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Goshen: City On The Go

By Dan Swartz

Fort Wayne Reader


Few would believe it if they were told that a small city just an hour and a half away from Fort Wayne was currently booming culturally, with art galleries, avant-garde performance venues, a First Fridays program, and scores of trendy shops and restaurants. However, due in no small part to Goshen’s “Downtown Goshen, Inc.” — which is something like Fort Wayne’s Downtown Improvement District, and Gina Leichty, DGI’s director.

My introduction to this cultural phenomenon was the opening night of Audrey Riley’s most current one-person show “Measures,”at Eyedart Art Gallery, in downtown Goshen, IN. In “Measures,”,Riley continues to explore the themes of time, measurement, and of growing importance, words.

Although Riley has become adept in many different media and techniques, she refreshingly refers to her work as readymade in many contexts, from the words and phrases, to the paint swatch printer press sheets. This acceptance and exploration of conceptualism’s objectivity in reference to the artist’s true role in the creation of the art piece is a distinct maturity, especially for an artist who is admittedly in her early years of fine art development. Riley’s continued growth, combined with her prodigious output and activity (two solo summer shows, the other was at Spurious Fugitive, in Southbend, IN) marks her as one of Fort Wayne’s more bankable contemporary artists. If she continues at this rate, Riley can expect a market to grow around her work both locally and nationally.

Standout pieces from “Measures” include “Uttered Chaos”, a work on paper, readymade press sheet to be exact, with a central top, which is spinning seemingly random letters in all directions. At fist glance, this piece appears to be straight out of a prewar Dada publication. As the title confirms, the chaotic or Dadaistic use of letters plays with the mind, tempting it to make sense out of the jumbled mess. This is a technique that Riley uses in a more passive sense in pieces like “On Top”. Another prominent point of growth in “Measures” was Riley’s more extensive use of minimalist visual vocabulary in pieces like “Blurred Line”, and “Space.”

It was at Riley’s opening that I was introduced to Ben Stutzman, Eyedart’s founder, and Gina Leichty the aforementioned director of DGI, and Eyedart’s marketing director. In the half hour discussion, which followed, I was amazed at all of the progress, which has been made considering their budgets and the time frame in which much of the progress has happened. The two programs, which interested me most, were the First Friday’s program and the Open Studio Tour. These ideas, certainly not original to Goshen, have been executed masterfully by DGI to involve the whole community (business, art, downtown communities, as well as the Goshen community at large) and create the kind of critical mass necessary to spur downtown investment and low level cultural tourism-the kind of things which Fort Wayne has failed to establish for over a decade. Imagine the Fort Wayne Museum of Art’s Trolley Tour, a city favorite, happening monthly, with the support of our cities suburban populous coming in to witness Fort Wayne’s arts community and become regular patrons to downtown’s unique dining, shopping, and entertainment. Then add the enthusiastic support of downtown’s business owners and non-profits. This is a picture of what Goshen has been able to achieve in less than a decade.

In addition to Eyedart and Goshen’s city programming, I was also very impressed by its selection of performance art venues like The Goshen Theatre, and New World Arts. These two venues seem to be pulling as much weight in their community as the whole of Fort Wayne’s theatre community, which is much larger and better funded. The Goshen Theatre is reminiscent of Fort Wayne’s older, unused theatres like the Rialto, or the now demolished Jefferson and Paramount theatres. New World Arts is particularly active in that it supports all the arts, including a program similar to the now defunct 24 Hour Playhouse which was housed at IPFW a few years ago. The New World Arts version, the “24/7 Theatre Festival” features 7 ten-minute plays. Upcoming theatre evetns include “Urinetown: The Musical” in October, and “Elecktra” in December.

Obviously this small renaissance was the result of great amounts of work and vision, but the mechanics of it are quite simple. Gina explained how much of downtown Goshen resides in a historic district (much like Fort Wayne’s West Central Neighborhood, whose official boundaries extend as far east as Calhoun street), where a visionary developer named David Pottinger who has renovated many of the downtown storefronts beautifully. In addition to this, DGI has aided the cause through façade grants, a banner program, and numerous events which draw consumers into downtown Goshen.

As this experience initially only made me jealous, I soon realized that Goshen’s art scene and downtown are actually great signs of hope for Fort Wayne. Goshen is another version of Marfa, Texas. If a city of 31,000 residents with one college can create and sustain such a vibrant art and downtown community, think of what Fort Wayne can achieve.

Goshen’s next First Friday will be Sept. 5th from 5-9pm.

"Measures" work by Audrey Riley, will be on exhibit at the
Eyedart studio gallery, 213 South Main Street, Goshen, Indiana
August 13 – September 27, 2008.



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