How makers are hacking Fort Wayne's culture

“Creative capital” is a phrase uttered in some circles, but what does it exactly mean? Fort Wayne is defining it in its own right, and if you look closely, the city's maker scene is active and growing. 

Fort Wayne HeART of the City (HOTC) is one example of local advocates helping artists bring their work to the forefront for public consumption. Board member Daniel Church had a vision a few years ago that started with a grassroots project and has turned into a more formal art collective. 

Heart of the City is a team of local arts advocates.

An artist himself, Church started the organization as a means to address unmet needs he saw in the arts community. He says while many local artists have talent, sometimes they're lacking in the areas of education, networking, and marketing skills needed to take their creations from the home studio into the market.

So Church and his board members help artists out.

HOTC supports creatives in Fort Wayne and bridges the gap between established and aspiring artists with networking opportunities, professional development, art education lectures, and unjuried exhibitions. This way, Church says, newer or less experienced artists are able to enter into the creative space, armed with the tools they need to be successful. 

HOTC also supports local businesses by building connections on behalf of artists, giving them more opportunities to show and sell their work around town. It advocates for individuals, organizations, and businesses on social media and other marketing channels, as well.

This exposure can be key, especially for underground artists, Church says.

“There’s a lot of people who make up the community who aren’t seen, but are in the shadows,” he explains.

Heart of the City helps artists display and market their work.

Beyond being good for artists, HOTC's work can also be a win-win for local residents. For example, for two consecutive years, it has organized a benefit for the Allen County SPCA, raising $3,800 in 2017, Church says.

But it is not the only organization in Fort Wayne helping makers make their mark.

The growing size and scope of regional farmers markets is also contributing to the rise of Fort Wayne's creative capital.

Tents crowd the streets for the historic Barr Street Market.

While often associated with produce and fresh food, farmers markets give the general community a chance to encounter the regional arts scene in everything from woodworking to wall weavings, embroidery, pottery, and screen printed t-shirts. There are also working artists like dancers, poets, and musical performers who come out and display their talents onsite.

In the last decade, at least half a dozen farmers markets have developed active followings across the Summit City. Perhaps the most high-profile example is the YLNI Farmers Market, which started in 2005 to meet the demand for fresh and local produce downtown.

The market has grown over the years by leaps and bounds, in terms of both vendors and attendance. In 2017, the market averaged about 2,500-3,000 patrons a week. In 2018, that number rose to 3,500 a week in the first three weeks alone

The Barr Street Market brings local music to downtown Fort Wayne for guests to enjoy free of charge.

While farmers markets connect artisans with consumers, nonprofit TekVenture is rooted in a different mission for creatives, giving machinists, inventors, and tradespeople a leg up in bringing their ideas to life.
 
“The mission of TekVenture is to provide an environment offering space, tools, materials, and mentors where the community can realize their creative potential, satisfy their need to make things, talk shop with other makers, and connect with emerging technologies and the artisans and industries that use them,” says TekVenture Vice President Peter Bolakowski.

TekVenture hosts a Fort Wayne Regional Maker Faire.

That mission is articulated through a MakerSpace and an open, collaborative shop and idea laboratory, where members and students of TekVenture convene to learn and create. The public is invited to access TekVenture’s tools, training, and consultation services, too, Bolakowski says.

“We are dedicated to sharing knowledge, building relationships, and fostering entrepreneurship,” he explains.

In some ways, it’s about returning to northeast Indiana's roots. While Fort Wayne was once a hub of invention and innovation, the region lost some of that industriousness over the Rust Belt age, and that’s a shame, Bolakowski admits. 

“That talent should be nurtured and shared and exploited for the good of the makers as well as this region and our nation,” he says.

Potters fill a workspace at TekVenture.He sees TekVenture as a driving force in the evolution of northeast Indiana, establishing it as a national hub of makers and entrepreneurs once again.

“Nurturing creative people will help build appreciation for our physical world and the beauty that's in it," Bolakowski says. "Creative people can find ways to solve problems and make people's lives more meaningful." 

To that end, fellow board member and artist Beth Collier offers a call to action for anyone who wants to contribute to the maker culture happening in Fort Wayne. She says TekVenture is always looking for volunteers, which draws attention to a critical point.

While many organizations and events are building creative capital in northeast Indiana, it takes support from the entire community to keep their progress going and drive regional growth.

Read more articles by Lauren Caggiano.

Lauren Caggiano is a Fort Wayne-based writer. A 2007 graduate of the University of Dayton, she returned to Northeast Indiana to pursue a career. In the past 12 years she has worked in journalism, public relations, marketing, and digital media. She currently writes for several local, regional, and national publications.
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