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Art This Way's 5th-annual Art Crawl follows Fort Wayne's public art trail

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Courtesy/Art This Way
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Alex Hall suggests that the community to become ambassadors of Fort Wayne's Public Art Program

Art This Way’s Annual Public Art Crawl takes place Sept. 23 in downtown Fort Wayne.

Operating as a public art program under the umbrella of the Fort Wayne Downtown Improvement District since 2017, the organization works to raise funds, and liaison between property owners and artists to bring murals and other public art to the community.

WBOI’s Julia Meek speaks with director, Alex Hall, about Art This Way’s mission, this year's focus, and what’s currently in the spotlight along that Public Art Trail.

Event Information:

5th Annual Art This Way Art Crawl in Downtown Fort Wayne
Friday Sept. 23, 2022
5:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.
$30.00 Admission
Three check-in kiosks located at: The Landing, PNC Plaza & Porch off Calhoun

For tickets and more information visit the Art This Way website.

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Julia Meek: Alex Hall, welcome.

Alex Hall: Hi, Julia. Thank you so much for having me.

Julia Meek: With the 5th-annual Art Crawl on the horizon, it's a great time to discuss Fort Wayne's state of public art. In a word, What kind of artcentricity has this year netted us?

Alex Hall: We've had a challenging art year!

Julia Meek: Okay. (chuckles)

Alex Hall: Painted some some interesting locations this year,

Julia Meek: We have a wonderful stand of public art and especially the murals right downtown. Are we working on where to put them, why to put them and how to put them there?

Julia Meek: Everything is fitting nicely in where it should so far?

Alex Hall: Right. So there's a strategy afoot. I work quite often with the Gale study that was done to kind of help us envision how we might link downtown Fort Wayne together using public art as one of those tools. And so oftentimes that study informs where we put artwork in downtown Fort Wayne.

Alex Hall: Exactly.

Julia Meek: Quick look back to the beginning--2017. As the public art movement was emerging back then what was out there? And how did you know where to begin everything we're talking about fitting in now?

Alex Hall: That 2017 Art Crawl was kind of the Field of Dreams model (chuckles) we told people that we were going to be building it but they didn't get to see it yet. We just had a bunch of blank walls with coming soon posters on them. (chuckles) So at the time, we really only had that guitar experiment piece and a couple of smaller window panels in place that really gave a vision, hopefully, of what was to come.

And then by the end of 2018, when we had the Crawl, we actually really did have the Field of Dreams part, we built it and people came and they appreciated it and they saw what we were doing.

Julia Meek: That's a lot to accomplish in one scant year with nothing there for your base. Can you believe it your own self?

Alex Hall: I think sometimes no... I know that I'm really grateful for those property owners who took the risk and said yes, at the time to allowing us to program their walls.

Julia Meek: It's so very encouraging that Fort Wayne is full of visionaries that have the vision of public art and help make it happen. It all goes together into something really, really wonderful.

Alex Hall: Right. It takes a lot of partnerships, a lot of people saying yes to get to where we are today.

Julia Meek: And people like yourselves to ask the questions and get the yeses to keep it all carrying on. Now, okay, pre COVID, the whole downtown scene became a key motivation. And public art in every form was prioritized, seemingly all at once; how did you and yours embrace the opportunity and then take it and run with all of the projects that you did?

Alex Hall: So we had that study that I'd referenced, the Gale study came out in 2019. And it really validated what we were doing with the Art This Way program, it basically said, keep doing the public art that you're doing in the alleyways, and then build on it.

So, as you saw in 2019, we installed a few more murals within the alleyway network with the idea that we were going to basically curate this free, open to the public, outdoor gallery experience. And we're still doing that. But it's been really nice to see in 2019, we've gotten to a point where you really couldn't go too far into the alley without seeing one to two pieces right away.

Julia Meek: And it's really working. How difficult is it to get the word out, spread the good word and make sure every single person in the county and beyond knows that there are outdoor galleries a walk away in our own downtown?

