Meet the visionary behind Creator Space Fort Wayne, a networking event for local creatives

It’s a phrase commonly repeated to those looking for a job– It’s not what you know, it’s who you know. While skills and knowledge are important, connections can make all the difference in someone’s career. 

It’s a philosophy that Fort Wayne resident Zach Vessels unintentionally tested after he graduated from Bowling Green State University in 2014 with a degree in visual communication technology.

Creator Space Founder Zach Vessels at the Creator Space 1 Year Bash at Papi's Pizza on The Landing.“I finished a semester early, came back home and just hit the job market,” he says. “And my frame of mind at that time was I want to move anywhere outside of Fort Wayne. I think I had an Excel spreadsheet with like 200 different job applications I applied for across any state in the United States and I was just like, I'm ready to go spread my wings.”

His big job search drummed up a only few interviews and even fewer callbacks. In the interviews he did get, Vessels says he was often met with critiques of his lack of experience or credentials.

“It was kind of like kind of a bummer just because I was like, man, did I just go to college and not get into anything I wanted to do?” Vessels says.

Zach Vessels, founder of Creator Space, films during the Creator Space 1 Year Bash.The pace of looking for a job felt like a screeching halt compared to the atmosphere of a college campus.

“When I was out of college, I didn't know how to get in touch with anybody,” he says. “You know, you go from college where you're around everybody who's your same age, you're energetic, you're all doing things. There's so much going on with community activities to you go back home and you've been removed for four years essentially and you just don't even know where to begin. That's kind of what I was facing.”

He recalls coming across some networking events and programs for professionals, but those typically involved memberships. Plus, as someone new to the workforce, Vessels says he didn’t always feel welcomed or like he belonged in those spaces. 

Eventually, Vessel had the opportunity to start working for his church, The Chapel, on their media team. He says the position was essentially crafted for him because of the connections he had with leadership at the church and previous internships he had completed at The Chapel.

“They knew I was kind of struggling trying to get into my field and they were just very open because they knew that I've done some cool work for them in the past, so that connection alone was what got me my first job.”

Harrison Beard networks during the Creator Space 1 Year Bash at Papi's Pizza.That job helped kickstart his career in videography. As he gained experience on the media team, he started freelancing. He also started to follow and connect with other local creatives during this time. One of those connections helped him land a full-time job at One Lucky Guitar, a Fort Wayne-based creative agency.

He says that job helped him plant roots and really connect to what Fort Wayne had to offer, giving him a new perspective on the city he once wanted to leave. 

“I kind of just had that mindset– it was probably just young and naive of not kind of like giving it a chance or knowing how to give it a chance,” Vessel says of his younger self. “And as I got older and stuck around and invested to see what it would be like, that's when my eyes really got open to everything that's great here.”

Zach Vessels, Creator Space founder, talks with Guy Zensei during the Creator Space 1 Year Bash.But Vessel was not quick to forget the challenges he faced looking for work as a creative. His experience made him very mindful of how the people he knew could shape his work and lifelong career.

“I think connections are huge for you know getting into any type of field or job,” he says. “When I was applying to all those different jobs elsewhere I had zero connections. A lot of them were Indeed postings and just very impersonal.”

Through the course of his almost five years at One Lucky Guitar, Vessels was able to connect to other creatives and grow his network. Having once felt like a “lone wolf” in the landscape of Fort Wayne’s videography scene, he was able to discover a whole network of not just videographers, but creatives of all types. 

“Once I started having all these different producers, writers, and creative directors all have their hands on a project, it took my work to a huge next level and I really opened my mind,” he says. “Collaboration is a really good thing.”

Maxwell Krueger "Max Wells" performs during the Creator Space 1 Year Bash.Those connections also allowed him to look at the next generation of creatives entering Fort Wayne’s scene, sparking inspiration for him.

“Working at One Lucky Guitar and being so in touch and seeing just like the young generation making some of the coolest content I could never dream of making at that age, I'm like I bet these people just need to get in a room together and just show what Fort Wayne has to offer so we can keep growing and making these different collaborations,” Vessel says.

Inspired by the somewhat hidden creativity he was discovering in Fort Wayne, Vessels decided that it was time to break away from the typical networking models he’d seen in the city and start something more relaxed and welcoming.

“I kind of had this rough idea of an event for creatives in the community to just kind of come, hang out, maybe enjoy some food, and just build those connections and relationships,” he explains.

Jade Farias, center, networks during the Creator Space 1 Year Bash.So in the spring of last year, he launched Creator Space Fort Wayne to get creatives in the same room, foster connections, and encourage collaboration.

The free, monthly event is open to anyone who might fall under the category of “creative” either through hobby or employment. Throughout the past year, painters, photographers, videographers, influencers, writers, journalists, musicians, poets, graphic designers, woodworkers, and more all have attended Creator Space to connect with their peers.

As interest in the events grew, he brought on a committee of four other creatives, Daniel Carpenter, Adrien Gentié, Kai Carter, and Evan Mower, to help plan programming.

