#ArtStartsHere: How creatives in Fort Wayne are adapting to the 'new normal' under COVID-19

As artists and organizations across the city cancel classes, performances, and shows, Fort Wayne is feeling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in new ways.

“A lot of us are realizing how much the arts are actually an important part of our daily lives when they’re not happening,” says Rachelle Reinking, Communications Manager for Arts United. Rachelle Reinking

But while the influx of cancellations and postponements might have you feeling a creative void in the city, the arts are still here, Reinking says; you just might have to experience them in new ways.

That’s the idea behind Arts United’s new awareness campaign #artstartshere. Artists, arts organizations, and creators of all skill levels in the city are encouraged to use the hashtag when they post their work on social media. They can even update their Facebook profile pictures with a designated #artstartshere frame. It’s all about increasing visibility of creative culture in the new, socially distant world of the COVID-19 pandemic.

And the power of visibility for creatives is greater than you might realize, says Anna Tragesser, Artist and Community Services Manager for the Indiana Arts Commission (IAC) in Indianapolis.

A Fort Wayne expatriate, Tragesser says that after Indianapolis, Northeast Indiana is the second community statewide that’s boosting awareness for its arts culture during COVID-19.

Soon after the pandemic began, the Arts Council of Indianapolis launched a similar #indykeepscreating campaign to keep the momentum going there.

"Our doors may be closed, but our hearts are open," its website says.

Carmen Warner Dillon's family makes chalk art come to life.

As a state organization, the IAC works with 12 community-based arts partners across Indiana to distribute grant dollars and support creative culture. (Arts United is one of these partners.) These days, the IAC is working with more than 400 grantees to get funds to artists as quickly as possible.

As the pandemic progresses and new resources become available, it's also sharing best practices to support creatives during COVID-19.

While being persistent in applying for federal relief grants is the best option for artists’ financial stability right now, Tragesser says, awareness campaigns like #artstartshere play an important role in supporting their emotional and creative stability, too.

“It’s about remembering that we did not lose the arts sector in this pandemic, but we do have to find new ways to interact with it,” she explains.
Alicia Pyle, local musician, plays from home.
During the slump in business and personal interaction, artists may find themselves questioning the value of their work.

“A of creatives might be feeling: If I’m not supported during this pandemic, does my art even matter to the people around me?” Tragesser says.

A visibility campaign can let artists know that their work does, in fact, matter--perhaps now more than ever.

In addition to rallying support for the arts, Arts United and the IAC are also encouraging artists to use the pandemic as an opportunity to diversify their skillsets.

As shows, performances, and art fairs continue to cancel for the next few months, many artists can no longer rely on their typical sources of income, like ticket sales and crowd-drawing events. Depending on how the pandemic plays out, they might have to rethink their strategies for the longterm, too.

Reinking says that while most Fort Wayne arts organizations have been able to cancel or postpone events for the rest of the 2019-2020 season without crippling financial damage, it’s the ongoing implications for the 2020-2021 season that has them concerned.

“There might be a hesitancy to gather in large groups for these events, so that will mean arts organizations are going to need to find different ways of bringing in revenue,” she says. Corey Lee, Fort Wayne Civic Theatre Lighting Designer and Technical Director, gets creative with his son Caleb and lighting gels.

Across Fort Wayne, organizations like Youtheatre have been offering classes and demonstrations online, adapting their models for the web and reaching out to ticket holders and supporters in new ways. The Fort Wayne Ballet cut together footage from its dress rehearsals for A Midsummer Night’s Dream  and is now offering tickets to view the performance online in “A Night at the Ballet (at home!)”

Other individual artists and musicians are making stickers or coloring book pages and hosting livestream concerts to keep creating. Some are even generating funds for others out of work.

Having a resilient practice with multiple revenue streams is important for creatives, regardless of pandemic conditions, Tragesser notes. She and her team at the IAC will be offering special coaching sessions to help artists adapt and rethink the opportunities they have.

“We’ll be coaching a lot of creatives in webinars and upcoming tools to help normalize this concept of a portfolio career, and let them know there are still options for you to earn income on your creative work in different ways at different times,” she says.

If artists are feeling too drained by the emotional and financial strain of the pandemic, having alternative ways to earn money for the time being might help them prevent negative emotions from tainting their art, too.

It’s all about adopting an abundance mindset and realizing that while traditional outlets might not be available right now, there are still opportunities for those who think creatively.

“One of the things we have been saying and continue to say is that: Artists are their own best resource,” Tragesser says. “There are universes inside their heads, and they’re innately talented at tapping into new realities. This is a great time to rely on that and believe their own creative vision.”

Tune in for a webinar with the IAC

The Indiana Arts Commission offers multiple resources for creatives during COVID-19, including a Persevering: The Arts and COVID-19 Webinar Series.

Visit their website for details.

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.
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