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Taste of the Arts

The fifth annual Taste of the Arts Festival in downtown Fort Wayne, Ind., drew thousands of people to taste food from more than 30 local restaurants and watch performances from as many as 60 bands, dancers and performance groups.

Chad Ryan | The Journal Gazette
The fifth annual Taste of the Arts festival drew thousands of people to downtown Saturday where participants sampled food and took in artwork, music and dance performances.

Taste of the Arts draws big crowds to downtown

Morgan Wasvick, 7, flings pizza dough during a demonstration at the B. Antonio Pizza vendor tent at Main and Barr streets.
Photos by Chad Ryan | The Journal Gazette
Buskers “Stardust,” top, and “Glitch” perform their acrobatic dance routine at Freimann Square on Saturday during the the fifth annual Taste of the Arts Festival.

Michael Shepard, an eight-time World Medalist Pizza Acrobat, slapped a thick disc of dough between his hands. In a matter of seconds, he spun the dough across his back and caught it with his left hand.

He looked over to his three volunteers and told them to imitate his trick – 12-year-old Maya Jude-Karanam flung her dough over her head and nearly hit the crowd that formed at the fifth annual Taste of the Arts Festival downtown.

“It was pretty hard, it was definitely harder than it looked,” she said, grasping her dough in one big ball.

Her mother, Becky Jude, stood off to the side.

“She can try at home,” Jude said. “As long as she cooks it after she’s done.”

Shepard and his world-champion pizza dough routine were one of the attractions at the Taste of the Arts Festival on Saturday. Boasting an extended evening schedule that ended with an outdoor screening of “King Kong,” the festival consumed Freimann Square and the Arts United campus with food, music, street performers and a juried fine-arts festival. The History Center on Berry Street and the Barr Street Farmers Market offered extended hours, stretching the festival south of Main Street.

Jude said her family moved to Fort Wayne from Indianapolis a year and a half ago, and the festival has been a way to take in what the city has to offer in one day.

“One of things I wondered about moving to Fort Wayne is how many cultural events would there be,” she said. “I’m very pleasantly surprised.”

Festival coordinator Tena Woenker said the event this year had its largest crowd yet for the early-afternoon activities, and with more activities scheduled in the evening, including an after party, Dessert, the festival was on its way to having its largest crowd in its five years.

“I’m sure there will be a lot of people coming and going,” she said. “It’s the free admission that really helps that. It gives you a lot of freedom.”

Dan Ross, director of community development for Arts United, said the Taste of the Arts Festival reinforces the plans to enhance an urban neighborhood based on the arts and creativity.

The Fort Wayne Cultural District, an initiative of Arts United; Visit Fort Wayne; and the Downtown Improvement District are working to bring more people into Fort Wayne and to draw them downtown.

The finalized plan will be released this fall.

“Arts United was one of the thriving forces in getting this initiative started,” Ross said. “This event is like the quintessential definition of what the cultural district could be.”

For the festival, the History Center pulled out its largest artifact – a temporary jail cell from Woodburn that was used in the late 1800s. The museum allowed people to climb into the human-sized cage to take pictures and even put on a jailhouse uniform. Executive Director Todd Maxwell Palfrey said the festival has drawn more audiences for downtown organizations over the past five years.

“It’s wonderful for downtown, and it’s wonderful for the arts campus,” he said. “With the History Center being the southern anchor of the Arts (United) campus, we have certainly benefited from the program. They are building tremendous capacity downtown. It’s good to see a lot of folks on the streets now in downtown Fort Wayne on a typical weekend.”

Woenker said as much as she loves to see the interest in Fort Wayne for a day, she thinks the city has the potential to have an active downtown every weekend.

“As people are getting exposed to different groups going around Freimann Square, maybe they’ll get interested in participating and being a part of the arts and not just experiencing it passively. We want them to join in.”

kcarr@jg.net

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