What would an arts district mean for Fort Wayne artists?

Fort Wayne artist Peter Lupkin straddles the past and present in more ways than one. He works for the family business, William L. Lupkin Designs, at 1012 Broadway in downtown Fort Wayne. Keeping an ages-old craft alive, the team offers the services of total design, fabrication, and installation of leaded stained glass, mosaics and murals. They’ve also earned a reputation for the artful restoration of religious, commercial and residential stained glass.

Peter— who’s known for his narrative paintings — works out of a loft apartment that flanks his father’s workshop. But it wasn’t that long ago that the block was quiet and even blighted in his estimation. About a dozen years ago, he and his father saw an opportunity to not only expand the family business but also revive an area that was once a hotspot of activity

Artist Peter Lupkin works on a painting in studio.“The building had sat vacant for years at that point and we needed to expand the studio,” Peter reflects. “But my father had no use for a gutted apartment on the top. So we worked out a deal where we’d split the mortgage and divide this building, which was very affordable.” 

Peter says that while the investment has paid off on several fronts, the reality is that gentrification of the Broadway Corridor and adjacent areas comes with a price. For instance, he says that his family could never afford to purchase these buildings at the current market rate. 

A map and sketches decorate a wall in Peter Lupkin's studio.And he’s likely not alone in that matter. While his artist peer Terry Ratliff has a gallery just down the street, he’s an anomaly and doesn’t necessarily represent the typical Fort Wayne emerging artist’s situation. 

Fort Wayne has made moves in recent years to support local artists, such as the creation of the public art commission. Events like the annual Broadway Street Stroll have helped the cause, too, because they introduce the public to artists and their work.

These initiatives came out of the city’s Broadway Strategic Plan, which was intended to provide area businesses with strategies for building capacity and skills to promote their businesses, encourage preservation and revitalize the business district.

All of these efforts are a great start. However, Peter would like to see further investment in helping artists grow and thrive in the city’s urban core. The Broadway Corridor could have greater potential with the right vision and resources, he says. 

“You can't call yourself an arts district and not have artists living and working (there) if it's too expensive,” he says. “When you look at the costs of apartments around here, I don't think I could afford to rent them.”

Artist Peter Lupkin, and his cat, in his art studio.With that in mind, Peter says the answer is to be intentional by offering programs that address several quality-of-life elements, like housing, community, placemaking and neighborhood revitalization. In Indianapolis, the nonprofit art and design organization Big Car Collaborative is leading that charge. Most notably, the group opened several dedicated art spaces and facilitates affordable artist housing on Cruft Street and advocates for a safer and more walkable village.

While Fort Wayne is smaller and possibly lacks the budget for developments of these scales, Peter says city leaders here don’t have to play it small. For instance, offering more art crawls and events could help the public engage more with the artist community on Broadway and beyond — and support them financially. 

“A lot of people have driven by these buildings for the entirety of their life and have no idea what's inside,” he says. “I think it’s neat to have an opportunity to open those (studios) up. It'd be great if there were even more spaces —  20 studios that you could walk through.”

Artist Peter Lupkin in his studio.This vision for growth, however, might be at odds with Electric Works’ expansion. As home prices rise around the development, Peter wonders if Fort Wayne will ever see the day that working artists can afford to live and work in the urban core. 

“Over the past decade, houses in the West Central Neighborhood that once were divided into apartments have been converted back to single-family homes," the Journal Gazette reported in August 2020. "Houses in the area are listed at up to $455,000 on Zillow.com, a real estate website.”

That data is in line with trends reported by other organizations. For instance, a 2020 National Community Reinvestment Coalition study says Fort Wayne is showing early signs of gentrification, particularly as downtown and its nearby neighborhoods see reinvestment.

Artist Peter Lupkin works on a painting in studio.While there may be more questions than answers about how gentrification might inform Fort Wayne’s artist scene, Peter is cautiously optimistic. Still, he hopes that the corridor maintains its quirkiness through and despite future redevelopment. And the creative class, he says, is a key ingredient you can’t overlook. 

“I’m very enthusiastic about a lot of the things that are happening here,” he says. “I hope that it doesn't get to be an area where it's like, ‘Oh, I actually no longer belong down here.’’
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Lauren Caggiano is a freelance contributor for Input Fort Wayne. A 2007 graduate of the University of Dayton, she returned to Northeast Indiana to pursue a career. She currently writes for several local, regional, and national publications.