Why do you support public art in Downtown Fort Wayne? Three Art Crawl participants fill us in

If you've visited Fort Wayne in recent years, you've likely seen an increase in public art Downtown. From alleyway murals and sculptures to live music and events, art is contributing to the city center's growth, character, and cultural vibrancy.

But along with the art itself, part of what makes Downtown a vibrant, creative place to be is the local people behind these projectsthe creators investing their time and talents to cultivate unique experiences here. 

Live music, live artist performance, and a gallery show are set up at each location on the Art Crawl.Each year, an event that celebrates and advances artists and public art Downtown is the Art Crawl by Art This Way. The Art Crawl guides guests on a walking tour of various locations Downtown, each featuring live musical performances, live artist performances, food and drinks, and gallery shows. Tickets are required to attend, and money raised from the event goes directly to funding more public art projects Downtown.

During the 2022 Art Crawl scheduled for Friday, September 23, from 5–9 p.m., many local artists will be featured, including Theopolis Smith III (a.k.a. Phresh Laundry), Hilarie Couture, Bread & Circus Gallery, and more. Outdoor venues Downtown, like the Porch Off Calhoun, Otter Alley, and PNC Plaza, will host special events, too. 

Input Fort Wayne sat down with several of the artists and vendors in this year's Art Crawl to learn why they support public art Downtown and what they’re looking forward to about this year’s festivities. 

Theoplis Smith III, the artist known as Phresh Laundry, talks with Art Crawl attendees.

DJ Polaris (Ghani Zahir)

“Bringing people out to see such great and diverse art adds to the culture, and that is always a proponent of growth for this city.”

DJ PolarisGhani Zahir, a.k.a. DJ Polaris is part of E.A.R. Records/Music Lovers Lounge and does music production, engineering, and mobile DJing in and around the Fort Wayne area. At the Art Crawl, he’ll be providing musical background for performer Dave Lough.

For DJ Polaris, who was born and raised here, events like these are important to Fort Wayne’s creative identity, and a way to create a sense of community. 

“Bringing people out to see such great and diverse art adds to the culture, and that is always a proponent of growth for this city,” he says. 

Last year he participated in Art Crawl with Theopolis Smith, a.k.a. Phresh Laundry. He says he enjoyed being able to create a cool vibe during his first Art Crawl experience and was excited to receive a call asking him to return this year.

Although the event’s lineup is quite wide-ranging, including live bands and artists at each location, DJ Polaris says he’s looking forward to seeing talent in the shape of the next generation.

“I mainly enjoy the new, undiscovered talents from this city," he says. "It’s always good to be on the ground floor of the art movements anywhere to witness future greatness. Helping new and established artists further develop is a great way to build your city’s art scene.”

Gary Skeel, Cooper Spoon

“It’s a great way for people to check out Downtown, walk around, and view all the amazing murals. They can meet and watch a few artists paint live, and listen to some of the city’s hottest musicians! What’s there not to enjoy?!’”

Gary Skeel, owner of Copper Spoon.
One of the caterers this year includes the local restaurant and bar, Copper Spoon, which has been a participant for three years. Gary Skeel, Owner of the Copper Spoon, says he’s happy to offer complimentary appetizers and a cash bar at 111 W. Berry Street for the Art Crawl. Local artists will be on display, and musicians will be performing on two separate floors. Skeel says he enjoys partaking in the event each year. 

“It’s a great way for people to check out Downtown, walk around, and view all the amazing murals," he says. "They can meet and watch a few artists paint live, and listen to some of the city’s hottest musicians. What’s there not to enjoy?!’”

Public art is an integral, eye-catching part of Copper Spoon’s business, too. This past spring, Copper Spoon worked with Art This Way to have a mural painted on their outdoor bar, Sidecar. Skeel says it's their way to give back to a supportive Downtown community. 

“There are close to 3,000 people expected to participate in the Art Crawl this year,” he says. “You make a lot of connections while appreciating all the talented artists and musicians of Fort Wayne.”

Skeel believes the Art Crawl helps bring people together in a world where division seems more prevalent than ever. 

“It’s nice to remember we’re all part of the same community, trying to make it special, and events like this bring us back together,” he says.

Alicia Pyle, PyleStyle Events and Academy

“Local community events are the heart of our core values, both collectively, as a band, and personally, as a small business owner. We support local musicians and local artplain and simple.”

Alicia Pyle
Local musician Alicia Pyle will be taking centerstage with her band, Alicia Pyle & the Locals, performing at the Porch Off Calhoun near 816 Pint & Slice. Pyle says the band is comprised of varying musicians, which helps keep things fresh with each performance. 
“This band is a new project, and a marriage of our two former local power groups: the Alicia Pyle Quartet and the APQ-Harmonic,” she says. “We play weekly for events in Northeast Indiana and love performing a multitude of styles including pop, rock, jazz, soul, R&B, Latin, and Reggae. It’s so much fun featuring high-profile local musicians and vocalists from other bands, as well. Our core value is to ‘keep it local’ and feed back into the growing community that’s grown us.”
Pyle appreciates another chance to participate in the annual Art Crawl. She says events and organizations, like Art This Way, are important not only to her and her fellow musicians, but also to humanity itself.
“Local community events are the heart of our core values, both collectively, as a band, and personally, as a small business owner,” she says. “We support local musicians and local artplain and simple.”
Development of the broader Fort Wayne region has been great to see for Pyle, who grew up in the Huntington area. She’s happy a generation of change is taking place for future artists and creatives in Northeast Indiana.
"There was a time when people didn’t understand that you had to pay musicians to perform, and they didn’t come out to support our shows," Pyle says. "I’m so grateful that time has passed, and that we’re living in the era we are now where artists and musicians are being respected and celebrated."

She credits much of the positive change and advancement in the arts locally to those who work tirelessly behind the scenes to support artists, events, and programsparticularly local women, like Alex Hall of Art This Way, Julia Meek of "Meet the Music" at 89.1 WBOI, and Susan Mendenhall of Arts United.
“Things are different now because of the blood, sweat, and tears these women, and many other women, have put in for the last 20 years,” Pyle says.
She means business, too. In fact, for the local band leader, two of her businesses, PyleStyle Events and PyleStyle Academy, revolve around the arts. PyleStyle works with nearly 200 local musicians and bands, booking live music for fundraisers, corporate events, weddings, venues, festivals, arts and culture, and community events. 

In her work with PyleStyle Academy, the musician works with more than 80 clients privately, helping them master various skill levels of piano, vocal training, ukulele, and composition/arranging of music. She enjoys the personalized lessons and witnessing milestones of students who started working with her at age three and are now celebrating high school graduation and acceptance into music school. 

“I’m so grateful for what we’ve done here for the next generation,” Pyle says. “It’s so easy to show my students the way and to continue sharing with my friends, now that we’ve actually ‘paved roads’ artistically speaking. We don’t have to explain what we’re doing anymore or prove our value; it’s starting to become the community standard.”

A group of Art Crawl attendees walk to another location Downtown.
Attend the 2022 Art Crawl

The Art Crawl takes place Friday, September 23, from 5-9 p.m. Tickets are available online. Money raised will go directly to funding public art in Downtown Fort Wayne.
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