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Arts 2020: Excellence in a Crisis

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FORT WAYNE, Ind. (Fort Wayne's NBC) - Every year, Arts United celebrates people and organizations that excelled in the arts community, with the Arts United Awards.

Like most things in 2020, the pandemic changed how artists operated.

But it didn't stop creatives from overcoming challenges to make a positive impact in communities across Northeast Indiana.

Instead of a traditional awards ceremony, Arts United partnered with Fort Wayne's NBC to televise the recipients, and share their stories.

Those honored were recognized for their contributions to the following categories:

  • IDEA (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Access)
  • Innovation, Creativity, and Artistry
  • Resilience and Adaptiveness during the COVID-19 pandemic

Though dozens were nominated, several stood out, and highlighted in our special program: Arts 2020: Excellence in a Crisis.

Francisco Reyes

"How do I get people to come here, and experience the same neighborhood that I experience, everyday?"

Francisco Reyes is the leader behind Fort Wayne's Open Wall Project.

His goal is to promote the graffiti culture he grew up with in California, to the city's southeast side.

The concept came to fruition in the fall of 2020.

At 2500 Central Drive, an industrial wall is dedicated to anybody aspiring to hone their skills in the art.

In practice, it will serve as an outdoor rotating art gallery for anybody, with experience or without, to craft their skills as muralists.

"Some of the murals downtown have pre-requisites, where you have to have had a 250 sq. ft. mural or larger already made," Reyes explained, "so, if you don't have an opportunity, if you don't have 250 sq. ft. that you can paint on whenever you want, how do you develop those skills? How do you acquire the opportunity?"

"I want to bring in artists to help teach people how to do proportion, how to do scale," he continued, "there are teachers here that teach that - Iw ould love for this to be an outdoor classroom."

Andre Portee

Last summer, artist Andre Portee launched his project, "AbsorbALL".

Portee hopes to renovate basketball courts at parks throughout the city, transforming the courts into a canvas, creating safe and inspiring places for people to use.

The mural at McMillen Park is particularly special to him.

He helped beautify the basketball courts he grew up playing on.

"My main goal is to revitalize most of the basketball courts on the south side to better our communities," Portee said, "I see a lot of it happening on other places in town - they don't really come out this direction you know, so I'm trying to be the start of change for that."

His project was also in partnership with Turnstone.

Resurfacing the courts make the space more inviting, and inclusive to the organization's wheelchair basketball program.

It was funded using a grant from the NBA.

Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership

In September, the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership continued with their plan for its "Make It Your Own Mural Fest".

The idea to promote interest in each county of Northeast Indiana?

11 counties, with 11 murals, completed in just 11 days.

The plan, in the works preceding the pandemic, had to pivot with evolving safety guidelines from each county's health department.

Artists were picked locally, nationally, and even internationally to leave their mark for communities to enjoy in the Hoosier state.

Each mural was designed to pay homage to that "something special" in each location.

NIRP president John Sampson told us, "We gave them a reason to be together, to enjoy each other's companies and to see something beautiful that wasn't there before. It's a part of their community, and will be there for decades."

"In pivoting, we also were responding to a need that the pandemic really highlighted for us in these communities," he added.

You can find a map and complete information on each artist and mural on the NIRP website here:

Rachael Driscoll

"I definitely want to be involved and active in the community, and be the one that kind of creates that 'pride of place'."

Rachael Driscoll not only helped with the NIRP Mural Fest team, but also volunteers with Fort Wayne's Art This Way.

The organization has helped turn downtown Fort Wayne into a destination for public art.

One of many examples can be found near The Landing.

A building adorned with seven murals were created by emerging artists, to showcase local talent.

"I think that art - public art - is something that is so important for a city because it's accessible to all," Driscoll said, "I think it really, truly does create this pride in... that you can kind of come and just enjoy. Promenade Park is another extension in public art, in the architecture of that. And the region is growing, and it's becoming a really lovely place to be and enjoy."

