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Looking back, looking forward

By Dan Swartz

Fort Wayne Reader


2009 proved to be a rather eventful year for Fort Wayne's art scene, even in the face of what seemed like a number of large hurtles. As "The Great Recession" continued to push on, which most think of as squeezing art dollars from both a production and consumption standpoint, we saw a real emergence of using restaurants/bars/coffee shops for legitimate art venues. The activity that these venues produced, especially downtown, helped to the mask the slow pace of downtown development and the increasing number of empty storefronts. In addition to the macro-economic conditions we find ourselves in, the temporary closing of the Fort Wayne Museum of Art seemed like it was going to make for a rather quiet year.

Thankfully, the art scene came out in full force across Fort Wayne, bringing a number of great exhibitions, containing some of the best work seen in years, with an ever larger collection of artists working within contemporary dialogues and beginning to communicate amongst themselves. Thanks to new ownership at the Dash In, and a partnership between Club Soda and Wunderkammer Co., both are now more ardent friends of the arts and have already been home to a number of great exhibitions and performances. 816 Pint and Slice and the Firefly Coffeehouse have both continued their patronage and benefited from this connection to the arts community.

In addition to all of these new and active venues, Fort Wayne benefited from an infusion of optimism and new ideas, and strong advocate for the arts, in Charles O'Connor, IPFW's new School of Visual and Performing Arts dean. With O'Connor's experiences from LA and Los Vegas to guide him, he will continue to be a great asset to our artistic community. In addition to his work as dean, he is also the face of "Arts Weekly," which airs every Sunday at 7:30pm on PBS, and covers Fort Wayne's rich cultural diversity. When not running a school and getting the word out, O'Connor is also chairing the Cultural District Task Force, which is possibly the most "darkhorse" aspect of Fort Wayne's art scene, because it has the ability to set in place the correct terms, tools, and policies necessary to create and capitalize on any momentum made my individual artists and art groups.

Organization's like the Downtown Improvement District, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, Artlink, and the Allen County Public Library all have the potential to benefit from the proposed Cultural District. Over the last year, the DID in particular tried to capitalize on the synergy that the art world brings by bringing artists, young professionals, and seasoned patrons all together for the same events. DID events like Art Off Main, which was in conjunction with the FWMOA, kicked off a great year which was taken to new heights over the summer with Lunch On The Square, Buskerfest, and Mardi Gras, all bringing great performances to Fort Wayne. Looking forward into 2010, the DID is kicking the year off right again with an even larger art event, "Drop Your Avant-Garde", taking place the night of February 6th from 6pm to midnight. This multi-venue event will bring droves of artists and art lovers to Calhoun Street in the events four venues; 816 Pint and Slice, the Dash In, Loaf n Ladle, and Ryan Hadley's Tattoo. By highlighting these downtown businesses for the night, the DID hopes to bring attention to a number of local contemporary artists, these great restaurants, art venues, and businesses, and prove that a downtown can be active all year round.

The Fort Wayne Museum of Art, on the other hand, spent much of 2009 quietly demolishing, rebuilding, renovating, and prepping their galleries and public spaces, getting ready for the grand opening of a new and updated museum. One low key event which might have been one of the best in 2009 was a FWMoA artist workshop coordinated by Megan Mirro and John McCormick, bringing Erik DeLuca, a Miami based composer, to teach people how to create home made record players and some of the mechanics behind it. Participants were then asked to join him at the SEAMUS Festival at Sweetwater Sound, where they played their homemade instruments in conjunction with one of his compositions. Now, as the FWMoA nears completion, the city can anticipate not only a truly breathtaking public space, but also some great programming. Opening exhibitions include "Wyeth: An American Legacy", "Expansion: Building the New Fort Wayne Museum of Art", "Visions of the Floating World", and "Scholastic Art & Writing Awards". In addition to all of this, the museum will have expanded opportunities to experience art as "Artology", a collaboration between FWMoA and ACRES Land Trust emphasizing the convergence of the visual arts and the natural world. This exhibition will travel across five cities in Northeast Indiana from January to October of 2010. Sarah Aubrey, Curator of American Art states, “We’re so excited to share our new building and new visitor opportunities with Fort Wayne and the surrounding area. Not only do we having stunning opening exhibitions, but also we’ve expanded our art library and opened it to the public, have a Print & Drawing Study Center to give patrons a whole new way to experience our Permanent Collection and much more. You’ll have to come see for yourself!”

Last but not least, Fort Wayne's artists really stepped up their game in 2009. Dusty Neal, a highly talented and widely known tattoo artist nonchalantly displayed some of the most powerful paintings in his one man show at the University of Saint Francis. Audrey Riley, always prolific and interesting, blew away the competition in 2009 by have three major exhibitions at the University of Saint Francis, Connelly's Do It Best, and the first Wunderkammer Co. exhibition at Club Soda. In addition to this, Riley had work in a number of group exhibitions, and her work was chosen to promote and represent the Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes (CSPO) Conference at Arizona State University, which will take place in May of 2010.

While all of these examples are certainly not the totality of Fort Wayne and Northeast Indiana's art scene in 2009, they can be seen as great benchmark for success, and a launching point for an even more active 2010.

Upcoming exhibitions:

"Just Desserts": Artlink, opens January 22nd, 6-9pm.

"Armin Mersmann": University of Saint Francis, John P. Weatherhead Gallery. Opens January 23rd, 7-9pm.

"Drop Your Avant-Garde": DID event, 800 block of Calhoun Street (btw Berry and Wayne), February 6th, 6pm-midnight.

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