A window into the times: Artists are transforming boarded up windows downtown into powerful murals

Jasmine Christensen paints a rainbow mural in downtown Fort Wayne.

In many ways, art is a window into the times when it is created, allowing us to see experiences through an artist’s perspective.

So when the George Floyd protests rocked cities across the U.S., innovative leaders transformed their windows into literal works of art.

Thanks to the concerted efforts of Art This Way and the Downtown Improvement District, building owners in downtown Fort Wayne are following suit, turning boarded up windows into murals that spark conversations about equity, inclusion, hope, and change.

Not all of the windows that are boarded up downtown are currently broken, notes Alex Hall, Volunteer Organizer of Art This Way. In fact, many of the boards are temporary precautionary measures for insurance liabilities, she notes. But while the boards are up, artists are putting them to good use as a means of self-expression.

Murals on the side of Visit Fort Wayne in downtown Fort Wayne.

The first business to convert its windows into murals was Alyssum Montessori School, which sustained two broken windows in the May 29 protest and chose to use its murals to support the Black Lives Matter movement.

Hall says that Art This Way and the Downtown Improvement District worked quickly to follow Alyssum’s example, asking building owners’ permission to help them replicate mural projects that have taken over cities across the U.S. in response to the protests.

On the weekend of June 6-7, about 36 artists of multiple backgrounds descended on downtown Fort Wayne with paint and helpers to transform plywood boards into works of art history.

Halls says that artists had to reserve a mural space before painting, but as long as their pieces didn’t include any profanity, they were free to paint whatever they wanted to express.

“We didn’t know what the artists were going to do until we saw them do it,” Hall says. “So whatever went up is what the artists chose to do.”

Adeline Griswold paints a mural in downtown Fort Wayne.

A few familiar Fort Wayne muralists, including Theopolis Smith aka Phresh Laundry and Matt Plett were in the mix, along with other creatives making their first marks on the city.

Hall says the artists selected for the project were diverse on multiple levels.

“We had members from the LGBTQ community; we had a majority of women, and only 9 out of all the artists of the 36 registered artists identified as white men,” she explains. “It was a really healthy and refreshingly diverse group of people working on these projects.”

Unlike Art This Way’s typical permanent installations on the side of buildings or alleyways, the protest murals will inevitably come down throughout the summer as windows are repaired and protests taper off. That means the time to see them is now, Hall says. In fact, some have already been removed.

While artists are paid a stipend for their work, building owners ultimately will own their creations when the boards are taken down. Some may choose to display the murals in their shops, businesses, or homes. But Hall hopes that Art This Way can eventually host an exhibition of all the murals for the public to experience again, as a reflection on these evolving times.

“As a collection, these pieces say a lot,” Hall says. “Each piece is very different, but together, they tell a powerful story about the historic moment we’re living through right now. We’d definitely like to exhibit them in a group again and share that message again with the community.”

Isis Shaw paints a mural on Visit Fort Wayne's windows in downtown Fort Wayne.

While this new mural project is keeping her extra busy, she sees it as advancing Art This Way’s mission of promoting public art in the city.

Even though one of their permanent installation projects has been postponed this summer due to COVID-19 preventing an out-of-town artist from traveling, Hall says that other projects near The Landing are moving full-speed ahead—with a few extra pandemic precautions.

In a matter of weeks, Phresh Laundry will be back downtown, as one of seven artists painting inclusion-themed murals on the side of Utopian Coffee’s former location at 222 Pearl Street.

While the initial idea was to have seven murals going up at once in a festival atmosphere, Hall says they’ve decided to stagger the installations to practice social distancing instead.

“We want to minimize large crowds and protect the artists,” she explains.

Jeff Pilkinton paints a mural of Mt. Luther King Jr. in downtown Fort Wayne.

Even so, she’s encouraging the community to keep coming out in smaller numbers to experience the artists’ work this summer as they continue to transform downtown Fort Wayne.

“We’re already seeing a lot of foot traffic,” she says.

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.
Signup for Email Alerts