How a music-based Arts Academy in Wabash is impacting the creative world

As summer approaches, you might be surprised to learn that world-class classical musicians will be converging in Northeast Indiana for three weeks of intensive training, knowledge-sharing, and concerts.
 
This innovative and prestigious annual program, known as the Honeywell Arts Academy, is going into its second year in Wabash, about an hour Southwest of Fort Wayne. It comprises three separate summer institutes for musicians, including Resonance for vocalists and multiple instruments; Soundboard for pianists; and Wabass for double bassists. Each of these weeklong music fellowships is held at the Eagles Theatre in Wabash, followed by a public performance.

Musicians from around the world participate in the 2021 Resonance program of the Honeywell Arts Academy at the Eagles Theatre in Wabash.
 
What’s remarkable about the Academy is not only its effect on Wabash and Northeast Indiana, but also, its effect on global music culture. Past participants have come from throughout the United States, Europe, and Southeast Asia, and its alumni have a 95 percent placement rate in professional music careers around the world.
 
“That, to me, is remarkable in and of itself,” says Indiana Arts Commissioner David Haist, who is based in Wabash and serves as the Academy’s inaugural chairperson. Haist
 
Wabash is home to roughly 10,440 people in rural Indiana, yet its arts scene punches above its weight class thanks to the dedication and vision of residents, like Haist, who have valued the intimate connection between the arts and economics.
 
Haist learned the importance of the arts in his own life at a young age. Growing up in Wabash, he played the double-bass and tuba before going on to become a lawyer and then the COO of Do it Best Corp. for many years. While he didn't pursue music as a profession, the experience shaped him.
 
“The arts end up making life a much richer experience,” says Haist. “Having those kinds of experiences available in communities like Wabash is huge.”
 
Today, he and his wife have relocated to Wabash from their previous residence in Fort Wayne, and they live in Haist’s boyhood home. As an Arts Commissioner, he also draws inspiration from his hometown when talking with state legislators about how the arts can be an economic driver in Indiana.
 
“Funding the arts for economic development and quality of place are an important part of making Indiana an area where folks want to live and businesses want to locate,” Haist says. “When you look at what's going on in Wabash, it’s just a really interesting microcosm of a relatively small community that has really been driven by the importance of art.”

The fully renovated Eagles Theatre at 106 W. Market St. in Downtown Wabash.
 
Speaking of arts legacies in Wabash, Haist served on the board of Wabash’s Honeywell Foundation for 12 years, which has a long history of supporting the arts. This dates back to the 1940s with Mr. Mark Honeywell, the entrepreneur who developed the first water heating systems and automatic thermostats in North America and was as equally passionate about the arts and philanthropy as he was about business.
 
Then there was the late-Richard Ford of the Ford Meter Box family.
 
“About 20 years ago, Ford had a vision that Wabash really could be that destination for festivals and artists to thrive, building on some of the good work that the Honeywell Foundation had already started,” says Haist.
 
According to his obituary, Ford graduated from Wabash High School in 1956 and attended Indiana University, earning a bachelor’s degree in business. He then went to work on the East coast as a salesman for his family company. When he returned to Wabash in 1980, he began to take up “a number of civic causes involving the arts, historic preservation, and the humanities.”
 
Ford’s appreciation for the arts and willingness to support creative thinkers is part of what laid the foundation for the Honeywell Arts Academy’s music programs. In the early 2000s, he became a fan of the Philadelphia-based, classically-trained music trio, Time For Three, and one of the band’s members, Ranaan Meyer, a double bassist, had a vision for a unique double-bass academy.

The Philadelphia-based trio Time for Three led to the creation of the Honeywell Arts Academy.
 
Meyer had spent several years at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia under his mentor Hal Robinson. After he graduated, he and Robinson began teaching together at summer festivals where they developed a philosophy known as the “sharing of knowledge.” They envisioned a weeklong summer camp for musicians where faculty mentors would spend quality time with scholars, and they would each grow from the experience.
 
What’s more, they imagined their fellowship program being accessible to musicians tuition-free.
 
When Ford booked Meyer’s band to play in Wabash in 2007, he learned about Meyer’s concept and supported it—with a twist.
 
“He said, ‘I think you should do it here,’” Meyer recalls. “And I actually thought maybe he didn't have all his marbles, like there was a screw loose or something.”