Fort Wayne Museum of Art

Tough decisions had to be made to keep the public safe from the COVID-19 outbreak.

And that meant drastically changing a Fort Wayne favorite yearly tradition: the Chalk Walk.

The annual event, which celebrated it's 20th year, had to think of a way to allow artists of all ages to participate, while remaining distanced from each other.

Out of that challenge, the Fort Wayne Museum of Art's Chalk Walk at Home was created.

Instead of chalking downtown, artists would create beautiful pieces outside their own homes, in driveways, sidewalks, or even the road.

The museum then compiled pictures of each portrait and shared a virtual gallery that everyone could enjoy.

"A lot of artists recreated works from our collection, which is always so cool to see how people utilize the colors and textures of the ground they're using to create their image," Ashley Stoneburner, VP and Chief Development Officer with the FWMoA said, "we did our very best to pivot, that we cold to make it all a reality and keep the tradition alive."

Fort Wayne Civic Theatre

Fort Wayne Civic Theatre's guest director Lesli Beauchamp spearheaded the summer project "1776".

The twist? All roles, including the founding fathers, would be played by women.

The decision was made to honor the centennial celebration of the 19th Amendment.

"The thing that I was concerned about was - am I going to get the right strength in an actress to play these very strong characters," Beauchamp told us, "they were written for men. And they're real people. You had to get fin actresses who were able to know the difference between a caricature and a character."

Beauchamp continued, "we didn't want people pretending to be men, we wanted them to embody these characters".

Adding to the complexity of the production, was social distancing and actresses wearing masks.

She hopes her casting will bring awareness to representation and diversity in future performances.

"If your show has nothing to do with gender, or race, or anything - there's nothing stopping you from casting anybody, because it really does bring a different angle to the show that you're doing."

The Honeywell Foundation

In Wabash, The Honeywell Foundation used educational resources in the Eagles Theatre and the space at the 1324 Drive-In at the end of May to serve families during the pandemic.

Education and outreach of course, went virtual, utilizing technology to connect the community.

"We had a few less participants than normal, but most of the students stayed in the program," CEO Tod Minnich told us, "the art camp people picked up their art supplies and then participated via zoom for the theatre camp, actually on this stage. The student participants would come and perform one ate a time, and then we edited all of the performances together into a final video."

The 1324 Drive-In hosted several summer movies and concerts, allowing families to stay socially distant while providing a sense of togetherness.

Live performances included King and Country, Aaron Lewis, Lee Brice, and Austin French.

"We've had people from throughout the region, come not only to movies, but to those live concerts," Minnich said, "it's really exciting to see people be able to get back out."

David Meyer

Arts United selected David Meyer as the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award.

For the last two decades, Meyer has led the Edward D. and Ione Auer Foundation.

With Meyer's leadership, the Auer Foundation made big investments in the community's arts and culture non-profits in memory of Mrs. Auer.

Seeing the pandemic's toll on arts organizations, the Auer Foundation provided the lead gift of one million dollars to Arts United's Arts and Culture Nonprofit Resilience Fund.

The Auer Foundation will sunset in early 2022, leaving behind a legacy of a vibrant arts and cultural scene in Fort Wayne for generations to come.

Art This Way

Mayor Henry chose Art This Way as the recipient of the Mayor's Art Award.

After the George Floyd demonstrations, when windows throughout downtown were broken, Art This Way gathered artists to paint the plywood of boarded up businesses.

The organization, led by Alex Hall, spread messages celebrating the positive aspects of the Black Lives Matter movement.

"We had a lot of different groups come in," Hall said, "this was something where really, overnight, we saw artists step up and say, I actually do have something to say, and I'm interested in participating, or I support this cause."

More than 50 local artists showed up, to contribute to more than 30 different murals.

"We're very honored as an organization. I know that they type of momentum that we're seeing and what it's done here is really special," she told us, "we're very excited that the mayor understands and that Arts United - an arts organization of their clout, is also recognizing what Art This Way's programming is doing, and its significant to downtown Fort Wayne."

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