From left: Madie Vessels, Miranda Smith and Evan Mower connect during the Creator Space 1 Year Bash.“It became quickly noticeable that people wanted to ask questions and have workshops and hear from other people who are doing it,” he says. “And so a bit of our program kind of evolved from that just doing these Creator Spotlights where we try to show love to a community member that's doing something really cool that we know our audience would enjoy.”

In February, they spotlighted Stephanie Bonner, a Fort Wayne transplant and content creator who answered questions about what inspires her to create and what she loves about Fort Wayne. Her hour-long Q&A was followed by an hour of networking, where creatives introduced themselves to one another, swapped Instagram handles, and talked well past the 8 p.m. end time.

No matter the programming style, the Creator Space team keeps the tone casual and laid back to help ensure the environment feels welcoming, regardless of creative medium or experience.

Maxwell Krueger "Max Wells" performs during the Creator Space 1 Year Bash.“I wanted to make it so it was an open environment where anybody can feel welcome whether they're in high school trying to figure out what they want to get into or you know a seasoned professional that's been doing this for 10 years,” Vessels explains.

He first brought the idea to leaders at the Cinema Center, which now serves as a sort of home base for the events. Vessels says Creator Space would have not been possible without the support of Cinema Center and other local businesses like J.K. O’Donnell’s or Papi’s Pizza, who often help by providing snacks for the events. 

In just a year, Vessels has been able to witness multiple connections form in the community, resulting in collaborative content. Attendees are encouraged to enter their information into Creator Space’s publicly available database as another means to connect creatives.

He says a great example of artists connecting through Creator Space is Maxwell Krueger or Max Wells, a local creative with a long list of talents, and Jordan Bentz, a local filmmaker, who were able to connect at an event and then later work together on a video shoot for a local restaurant, Zing.

Maxwell Krueger "Max Wells" performs during the Creator Space 1 Year Bash.The connections and support found at Creator Space have also encouraged Vessels to take a leap of faith, leave his job at One Lucky Guitar earlier this year, and start working full-time as a videographer under his own video production company, TopSphere Media.

The program has not only helped creatives connect, but it is also gaining recognition from key players in Fort Wayne’s creative community, like Arts United. Creator Space was a nominee for the 2024 Arts United Awards, which celebrates the people, organizations, and projects that make a significant impact on the arts and culture community in the region.

Among Arts United’s strategic priorities is a commitment to creating a stronger, inclusive, and highly collaborative network of arts and culture nonprofits and artists in the region via the Northeast Indiana Regional Arts Council. Rachelle Reinking, director of communications for Arts United says they maintain this commitment because a strong arts and culture community has a big impact on the community as a whole.

A camera filming during the Creator Space 1 Year Bash at Papi's Pizza on The Landing.“A strong arts and culture community effects more than options for weekend plans,” she says. “Arts and culture enhance quality of life, stimulate economic growth, and attract and retain talent to a region.”

Data from America for the Arts, of which Arts United served as a reach partner in 2023, shows that in the Greater Fort Wayne region, arts and culture audiences spent a total of $38.9 million on event-related spending, such as parking, dining, and childcare. 

“A robust arts and culture scene also attracts both businesses and individuals looking to relocate,” Reinking says. “Over time, this affects the local economy not only for current members of the community but also for future generations that will live and work there.”

She goes on to explain that fostering connections between organizations and individuals is a crucial part of the creative ecosystem that allows for new opportunities and growth that weren’t possible before.

DJ SheCutIt during the Creator Space 1 Year Bash at Papi's Pizza.“I personally was glad to see Creator Space as a nominee for the 2024 Arts United Awards,” she says. “When you’re an emerging artist or new to an area, it can be difficult to break out of your own social bubble. Seeing grassroots efforts toward building connections between individual creatives highlights the desire for community among artists, rather than competition. Our creative ecosystem is stronger in numbers, and much like networking opportunities provide new avenues for organizations, individual creatives can grow, too.”

While Creator Space might not have won an award this year, Vessels says it’s an honor to be noticed as part of Fort Wayne’s growing creative scene. 

“Once it clicked for me that Fort Wayne is obviously it's a very great place to settle down, like this is a place that I could see myself really investing in not only my career but my personal life, I was like, man, I want to do what I can then to make it exciting,” he says.

He hopes that the work he does now will have a lasting impact on Fort Wayne’s arts community.

Creator Space Founder Zach Vessels talks with guests during the Creator Space 1 Year Bash.“Maybe has a lasting impact to help creators that are even younger than me just getting started in their careers,” Vessel says. “Get them excited about staying in Fort Wayne investing in it and saying, ‘Hey, you can stand out here, you can do the stuff you love to do right here in your hometown and you can do it with people that are really talented.’”

Creator Space hosts free, monthly networking events. To find out more, or to learn about upcoming events, follow them on Instagram.

This article is part of a series made possible by support from Arts Midwest. Through this support, Input Fort Wayne is proud to partner with Creator Space to host a series of events highlighting emerging artists and encouraging connectivity for local creatives.
Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.

Read more articles by Brittany Smith.

Brittany Smith is Input Fort Wayne's Managing Editor. Previously she served as Assistant Editor and participated in the College Input Program. She also volunteers for Northeast Indiana Public Radio.