A new mural project is diversifying public art in Fort Wayne and extending it into neighborhoods

In recent years, Fort Wayne has been defining itself on its own terms, and this month, the city continues to shape its identity with the addition of three new murals, honoring hometown heroes through the Faces of the Fort Public Art Project.

Developed by the Fort Wayne Public Art Commission, Faces of the Fort is a celebration of local individuals and their contributions to making Fort Wayne a better place. In the summer of 2020, the public was invited to submit stories nominating leaders, community members, and everyday people who have contributed to improving lives in Fort Wayne, with an emphasis on civil rights, social justice, and migration to Northeast Indiana. These stories and individuals then informed the designs of three large-scale murals throughout the city.

“Our goal with Faces of the Fort is to not only showcase people who are doing amazing work in the community, but to create this vibe that everyone is welcome here,” says Réna Bradley, Chair of the Faces of the Fort Committee. “The idea is that any member of this community can be celebrated, can be lifted up, and that we are willing to celebrate people who aren’t just historic, who didn’t just live 200 years ago, and who don’t all look the same.”

Réna Bradley, Chair on the Faces of the Fort Committee, stands in front of the Southwest Faces of the Fort mural at 1818 Bluffton Rd.

Six of the story submissions were nominated, and those individuals’ faces are now depicted in three murals throughout the city. The murals are in the Southeast, Southwest, and Northeast quadrants to highlight the stories of different neighborhoods, diversify public art, and extend the benefits of art and beautification beyond downtown. 

Faces of the Fort helps to preserve the history of Fort Wayne’s diverse neighborhoods, too, engaging the community at the grassroots level. That's another aspect of what excites Bradley about the project. As an architect formerly in Detroit and a Community Development Director for Bridge of Grace Compassionate Ministries Center in Southeast Fort Wayne today, she's keenly aware of the power of places.

“The spaces around us impact us in ways that we realize and in ways that we don’t," Bradley says. "Art and the built environment are incredibly important to how people feel in a community. So having people who immigrated here, having People of Color, people of different sexual orientations or backgrounds or religions on our murals is important.”

Réna Bradley, Chair on the Faces of the Fort Committee, stands in front of the Southwest Faces of the Fort mural at 1818 Bluffton Rd.

Celebrating people from different backgrounds and creating a more equitable future for all residents is a key part of Faces of the Fort. Thus, placing murals in neighborhoods themselves ties into the theme of diversifying public art and who’s represented in it. 

The community members selected for Faces of the Fort murals are both living and historic. The first mural at 1514 St. Joseph Blvd. depicts current Fort Wayne City Councilman Glynn Hines, nominated for his work in civic engagement and fighting for justice for underserved communities. It also shows Founder of the Resiliency Foundation, Genevieve Meyer, who is working to end child marriage in the state of Indiana and across the nation. 

A mural at 4335 S. Anthony Blvd. depicts Irene Paxia, nominated for her work with Amani Family Services, as well as the historic William E. Warfield, Fort Wayne’s first Black real estate investor.

The second mural at 4335 S. Anthony Blvd. depicts Irene Paxia, nominated for her work with Amani Family Services in interpretation services and community support for immigrants and refugees, as well as the historic William E. Warfield, Fort Wayne’s first Black real estate investor and publisher of the city’s first Black newspaper, The Vindicator

The third mural at 1818 Bluffton Rd. features the Director at Language Services Network of Fort Wayne, Raquel Kline, nominated for her work in translation and interpretation services for immigrants and minorities, and Thomas Smith, Co-Founder and CEO of the Smith Academy for Excellence, who is known for being a trailblazing educator in the Fort Wayne community. 

A Faces of the Fort mural at 4335 S. Anthony Blvd. depicts Irene Paxia, nominated for her work with Amani Family Services.

While most of these names and faces are modern hometown heroes, Warfield is someone from local history who hasn’t always been celebrated in the city’s storytelling. While he was one of the most prominent Black individuals across the Midwest in the early 20th century who owned a 21-bedroom mansion and boarding rooms for Black travelers in Fort Wayne, he has largely been an “ignored” history-maker. That is what led Leah H. Reeder, Chairwoman of Fort Wayne’s African/African-American Historical Society Museum (AAAHSM), to submit Warfield's story for Faces of the Fort.

“He’s just a very unique gentleman, and I think his story needs to be known in the community,” Reeder says. “I think that the community can have pride in different stories, and every narrative is different.” 

A Faces of the Fort mural in Southeast Fort Wayne depicts the historic William E. Warfield, Fort Wayne’s first Black real estate investor and publisher of the city’s first Black newspaper, The Vindicator.

Once six stories were chosen for the murals, the Faces of the Fort committee selected three local and national artists to bring the stories to life. Artists Benjamin Duke and Kacy Jackson are based out of Michigan and Kentucky, respectively, and Mitchell Egly is based in Fort Wayne. Each of the artists installed a mural this month.

The project hits home for Egly, a native of Fort Wayne who recently moved back to the city after years of living in other parts of the country. He is painting the mural at 1818 Bluffton Rd.

“I moved home to Fort Wayne to give back to the town that gave me so much,” says Egly. “I’ve been looking for a connection between what I do as a professional and to offer something that my hometown can benefit from.”

Muralist Mitchell Egly works on the Southwest Faces of the Fort mural at 1818 Bluffton Rd.

The timing was serendipitous, as Egly had moved back to Fort Wayne just a few months before finding out he was chosen as an artist for the project. Egly represents a growing population of Fort Wayne natives who are returning home after moving elsewhere and are getting reacquainted with a revitalized city that is, in many ways, different from the one they grew up in.

“Culturally, geographically, historically, there are a lot of things that have happened here and are happening that a lot of the country might miss,” says Egly. “I guarantee that Faces of the Fort will have a wide impact on a lot of different peoples’ lives, and if all I have to do is offer a little bit of my time to make thousands of people aware of a little tidbit of history, that’s amazing. I just love seeing Fort Wayne come out of the shadows and shine its light on the world and let me be part of it.”

Muralist Mitchell Egly works on the Southwest Faces of the Fort mural at 1818 Bluffton Rd.

One thing that rings true for everyone involved in the project is the hope that Faces of the Fort will help inspire the younger generation to become local muralists or leaders themselves someday.

“I felt a lot of connection in the neighborhood because I felt like I was at home and seeing kids that I can inspire,” says Jackson of his work on the S. Anthony Blvd. mural. “You never know if some kid’s going to see me and say ‘Okay, this guy looks like me, I can be a muralist one day.’ It means the start of something great, I believe.”

Muralist Mitchell Egly works on the Southwest Faces of the Fort mural at 1818 Bluffton Rd.

Faces of the Fort is also a way for Fort Wayne to show what values and actions are important to its citizens. 

“I would like for younger citizens of the city to realize, maybe there’s something they can do that will be noteworthy,” says Reeder. “Maybe this can encourage another young person to be that artist or that figure who helps other people. Not necessarily to be patted on the back, but because it’s a good thing to do. We have to reach out and help one another.”

A completed Faces of the Fort mural in Southeast Fort Wayne by artist Kacy Jackson at 4335 S. Anthony Blvd. 

Placards will be placed at the murals to share the stories of the hometown heroes depicted and to help the stories continue to spread and reinforce who Fort Wayne is and wants to be as a community. 

“One of my hopes is that people drive past these murals, and if they’re curious enough, not to just stop by and take the selfie, but to stop by and learn a little more about their culture and hopefully glean some type of inspiration from that," Bradley says. "These are everyday people doing something great, and if they can do it, then other folks in the community can do it, too."
Signup for Email Alerts