Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Art Crawl Alley Bash makes a splash!

Alex Hall in action at the Art This Way Art Crawl: Alley Bash station on the Bill Blass Runway, earlier this summer
Photo provided by Mike Durbin
Alex Hall in action at the Art This Way Art Crawl: Alley Bash station on the Bill Blass Runway, earlier this summer
Look for multi faceted artcentric activity of every persuasion to be happening on the Bill Blass Runway
Courtesy/Art This Way

Art This Way’s annual Art Crawl takes place next Friday, Sept. 22 in downtown Fort Wayne.

This year’s celebration highlights the renewed interest in community pride and sense of place that drives the artcentric momentum behind the city’s public arts program and illuminates our cultural skyline.

Here WBOI’s Julia Meek speaks with Arts This Way Director, Alex Hall, about the ever-growing event’s new look, a very special eco-friendly collaboration with Friends of the Rivers, and why Hall’s word for this year’s art focus is “education.”

Event Information:
Art This Way's Art Crawl: Alley Bash
in Downtown Fort Wayne
Friday, Sept. 22
6:00 p.m.
Admission is $10.00
For tickets and more information visit the Art This Way website.

Friends of the Rivers Clean Drains Fest
Promenade Park in Downtown Fort Wayne
Saturday, Sept. 23
1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Free admission for all ages
For more information visit the Friends of the Rivers website.

The transcript of their conversation is below:

Julia Meek: Alex Hall, welcome.

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

Julia Meek: Now, time flies on the Fort Wayne public art scene and it's the sixth actually seven (minus one COVID year) annual Public Art Crawl on the horizon, making it a perfect time to discuss Fort Wayne's state of the public art. So in a word, what kind of artcentric activity has been going on all around us for the last year?

Alex Hall: Educational art. (chuckles)

Julia Meek: Okay, that sounds well, like a painless way to get an education about something cool like art, I think that you're telling us?

Alex Hall: Right, mmhmm.

Julia Meek: Since our alleys and streets and public places are absolutely blooming with meaningful mural projects or graphic projects to share, does it get easier or harder, maybe I should say trickier, to mix, match, fit things in so that it still continues to work?

Alex Hall: I think in a way the administrative burden or the background action has gotten more difficult because what we are trying to do is put artwork often in a place where it wouldn't organically happen on its own. So we're not typically targeting a building where a property owner already has eyes to do something to enrich the exterior of their elevation or their facade.

We are looking to strategic sites, sometimes with property owners who are not even living in Fort Wayne, or who are kind of unknown entities under an LLC within an LLC. And we're attempting to get that permission to create a better place in our beautiful city or specifically is better walkway from point A to point B linking together major things within the city.

Julia Meek: Generally speaking, the more people get attuned and aware and maybe proud of getting into this whole art and public art scene, is it easier to get people willing to take the plunge and let something happened on their space or their wall?

Alex Hall: That's the hope it's not always the case. But we have seen in that vein, someone who lives here locally who owns a building here locally is so much more likely to say yes to programming simply because they have been living the experience, the growth, the change, seeing people excited just outside of their property, checking out murals.

They know their children are excited to come downtown and see them, their college kids are considering coming back maybe because they really liked Fort Wayne, all of that is starting to really build that confidence and give people an extra nudge to participate.

Julia Meek: Fantastic.

Alex Hall: So yeah, I would say the bigger challenges are those who aren't residing here, that aren't seeing the change themselves.

Julia Meek: And feeling it that makes sense.

Alex Hall: Mmmhhhmm.

Julia Meek: Now meanwhile, you track the action constantly, when you're not busy on a wall painting something or helping somebody else do it. Regionally, nationally or globally, to know exactly what is going on, how do you harness all of that information and then really work it into a plan for local projects? And even more importantly, does it ever overwhelm you--I mean, all that math?

Alex Hall: There's like, a there's quite a lot in that question, I'm already thinking about all the different ways I would tackle it.

