Taste of the Arts is going virtual to provide a new type of festival experience during COVID-19

Since it began in 2009, the annual Taste of the Arts Festival has provided an opportunity to celebrate and support the rich diversity of Fort Wayne’s arts and cultural experiences. The festival is open to all, providing access to art without cost.

But as with almost all festivals and large public events in 2020, the Taste of the Arts has been impacted by COVID-19. So when its steering committee met via Zoom in March, the question of “Will this festival happen this year?” first popped into everyone’s minds.

As live music and events were put on hold for gig-based performers and the restaurant industry was hit hard by the pandemic, it was clear that this festival needed to happen in a creative way to support those affected now more than ever.

“We knew that we wanted to continue the mission of the festival––to celebrate the rich diversity of arts and cultural experiences in Northeast Indiana,” says Rachelle Reinking, Communications Manager at Arts United. “But the real question was ‘How can we do this safely?’”

Fort Wayne Dance Collective poses during a masked show.

When the steering committee officially made the decision to pivot to a virtual version of the festival, their technical partners helped them formulate the first Taste of the Arts Online.

The team at Ferguson Advertising, for example, wanted to create as close to a digital recreation of the traditional Taste of the Arts experience as possible. Their digital team worked to develop a Taste online experience that is accessible and user-friendly. With a map-centric interface, the Taste of the Arts site makes visitors feel like they’re physically experiencing the event on the downtown arts campus.

Arcpoint Productions, a Midwest-based production company specializing in audio, video, lighting, and other event related needs, generously stepped up as Taste of the Arts’ presenting partner. Matt Kuntz and the experienced team at Arcpoint made the online stages possible by filming and producing more than 30 local performances during the months of July and August. These pre-recorded shows will be available to festival-goers to view during Taste of the Arts. Derek Reeves of the Fort Wayne Philharmonic playing violin.

Like previous years of the festival, each of the performers donated their time and talents to present a regional showcase of local music, dance, theatre, and spoken word. Now, the festival is encouraging online attendees to directly support participating performers by tuning in to the virtual stages and donating to their individual virtual “tip jars.”

While the stages downtown will technically be empty for the event, online attendees may notice the multiple ghost lights on stage, which have more than an aesthetic reason for being there, Reinking says. In theatre tradition, the ghost light is a single lightbulb placed at center stage when the theatre is dark. Right now, thousands of theatres are dark around the country.

This year, Arts United is advocating for our local arts and culture nonprofits and independent artists. The individuals and organizations are learning to adapt to continue sharing their work––but they need the community’s support while that ghost light is burning, Reinking notes.

Like previous years, visual arts lovers can shop local from home, too, thanks to Artlink’s Art Market. The online marketplace will feature local and regional artists’ web stores to shop handmade crafts and goods directly from the makers.

Another aspect of the festival, Restaurant Row, also shifted gears as a result of COVID-19.

“Each year at Taste of the Arts, participating food and drink vendors generously share a portion of their revenue to help offset the cost of the live festival,” says Dan Ross, Vice President of Community Development at Arts United. “The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted us all, including our local restaurants, who have had to scale back operations to keep us all safe. This year, as a thank you, we’d like to show them some love by simply promoting them.”

Online attendees can support the local restaurants who have made an impact on this festival through the years and new partners by ordering carry-out or dining in.

Alicia Pyle of the Alicia Pyle Quartet singing.

NIPSCO STEAM Park moved online with the enthusiasm of Arts United’s partner organizations. More than 30 at-home STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Math) activities for kids from regional organizations will be available, both live and on-demand, throughout the day of the festival. From voice lessons with Fort Wayne Children’s Choir to creating nebula spin art with Science Central, children still can experience the hands-on activities with NIPSCO STEAM Park online.

A new project in partnership with the City of Fort Wayne and the Public Art Commission became accessible with the transition of the festival, too. Frosty Pictures, a film production company, produced a series of interviews for Faces of the Fort, a multifaceted initiative by the Fort Wayne Public Art Commission seeking to elevate local stories of social justice and improvement to our community. These stories will influence large-scale murals in Fort Wayne’s neighborhoods.

Several partners also will have onsite, socially distanced activities at Arts Campus Fort Wayne in coordination with the festival.

"Celebrating and supporting our community’s artists and arts organizations is more important this year than ever," says Thad Tegtmeyer, Festival Chair. "When you visit the festival online this year, we hope you will look around, experience some amazing performances on our stages, shop at the Artlink Art Market, visit NIPSCO STEAM Park, and take part in the fun activities our arts partners are hosting, support our local restaurants on Restaurant Row, and enjoy exploring a sampling of the incredible diversity of opportunities available year-round in Fort Wayne and Northeast Indiana."

Attend the first virtual Taste of the Arts Festival

Taste of the Arts 2020 goes live on Saturday, August 29, 2020 at 11 a.m. ET in an all new virtual experience at TasteFW.org.

Taste of the Arts Online is sponsored by: Arcpoint Productions, NIPSCO, Parrish Leasing, STAR Bank, Indiana Michigan Power, Do It Best Corp., Current Mechanical, PHP, 1st Source Bank, Ivy Tech Community College, Downtown Improvement District, Pizza Hut of Fort Wayne, Strahm Building Solutions, WANE, Ferguson Advertising, and Frosty Pictures.

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