Alex Hall: Well we've actually seen visit Fort Wayne do a really great job with that. They have their Public Art Trail that's been available for people online so they can take the tour on their own when they have family come into town.

We've seen great press. Cleveland Magazine recently talked about the murals in our city. So really, what we're finding is people are either discovering about their city in national publications, that it's worth going downtown to visit or they're visiting downtown and then making the discovery themselves.

That's what's been really neat about it is we have a decent sized city, so every person is finding out about these gems on their own.

Julia Meek: Would you say also, as we heard post COVID and talking about art uniting us and all of the other big movements by Arts United, that our own population is hungry for the artcentricity, of course, but also the camaraderie, the sharing and caring about public art. Is it easier to get people sympathetic to your cause now?

Alex Hall: What we know because national studies tell us is that public art brings pride of place, and so we are seeing people who maybe had disregarded downtown as not a spot that they would take their family have a totally different opinion over the last few years.

It really has become a destination and people are proud to bring their friends, family and visitors into the city to check out the art.

Julia Meek: You happen to love art enough to have several different titles and shingles hanging out by which you ply your trade. You are the owner of Art by Alex Hall. You are the director of Art This Way. Also A.H. Public Spaces Consulting.

Julia Meek: Now as the name implies, you go around the area, around the country, perhaps beyond, helping other people build their own artcentric dreams. How does that work?

Alex Hall: Mm-hmm.

Alex Hall: Well often municipalities or foundations, they know that they want to infuse some public art into their city. But as you probably know, art by committee can get destroyed. (chuckles) And, and it doesn't always go well. So it's nice when they know they can bring in someone who can maybe show them the ropes a little bit, give them almost a toolkit for how this might play out for them.

And every time you kind of have to cater it to what their goals are, and who their community members are, and who's involved. But ultimately, the idea is to just help facilitate it and make it possible for the art to still be good, and have an artist be an artist and share their talent with the community without a committee undermining that.

Julia Meek: So there are plenty of circumstances and opportunities for municipalities artcentrically. And they now know to call you to help with the project?

Alex Hall: All of my projects, since I've started Art This Way have been word of mouth, someone has reached out to just ask like, how are you doing this, and I often get into a conversation and then realize where it is that they are trying to go.

And the conversation goes from there. It's a passion more than anything. And I'm happy to help people see that happen in their communities as well.

Julia Meek: Great. Now you split your time between making and studying and fact finding and gathering information on public art scenes and trends. How do you harness all of that information, and then formulate what might and then actually will work right here for you under your watch and guard duty, so to speak?

Alex Hall: chuckles) Well we talked a little bit about the strategic plans. So sometimes the placement of art might be difficult, because it's, for example, a railroad underpass. So sometimes it is the strategy and the location that really matters. And that's what's directing why we would put energy and resources towards getting a project done at that site.

As far as who the artists are, I love the idea that we're mixing it up here in Fort Wayne, I think it's something really special that we are introducing our local creatives to internationally renowned street artists, while simultaneously hiring local professors and artists and people who are based right here in our region. And we're seeing them all exhibiting in the same outdoor gallery space, I love that we've been able to do these open calls to allow anyone to apply.

And our jury process has been really balanced over the last five, six years, we've developed a real solid system of allowing for a non biased jury review of all the art. So actually, I don't get to vote for the artwork that happens. I do the project management and I will make the project a possibility. I'll check to make sure that we have all the permissions and all the funding we need. But ultimately it locals on these juries that are getting to look through the artwork and choose what happens next in Fort Wayne,

Julia Meek: How do you feel that has changed the basic awareness for what you're doing in the five years that you've officially been doing it?

Alex Hall: I think it was difficult at first because local artists were aware of who we were. So they didn't know that there were the opportunities there. And it was really hard for us to tap into all the different arts communities and make sure that they felt that this was something that was there for them to apply for.