So yes, we are sometimes informed by world events, we are able to pivot quickly and sometimes encourage artwork to happen that might highlight a local immigrant story or a larger picture about social justice and social change, which is really lovely being so tapped in to this downtown area, and having so many lovely partnerships with all of the owners of all the buildings.

In another sense, there's always research, and I'm always learning and there's lots of other programs in cities of our size, and also cities that are much larger, who are doing things better, we're doing things different, and they're things that I'd like to borrow or shift to fit our model.

All of that is to say that oftentimes even cities that are our size, are given different funding mechanisms, or they're lucky enough to have a really large corporate entity that lives or is based within that city. So we are still working towards that type of thing.

But in general art this way is always going to be growing and hopefully getting bigger and also continuously seeing different arms on the programming as a result of some of the things that we're seeing happen in other places, and even some changes of what we've done in past in the event that it no longer works or we need to adjust for changing time.

Julia Meek: That's encouraging. And also in your six slash seven years (chuckles) you've learned a lot, your growing curve is really working for you so it's upward and onward now?

Alex Hall: Mmhhmm, yes.

Julia Meek: Now before we discuss this year's Crawl, sort of the grand artcentric finale of sorts, we kind of think of it as the fall season kicks in, you've been combining art with a real big Eco Warrior Project. Would you explain how Friends of the Rivers three year clean drain initiative, the project I'm speaking about, has made this connection, how it's all happened?

Alex Hall: It's a part of why I said education in my word to sum up the years, is that people have seen these neighborhood murals pop up on their sidewalks and also within downtown that are all geared towards one concept, "only rain goes in the drain." And it's been really lovely to work alongside the Friends of the Rivers committee, as well as city utilities to get the message out there.

We do have really clean water and a lot of that is due to the fact that City Utilities works very hard to make that possible. But it is very important that our rivers stay not clean just for us, but for all of those downstream who also pull their drinking water from our waterways. So we all work together in this really large ecosystem. And hopefully, those drain art pieces are letting people know.

Julia Meek: Now from that artist's perspective, which you have so well (chuckles) what kind of an impact has this actually made on our city and its ecosystem would you say?

Alex Hall: So we are in the third year of this project. And actually, I would prefer to have someone from the City Utilities speak to how clean the water might be (chuckles) or whether or not they're able to see a change, because they actually can pinpoint where a violator is violating.

Julia Meek: Wow that's progress too!

Alex Hall: Yeah so watch out! (laughs) But in general, I think the biggest thing has been we've had the Dumpster Drummers playing in local schools, we've had so many artists of multiple levels of discipline, all the way from amateur to professional artists, working on these projects.

And it's been a ripple effect, to continue the water theme. (chuckles) But truly when you start to think about how one person now carries this message, and they've done this project, and how it's now being sent forward into the world, and every time someone walks over one of those sidewalk murals, they're thinking about it and they're considering maybe I should pick up that piece of trash that looks like it's been left right there on the street.

So yeah, it's a larger effect. But I do believe it's been very impactful and positive, and it's worked.

Julia Meek: And it has been a three year really barrage of this education and inclusion and awareness and getting the kids all involved.

Alex Hall: Art is an excellent way to educate people. And it's really lovely when you get to invest in the arts, and then leverage that for this type of educational purpose.

Julia Meek: And this brings us to another big Alex Hall contribution of that Clean Drains Legacy Mural. It's a 2000-square foot project by ours truly, Alex. (chuckles) So sans spoilers, what's in store?

Alex Hall: The Legacy piece is really meant to embody that storytelling of the last three years, our waterways, how important city utilities is for our city, the educational initiative. And then also a little bit of my own style and how I like to create art all woven together into one large composition of 2000 square feet.

The location is actually going to be right next to Promenade Park, so river adjacent. And it'll be on the east wall of the Nowak building, so if you're in the pavilion, you'll get to see this mural. And if you're at Wells Street Bridge, you'll actually also get to see this mural. So it's going to hopefully again, while you're right there next to the waterways bring home that message, Only rain in the drain.

