and the support of the public through art sales, we could easily see a more vibrant art scene develop in Fort Wayne in a fairly short term of 3-5 years. Because the arts are always synonymous with an urban experience, this would only add more fuel to the already burning fires for the revitalization of our once exuberant downtown.

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