Making space for anyone who calls themselves ‘creative’ in Fort Wayne

Olivia Lehman is a creative. She works from home full time for the nonprofit Water For Good. And in her spare time, she teaches yoga.

But when Lehman left Fort Wayne after high school to attend college in Indianapolis, she thought she’d never come back to the Summit City.

“I didn’t feel like there was a place for me here,” she reflects. Olivia Lehman

Today, about 10 years later, Lehman has decided to move back to her hometown, determined to carve out a place for creatives like herself to connect.

In January 2019, Lehman and a team of supporters launched a new event in Fort Wayne called CreativeMornings Fort Wayne (FTW). Part of a global movement that started in New York in 2008, CreativeMornings is a monthly event designed to give creators and innovators a free, accessible way to connect downtown on a regular basis over breakfast and creative conversation.

CreativeMornings chapters are now active in more than 200 cities worldwide. Lehman got the idea to launch a Fort Wayne chapter while volunteering for CreativeMornings Indianapolis.

It was there that she found the creative community she was missing in Fort Wayne.

“I loved every ounce of CreativeMornings,” she says. “I felt really accepted by the team. I volunteered a little bit and saw from that perspective what it’s all about it. Everyone would get together and leave feeling inspired.”

CreativeMornings takes places a different venues around downtown Fort Wayne each month.

Each month, CreativeMornings events begin with a time for coffee, doughnuts, and casual conversation before transitioning to a 15-20 presentation by a local community member and ending with a Q&A session.

It’s these types of people-first, low-barrier-to-entry events that make creative communities more connected and inclusive, Lehman says. But while she was excited to launch a Fort Wayne chapter of CreativeMornings, she needed to raise some local support first.

Around the world, CreativeMornings events are put on 100 percent by volunteers and donations. Local venues donate space, local coffee shops donate coffee, and all members of the event’s support team donate their time.

CreativeMornings is a monthly event that gives creatives the chance to connect.

When Lehman began reaching out to creatives and businesses in Fort Wayne about CreativeMonrings, she found an overwhelming network of support for the concept.

Artlink was in the process of exploring a CreativeMornings concept itself when Lehman reached out. Soon, the organization committed to supporting CreativeMornings by sponsoring the event's operational costs, marketing, and doughnuts.

"For us, CreativeMornings is an access point for the type of creative community Artlink's founder's aspired to create back in its early days," McClure says. "To see this community come together in this way is really something special."

Artist Matt Plett speaks on the theme of "End" in July 2019.

Along with Artlink, Conjure Coffee offered to provide coffee for CreativeMornings each month. Many longtime creatives in Fort Wayne showed their support for the concept, too.

Lehman recalls a particularly powerful conversation with Matt Kelley, the Founder of One Lucky Guitar boutique creative agency in downtown Fort Wayne, who was one of the event’s earliest and strongest champions.

“I was going through a really rough time last year, and we went out for coffee,” she says. “He had heard that I was interested in bringing the concept here, and he was like, ‘You’ve got to do this. We need this for the city.’”

It was this type of encouragement that Lehman says gave her the confidence to move forward with her concept. Appropriately, the inaugural CreativeMornings FTW talk was held at the B-Side venue at One Lucky Guitar.

Today, CreativeMornings events are held at different locations around downtown each month, and about half the attendees are what Lehman calls “regulars.”

Eden Hakimzadeh was CreativeMornings Fort Wayne's April speaker.

Since it launched in January, CreativeMornings has had a strong presence in the Fort Wayne creative community both on social media and in person. Tickets to its free events usually sell out within hours, filling up venues with 75-100 young—and young at heart—guests.

But more than numbers, CreativeMornings is about building the capacity for creative capital in cities and encouraging residents from all walks of life to come together and consider themselves “creative,” Lehman says.

This collaborative perspective and passion for bringing people together is rooted in her personal passion for humanitarian work and community building—a powerful combination that has directed her life.

“I started a small nonprofit called the Water Movement when I was in college,” Lehman says. “I love to plant things and bring people together. That's always been one of my passions. It was such an amazing experience to get people together who cared for something that they couldn’t even see—increasing access to clean water.”



In a similar way, Lehman is now bringing local creatives together around something they can’t always see: That they have something unique and innovative to offer their fellow citizens.

The beauty of CreativeMornings is that it recognizes that creativity is subjective, allowing for multiple viewpoints and voices at the table to talk about issues and ideas in the city. Each speaker and attendee brings with them their own set of experiences and approaches to solving problems—and that creates an environment ripe for interesting conversation, Lehman explains.

“At Creative Mornings FTW, we say everyone is creative,” she says. “It’s not an activity that is relegated to ad agencies or artists, but Lyft, drivers, librarians, and other people doing their jobs can be creative, too.”

For instance, she explains that a barista who’s perfected pouring coffee can be creative and have something to contribute to the city’s culture based on their unique perspective.

To give some of these voices a platform, CreativeMornings choose a different Fort Wayne-based creative to speak each month. Its speakers are chosen by the local volunteer crew based on a global monthly topic, like “inclusive,” “end,” or “justice.”

Videos of the speakers are then uploaded to the CreativeMornings website where they are posted alongside other speakers in cities around the world talking on the same subject, creating global creative conversations, too.

While the impact of creative conversations can be hard to quantify, Lehman says the CreativeMornings team hangs their hats on one overarching truth: “You can come to the talk representing any occupation, and you’ll likely walk away with some sort of inspiration.”

And when it comes to investing in creative culture, Fort Wayne is a city on the rise.

“Fort Wayne is ‘the city that saved itself,’” CreativeMornings FTW’s website says. “We don’t wait for things to happen. We have big ideas, and we make them happen, one at a time, defying expectations of what’s possible in the Midwest.”

Attend CreativeMornings Fort Wayne

CreativeMornings events are free and open to anyone who wants to contribute to Fort Wayne’s creative culture. All interested participants are asked to register online on the Monday before the event to reserve their spot.

Announcements will be made on CreativeMornings FTW’s websiteInstagramTwitter, and Facebook.

This story is part of a partnership between Artlink and inputfortwayne.com, focused on reporting about catalytic talent shaping "what's next" for northeast Indiana's art scene.

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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