Julia Meek: So put it all together, now. What peaks and points of interest are we scaling in this year's Art Crawl? How are you bringing it ALL home?

Alex Hall: All together! So the Art This Way Art Crawl has historically been an event that was meant to celebrate all things that art this way was able to install or manage within that year. And sometimes we're even celebrating projects that happened late in the fall after the crawl prior. (laughs)

But we've seen the event change slightly over the years, we've seen a lot more people attend. And what we're attempting to do this year is have it be all outdoors as opposed to a crawl where you entered into smaller office spaces or restaurants in part because the crowd sizes are starting to get really large. And we actually don't have a number of venues that suits that type of crowd size.

Julia Meek: The bigger crowds?

Alex Hall: Right so we are switching up the model a bit and we're calling it this year The Art This Way Art Crawl Alley Bash specifically because we will be holding it in the alleys only. So we have live music. In past we've historically hired about 14 to 15 bands. And because of the smaller footprint there'll be 7 bands playing simultaneously, still kind of that music festival energy where if you don't get to the right stage, you might miss the act you want to see.

We do also have a lot more live art happening this year. We have everything from live pottery, pottery wheels, even some glass fusing demos, so you'll get to see things on fire. Lots of life painting, we have an entire alleyway devoted to chalk artists. And this year we get to have a couple of the top winners of the Fort Wayne Museum of Art's Chalk Walk, will be doing pieces.

Julia Meek: Ah, celebrities?

Alex Hall: Yeah, so local celebrities will be down there working and then we have a lot of DJs coming back this year for certain zones. So every zone just like before with the art crawl where you went into a space, and it felt very curated and different than the last space, each little branch of alleyway will have a very unique vibe.

And in that vein, we still have the Silent Disco coming back this year, it was a big hit--we had people nervous about it last year and so this is the second year we've done it, and this year, it will be under the 77 Steps Sculpture,

Julia Meek: What a great place. And for folks not familiar with that wonderful event, within any event, tell us a bit about it?

Alex Hall: Right! What's really great about this is you essentially put headphones on all the participants. So you'll check in and a little kiosk and get a headphone set. And there's three different music channels that are all being managed by a DJ, and you get to choose the music that moves you.

And within the space, people start to dance to whatever it is are listening to. But because you have three different channels, people are all listening to different music. (chuckles) So it is essentially that saying, you know, they're dancing to their own tune. And that's multiplied by hundreds while they all hang out and dance within the space, the space that's otherwise quite silent, you do see people moving to their own beach.

So it's a lot of fun. And it makes for a good time amongst friends!

Julia Meek: I am curious, how are you going to be handling the food and drink that's always a great and important part of this celebration?

Alex Hall: Right? So this year, it is different and we've reduced the ticket price to account for that. It used to be that within a space, you saw free food. This year, because we're not indoors, it's going to be very hard to set up buffets.

So what we've done instead is, we do have bars set up within the footprint so you can still get your beverage of choice. And then we have invited some Food Trucks to be within the footprint so you can get some food from there.

And then there's obviously quite a lot of restaurants and pizzerias right there within the area that we're hosting the event at the Porch off Calhoun, the Bill Blass runway. So you should be able to find yourself a snack or dinner along the Crawl.

Julia Meek: Something for everyone. Perfect. Now as this event grows, and awareness builds is the movement gaining the cred that it needs and deserves, would you say?

Alex Hall: So this specific event definitely has grown in size; I would love to see new faces every time. And we often see the people that have found out about it come back every single year. But obviously, it's lovely to see new faces every time. And so we're hoping to continue to spread the word that this is an event that happens.

It's very artcentric. It is a way to meet your favorite artists here in town and support them as well. Many artists are selling some of their work while they're on site, and also get an idea of how they're making the work because you do get to see them create as you walk around.

Julia Meek: It is a bash and it is a celebration to be sure. Now it's great to share such communal artwork, Alex. Bottom line, what's the big inclusive takeaway from such a ground zero work to build this kind of legacy? What does it take? What do you need?