I believe we've gotten better about that; there might be someone listening who thinks they still missed a call because they weren't in the right space, or they weren't following the right Facebook page or what have you. But the goal is to always make it feel as inclusive as possible as we possibly can and hopefully allow for people to apply when they feel ready and want to have this part of the community I guess get involved put their work in front of the whole city.

Julia Meek: Then okay, what has this year's public art focus been, Alex? How's it going to be presented at the Crawl?

Alex Hall: The public has probably seen the art happening. So they might be aware that all of the artwork has been along South Harrison Street. So largely we have looked at the urban core and the urban trail as a director of where we might be putting art this year. So we see the 122nd Fighter Wing mural that went right along South Harrison and Main.

We have the Unity Mural that's currently being installed on South Harrison. And then we have the Sidecar Mural, which is actually on Jefferson, but it is where South Harrison kind of jogs over to get to TinCaps (Parkview Field). The whole idea is linking together downtown, so we wanted to make sure that the Copper Spoon and Sidecar were connected through art all the way up to Promenade Park, which is really always been one of our larger goals.

So this year for the crawl, we have a footprint that includes the dedication of the Unity Mural, and that'll be happening on the west end of The Landing. And then we actually also have kind of almost a culmination of all the creativity of many years gone by-- we're celebrating the Bill Blass Runway that It is going to be a memorialized alleyway in downtown Fort Wayne.

So that creative art-filled space that runs from Clinton all the way to South Harrison Street, again tie-in to South Harrison, that is actually being dedicated at seven o'clock during the art crawl--the Bill Blass Runway with official signage being unveiled. So we have quite a lot of tie-ins to that main trail, South Harrison, that takes everyone from TinCaps (Parkview Field), all the way up to Promenade Park. And the goal is to over the next few years, continue to make sure that that walk is very stimulating and visually appealing for anyone who visits our city.

Julia Meek: Now, there's a whole package, I think it might be an official way to say it, Alex, at each of the nine locations on the crawl, some are inside somewhere outside, how does this setup maximize the artcentricity and the enjoyment that you anticipate is going to be had at these nine spaces.

Alex Hall: So a lot of the idea is to educate the community because you've put up a mural, and it's wonderful, and you get to experience it however you like. But the idea of the art crawl is to introduce everyone in this community to our amazing local art scene. So that includes our culinary scene, local restaurants; that include local artists who maybe aren't doing two dimensional work, but who are sculpting, who are using other mediums, someone who might not do a mural, but is still doing really solid, amazing work on their own.

And then also our amazing music scene. So all told, we will have something I believe like 15, or 16 different bands throughout the footprint. So every space has a different genre of music. And that's all listed on the map. A different featured artist at every space with a full gallery show so that you can purchase from the artists and meet the artist if you're interested.

And then every space has a different food and alcohol option. It's really a lot of fun to make sure that we're highlighting who we are as creatives and we're celebrating who we are as creatives while also simultaneously talking about all of the murals that we've done that year, doing those dedications, making sure that those people who've been very involved get recognized, and we tip our hats to them.

Julia Meek: Well, besides this being one fine, fine time, the event is essential to the city's whole public art installation program, bottom line. What kind of a difference can be made here truly, in one glorious event like this?

Alex Hall: Right? We started with very little funding. It was a grassroots effort, the Art This Way program. And ultimately, what the crawl was initially was one of our key fundraisers and it guaranteed that we would be able to do at least one more project the following year. And obviously, as you and the community has seen, we've been able to do a lot more than just one project annually.

That's largely due to the fact that this crawl happens, people attend, and we're able to take the proceeds from it and put that towards future projects. But it also allows for people to know what we are and who we are. And I think that that's also where we've gotten a lot of sponsorships that have come through later.

They're not necessarily sponsoring the crawl, but maybe they gotten a chance to go and get the idea and understand the energy and see what it is. And we've seen a lot of our corporate sponsors come forward after we've held Art Crawl events to say like, Hey, I want to be able to support another mural or another sculpture or what have you.

Julia Meek: So it really is the more the merrier, and the more they know, the more they want to know?

Alex Hall: Yes. Education and celebration all in one!