Ranaan Meyer is Artistic Director of Honeywell Arts Academy and the Founding Program Director of the Wabass Institute.
 
After talking further with Ford, Meyer realized he was serious, but they hadn’t yet talked about there being no tuition for the program. Meyer recounts what happened next.
 
“(Ford) said, ‘The only thing I ask is that you don't charge anything because these college students have enough expenses.’ I told him, ‘That sounds awesome.’”
 
To make it happen, Ford agreed to fund half of the new music venture if Meyer could raise the other half. Meyer’s friend from Philadelphia, Harry Halloran, and his wife Kay, funded the other half, and the Honeywell Arts Academy’s precursor, the Wabass Institute for Double Bassists, was born.


 
After 13 successful years with bass players, the program expanded in 2021 to add the other fellowships, Resonance and Soundboard, and it became the Honeywell Arts Academy. It still embodies the same "sharing of knowledge” philosophy it was founded upon, says Meyer, who continues to serve as its Artistic Director. In this work, his ultimate goal is to grow the people around him and be an ambassador for his discipline.
 
“We're trying to bridge the gap between teacher and student,” Meyer says. “Or maybe better said, we're trying to take the hierarchy of teacher and student and put it on a shelf for a while, as we really meet each other on common ground.”

Members of the 2021 Soundboard program of the Honeywell Arts Academy study with renowned faculty.
 
So what’s next for the Honeywell Arts Academy? If Meyer has his way, the program will keep expanding into a “sharing of knowledge” academy for multiple disciplines. He envisions having an academy for dance, opera, conductors, composers, art, or even political science.
 
“What if this concept that's so empowering and so enriching changed the world?” he asks. “What if everybody did listen to each other?”

Members of the 2021 Resonance program of the Honeywell Arts Academy perform at the Eagles Theatre in Wabash.
 
The Honeywell Arts Academy is figuring out which programs to add next. It is its own nonprofit corporation and is in the process of recruiting its founding board with Haist at the helm to help guide its future.
 
“Our vision is to have a board that mirrors our alums,” Haist says.
 
So far, the Academy has board members from both American coasts, members who have a background in art or music education, and board members who have been involved with symphonies or other nonprofit arts organizations.
 
Haist wants the founding board to make sure that from an artistic and programmatic standpoint, the Academy is meeting the needs of its participants.
 
“When those students arrive in Wabash for their week each summer, we want them to end up having the experience that will provide them benefits throughout their professional career.”
 
For Meyer, that’s precisely the value of the Academy’s work in Wabash’s community and beyond. Over the course of their lifetimes and careers, the musicians who converge in Wabash for training and knowledge-sharing will impact thousands of listeners, students, and fellow musicians across the world with their art and leadership.
 
“They get to impact people directly through the inspiration of their music when they play, but also through any of the causes they may have, any of the programs that they teach at,” Meyer says. “It's just a huge trickle-down effect.”

The Sempre Sisters, Charlotte and Olivia Marckx, a violinist and cellist, respectively.
 
Ultimately, the Academy developing in Wabash has the potential to impact global creative culture.
 
“That's the way that I hope people look at it because that's the proof that I've seen,” says Meyer. “These are not just people playing their instrument well; they're doing a lot more than that, and by creating these great citizens of the future, there's a lot that can be done with them.”
 
Learn more
 
The final selections of fellowship scholars for the 2022 Honeywell Arts Academy are not public yet. Resonance will host four faculty mentors and 12 fellowship scholars. For Soundboard, it's two faculty mentors and eight fellowship scholars, and for Wabass, it's nine fellowship scholars and three faculty mentors.

The public is invited to enjoy the world-class music these fellows will create on each Friday of their fellowship weeks. Each performance will be held at the Eagles Theatre in Wabash. The Resonance show featuring multiple instruments and genres is June 17. For piano fans, Soundboard musicians will celebrate the piano on June 24, and the final performance will be from the Wabass Institute’s bassists on July 1.

Wabash is the focus of a new Partner City series in Input Fort Wayne underwritten by Visit Wabash County and Honeywell Arts & Entertainment. This series will capture the story of talent, creativity, investment, innovation, and emerging assets shaping the future of Wabash County, about an hour Southwest of Fort Wayne.