What's next for northeast Indiana's creative economy?

As Electric Works represents "what could be" in northeast Indiana, organizations like Artlink are eyeing its potential as a space to grow innovative programming.

Enter Artlink’s 212. According to Executive Director of the organization and Co-Founder of the program, Matt McClure, this initiative was born out of an important and pressing question: How does the region provide its creative community with legitimate opportunities for substantial careers in the arts? Matt McClure poses next to Artlink 212's list of sponsors.

"Taken one step further, the question became: How can we lay a new foundation for a more substantial and inclusive creative economy rooted in northeast Indiana?" McClure says.

To that end, Artlink built a network of artists and creative professionals who were actively working in creative industries across the country.

“Some were Fort Wayne natives,” he says. “Others were artists who understood on a personal level, the challenges of breaking through to larger creative economies.”

Ultimately, McClure explains that this “decentralized network” of innovators became the core of the 212 program. The incubator functions as a connection point, pairing individuals creating commercially focused intellectual property with creative professionals who guide their creative processes and help them hone their skills to gain traction. 

Around the country, similar programs have helped artists, particularly in smaller cities like Berea, Ky., access the opportunities, mentorship, and exposure that were once only available in art capitals of the nation.

Artlink's 212 is designed to help artists and innovators turn talents into full-time careers.

Since the 212 program launched in February 2018, McClure says he has been happy with the response and results in Fort Wayne. Eleven resident artists are currently working on projects, ranging from graphic novels and animation to interactive art and film, as part of the program's first cohort based at Artlink in downtown Fort Wayne.

“In that short period of time, we’ve seen tremendous momentum from resident advancement, potential project financing to heightened program awareness, and an influx of applicants,” McClure says.

Artlink is launching an art incubator program for creators nationwide at the Auer Center for the Arts & Culture in downtown Fort Wayne.

This movement is part of the reason Electric Works is a potential home for 212 and its residents in the future.

If the project to renovate the General Electric campus comes to fruition, 212 would join other private and public entities on the Electric Works campus committed to areas of focus, including innovation, education, residential, commercial, community, and hospitality.

“While our organization has no official plans to move the program to Electric Works, we can see how the space could offer a growing program like 212 and its offshoot programs a unique setting in which to thrive and grow,” McClure says. “With the tremendous growth of 212 in such a short time, we see Electric Works as a potential next logical location for the 212 program when the time is right to scale up.”

Artlink Contemporary Gallery offers several exhibitions throughout the year.

Laura Hilker serves as 212 program Co-Founder and Advisory Board Co-Chair with McClure. She believes the campus's size, central location, and open-ended potential for a robust, innovative space all make it a good fit for 212. 

"We definitely have our sights set on the Electric Works as a viable and promising option," she says.

Speaking of viability, the importance of a healthy creative economy in northeast Indiana's future cannot be overstated, Hilker emphasizes.

“The creative economy is important because it is the connective tissue that enhances a community's worldview, its culture, its relationships within the community, and its relationships in other communities, other societies, even other nations," she says. "A thriving creative economy develops a cohesive community, and when communities are cohesive, they are stronger.”

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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