Julia Meek: Brilliant! (chuckles) With artwork. Now, is there such a thing as too much public art?

Alex Hall: I don't think so. I think that's a difficult question to ask me. (chuckles) I know that a lot of what I see when I travel abroad is organic public art, so it is a little bit less steered. We don't have all the paperwork maybe in Berlin to see something painted an underpass there; it might be very different from what we would expect to see installed in downtown Fort Wayne.

So I would say what we see in our city is very different from some communities public art scenes, but I love both for different reasons. And I don't think that there's ever a point where we should stop considering implementing more. It is only making our city better.

Julia Meek: And going to continue to do that. Now your own art cause and that's a wonderful one of course, since so much of it is the whole city's art cause, but you are managing to do a lot on your own as well. What do you have on your own drawing board

Alex Hall: As far as my own work?

Julia Meek: These days. Yes. Have you been in there lately?

Alex Hall: (chuckles) Have I been in my studio lately? I do still sometimes create. I find that my summers are not my own as far as being in my studio, but I did start painting again last weekend. I started working on a piece. It's based on a drawing I did when I was on vacation last, so I'm excited that I do actually set aside occasionally a little bit of studio time.

Julia Meek: And a little bit of vacation time, and a little bit of artcentric time. And in fact, you have a show coming up?

Alex Hall: Yes! I'm very excited to exhibit at Jeffery Benjamin Hair on The Landing. And I'll be there Oct. 15. It's an evening show. So yeah, I'll be there live painting and visiting with people. And I'll have some new works up on display.

Julia Meek: Well, how exciting is that? And then back to our public art scene. And is there any one thing lacking in Fort Wayne, would you say, by now, public art-wise?

Alex Hall: Yeah, I think we are probably still in a position where we've got the the new Public Art Commission, which is just really coming about and I'm enjoying watching them begin to spearhead projects in neighborhoods. And I think it's important to remember we're all kind of in a juvenile phase a little bit, I mean, Art This Way has only been around since I started really working with the Downtown Improvement District in 2015 on this initiative.

So we're not that old. (chuckles) And we've done quite a lot in that amount of time. So I think the best is yet to come. And we're growing and and I look forward to seeing us shift maybe more towards some sculpture, I would love to see Art This Way bring some additional sculpture into town. I would love to see a artist-in residence building that had a gallery space down below and gave artists access to really solid making resources, equipment. And I think that we'd also benefit from a subsidy program in our city specifically in downtown, we see quite a lot of really great restaurants coming into these spaces.

But oftentimes, when I go to another place I enjoy popping into all the local galleries and the art scene that you find. And I wouldn't mind seeing a solid subsidy program that brought more creative artisans into our city with store frontage on the ground level.

Julia Meek: Now putting it to all of that in particular, and my last question, Alex: As we continue to make a name for ourselves, what's the most important thing everyone can do to help that cause-- spread the good word and really make a difference right here in Fort Wayne for public art?

Alex Hall: Well, I suppose they can go to the Art Crawl so they can buy their tickets. But in general, I would say be an ambassador to the city. When someone from out of town visits, be sure to bring them downtown and show them what it is that we're doing, share what we have, family and friends.

And I also have found it really interesting how many high school reunions I have given tours to because these are people who had left this community 10 or 30 or more years ago, and they're floored to see what downtown looks like today. So really, if it's not in your schedule or in your financial ability to go to the Art Crawl, there is a volunteer opportunity to participate in it.

And also we hope that you're able to just come down and see the gallery for free whenever you'd like in downtown Fort Wayne

Julia Meek: Fort Wayne creative Alex Hall is the director of Art This Way's 5th annual Art Crawl. Thank you for sharing this update. Alex continued success and artcentricity, always.

Alex Hall: Thank you, Julia.

A Fort Wayne native, Julia is a radio host, graphic artist, and community volunteer, who has contributed to NIPR both on- and off-air for forty years. Besides being WBOI's arts & culture reporter, she currently co-produces and hosts Folktales and Meet the Music.