Alex Hall: Time! (laughs) Lots of your time. What a program like this ultimately represents in the city of Fort Wayne is a lot of volunteer hours. So many people have been involved in making the art crawl possible. So many people have been involved in allowing Art This Way as a program to flourish.

The partnership with the Downtown Improvement District is obviously very key in the success of continued public art programming. But we as a community do need to just continue to keep doing and do more.

Julia Meek: And on that note, let's talk about the importance of investing in quality of life projects in our region, as it directly relates to public art--that's what this is all about. Like why bother?

Alex Hall: Right? Why bother at all? I think it's been interesting to see for a very long time as a downtown and as a community, we did set aside quality of life investment, we didn't prioritize it, and we were very almost unlikely, mostly unlikely, to make the choice between something that felt urgent like a pothole, as opposed to you know, fixing a pothole... quality of life investment. So I think we are still deep in educating people what the bigger impact is, when it comes to this type of investment.

It is very difficult to quantify whether someone stayed at a hotel or dined at a restaurant because they stopped to check out all the public art or whether they went back to their neighborhood and spoke to their neighbor and said, Wow, there's a really cool art scene there. And that person many years later decides to move to Fort Wayne. You know, those are very hard things to measure. And so it isn't something that is as cut and dry. And that's just the way it is oftentimes with this kind of quality of life investment. Obviously a New Ballet Center or a theater, you get to measure ticket sales. and you get to say how many people came in that night for a show.

This is just a really different thing to try and wrap your head around if all you're ever doing is looking at how do I check a box to say this reached a certain demographic, or this achieved a certain amount of visits. So we're still in a place where at the national level, we're being respected for what it is that we've done.

But at the local level, we do still sometimes see that there's some education that needs to be done to fully get people on board and decide to not just think it's nice and let it happen, but rather invest themselves in it as well.

Julia Meek: That makes all the sense in the world--certainly doesn't sound easy, necessarily, Alex. Right here and now we are overachievers that's great. What does all of that net us going forward as a community?

Alex Hall: Well, so in a nutshell, going forward, big picture, what it means when everyone is on board, and you're no longer in that education phase, and people realize that quality of life assets are a big piece of the economic growth model, you are finally in a place where you can make really cool investments in the city.

Things like Projection Mapping Art. You get to have Mural Festivals. You have education programs where apprentices get paid to work on murals, and you're fostering your local talent. And you're also sending college kids who are studying art out into the world with these resume builders.

And you're becoming not just known as a city that's kind of got an art thing going on. But more so you become the Mecca for where people want to go to foster their career, to start out becoming an artist. They don't feel like they need to go to the east coast or west coast. They know they can come to Fort Wayne, Indiana, and there's a community here and there's programming here.

And there's an understanding here that you invest in the arts because it is a huge part of us being a better place

Julia Meek: Dollars and cents... (all laugh) And last question, Alex, what can everyone listening right now do to make a change, a big difference in our State of the Arts through this coming year?

Alex Hall: So the smaller list would be to come to the Art This Way Art Crawl Alley Bash on September 22. Tickets are only $10. They will be sold at the gate but also you can pre-purchase them. And then another thing that people can do is come to the Friends of the Rivers clean drains Fest on September 23 from 1:00 to 4:00 at Promenade Park.

We'll be celebrating the new mural but there's also lots of child friendly events, live music, things that people can do. It's totally free to attend that at Promenade Park. And then if you are someone that wants to get more involved, we're always looking for volunteers to help with our program.

And if you are someone that is in a financial place where you want to help out Art This Way, we're also always looking for dollars and cents. That's the easy way that someone can help out with the State of the Arts in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

Julia Meek: Fort Wayne creative Alex Hall is director of Art This Way's Annual Art Crawl. Thanks for sharing this great update, Alex. Continued success and artcentricity always.

Alex Hall: Thank you so much for being interested, Julia. It's always a pleasure.

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.