What is Make It Your Own Mural Fest? Learn about 11 new murals coming to Northeast Indiana this fall

It's been said, "If you build it, they will come."

But the philosophy behind the first Mural Fest in Indiana has a slight caveat to that adage: "If you let them build it, they will come."

That's the spirit driving 11 new, permanent murals in 11 regional communities across Northeast Indiana this fall. The idea behind the Make It Your Own Mural Fest Sept. 8-18, 2020, is to infuse downtowns with public art created by muralists across the region and the U.S. as a means of attracting and retaining talent—particularly among the creative class.

The added benefit is enhancing the quality of life in cities and creating a fun, regionwide outdoor art display for locals to explore in months and years to come.

Input Fort Wayne sat down with Jaclyn Goldsborough, Digital Marketing and Public Relations Manager for the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership, to ask five questions about the Make It Your Own Mural Fest.

Jaclyn Goldsborough is Digital Marketing and Public Relations Manager for the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership.

IFW: We’ve been hearing a lot about Mural Fest in September. Give us a quick overview of what it is. 

JG: Make It Your Own Mural Fest is all about talent. It’s an innovative, creative activation of the Make It Your Own brand intended to enhance Northeast Indiana and Fort Wayne's efforts to drive talent attraction and talent retention. Our region encompasses 16 cities throughout 11 counties, with each offering its own distinct vibe. Make It Your Own Mural Fest is an opportunity to invest in quality of life through public art and celebrate Northeast Indiana’s unique communities.

Over 11 days, regional and national artists will create 11 high-quality murals—one in each of the 11 counties of Northeast Indiana. The regional mural festival concept is the first of its kind in the state of Indiana and will build on the quality of place efforts accelerated by the Regional Cities Initiative, growing regional pride and garnering significant attention and exposure nationally. Those who live here know that Northeast Indiana is a community of makers, doers, creators, and innovators, and we want the world to know this is a region where creators are wanted! Murals add interest to downtown buildings across Northeast Indiana.

IFW: At the Regional Partnership, you’re working to attract and retain talent and businesses in Northeast Indiana. How does this festival play into your work? 

JG: Mural Fest is about bringing a spotlight to our communities. Murals attract attention and economic benefit. According to Americans for the Arts, public art engages a community, engenders a sense of pride and community identity, and enhances a community’s quality of life. Mural implementation is a key component of the strategy to engage with the public and activate underutilized public space.

We designed Mural Fest with several specific outcomes in mind. First, Mural Fest will amplify Northeast Indiana’s quality of place, supporting our region’s talent attraction and retention goals. Additionally, this initiative highlights the unique attributes of our communities, creating opportunities for residents and visitors to engage and experience Northeast Indiana through public art, driving social media, and media exposure for the region. The initiative also offers mentorship opportunities for emerging regional artists, which should catalyze future public art creation. This important element of the regional branding strategy will make Northeast Indiana nationally known and position it in a positive, forward-thinking light.

Artists will be painting murals in cities across Northeast Indiana for the public to watch and enjoy.

IFW: Mural Fest has been in the works for a long time, but now, we’re in the middle of a global pandemic. How will COVID-19 impact the festival?

JG: As the entire world grapples with the effects of COVID-19, we knew we had to adjust our plans and expectations for Make It Your Own Mural Fest. While we believed from the beginning that we would be able to persevere in creating the murals because our festival is inherently socially distanced (11 counties is a large geographic area), we did have to pivot in several ways.

First, we understood quickly that to keep our artists and the region safe we must follow national travel policies and adjust our plans to welcome international artists. That adjustment was difficult, yet it allowed us to increase our focus on securing national and regional artists. If you look at the list of 11 artists, you’ll see we are featuring such an eclectic and balanced list of national and regional artists. From Rochester, New York to Minsk, Belarus, and Fort Wayne to Huntington, our roster of talented muralists reflects the creativity and vibrancy of our regional communities.

We also had to adjust our final unveiling event, which was planned in partnership with the Downtown Improvement District and Art This Way’s Art Crawl. While we are not welcoming thousands of people to downtown Fort Wayne for the final unveiling, we will kick off a photo contests with thousands of dollars in regional prizes on Friday, Sept. 18. Instead of having an in-person event to showcase the murals, the photo contest will allow us to connect with the community and see the murals from their viewpoint.

We will entice residents and visitors to explore the Northeast Indiana Make It Your Own Mural Trail to experience the murals and the unique quality of life assets in each county.

A previously painted mural of Walt Whitman in progress in downtown Fort Wayne.

IFW: Who are some of the artists who will be painting these murals, and how was their art selected for each community? 

JG: Mural Fest uses public art to showcase our unique communities and incredible artists at the same time. Make It Your Own Mural Fest is a result of true collaboration in Northeast Indiana thanks to the leaders and volunteers who devoted countless hours to the process. From the selection of each community’s wall to the approval of the design concepts, county-level leaders played a significant role in the curation of Mural Fest.

Alexandra Hall with AH Public Spaces coordinated the artistic jury selection process. The jury was made up of a selection of knowledgeable artists and representatives selected by the County Steering Committees. Although it was challenging for the selection committees in each county to choose just 11 designs from the talented pool of applicants, the muralists selected represent a diverse and eclectic mix of artistic aesthetics. The artists embraced each county’s story to create a mural that was authentic and genuine.

We are pleased to welcome highly sought-after artists such as internationally-renowned muralists Key Detail of Belarus, to multi-disciplinary creatives like Shawn Dunwoody, of Rochester, New York. We also have prolific and experienced regional artists like Tim Parsley and Amy Buchs participating, and a few are even installing murals in their own hometown.

We’re thankful these artists are sharing their talent and contributing to Make It Your Own Mural Fest.

Mural Fest features local and national artists, like Claudio "Remix 1" Rico.

IFW: In your work with cities around the region, what has the response to this festival been like so far? Tell us what these murals mean to our regional communities.

JG: The response from the region has been outstanding! From working directly with local economic developers and mayors to tourism leaders and regional artists, collaboration is the secret sauce to Mural Fest. Everyone is looking forward to seeing the murals appear in 11 short days, including seeing different phases of the mural installation.

We are not the only ones excited about the impact of Mural Fest, either. National media is also paying attention to Mural Fest and Northeast Indiana’s unique and diverse quality of life. We’ve enjoyed coverage from publications like Midwest Living and Artsy, just to name a few.

Murals can instill a sense of pride in communities.

In the end, we’ve always said the impact that Mural Fest creates in Northeast Indiana is not fully realized until the mural festival is over because, when it’s over, we now have 11 new regional quality of life assets to market nationally as we tell the region’s story broadly to attract top talent and businesses.

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Read more articles by Kara Hackett.

Kara Hackett is a Fort Wayne native fascinated by what's next for northeast Indiana how it relates to other up-and-coming places around the world. After working briefly in New York City and Indianapolis, she moved back to her hometown where she has discovered interesting people, projects, and innovations shaping the future of this place—and has been writing about them ever since. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @karahackett.