The Journal Gazette
Friday, September 04, 2020 1:00 am

Mural Fest adds public art to region

COREY MCMAKEN | The Journal Gazette

Reaching 44 feet at its tallest point, a red wall towers over the year-old Parlor City Plaza next to the Wells County Courthouse in Bluffton.

It won't be red much longer. It is the site of one of the 11 mural projects during Make It Your Own Mural Fest, which kicks off Tuesday and runs through Sept. 18. By the end of the festival, a mural will have been completed in each of the 11 counties of northeast Indiana.

Mural Fest is a collaboration between the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership and Arts United of Greater Fort Wayne. Some artists have already begun working on their murals.

Chad Kline, executive director of Wells County Economic Development, is excited for the mural project in Bluffton. While public art has become common in some parts of northeast Indiana, the most prominent project Wells can claim is a silo painted to look like a Minion animated movie character near Ossian.

But Mural Fest has been a catalyst for Wells to start looking at other possible public art projects, Kline says. That includes two more mural projects in the downtown Bluffton area, one of which is expected to be complete this year.

Wells was one of a handful of counties that were able to select an artist instead of being open for general submissions. The county's Mural Fest committee, of which Kline is co-chair, selected David Rice of Portland, Oregon, who then presented several designs for the committee to pick from.

Details of the Mural Fest designs are being kept secret so the public can watch them come to life across the area, but for the Wells mural, Rice was tasked with incorporating elements of the county's history and landmarks into his design.

“We're excited that he has taken bits and pieces of the culture and aspects of Wells County and put them into the mural,” Kline says.

Each county offered an “inspiration board” of their history and details that they hoped to see become part of their mural's design. An open call allowed artists to submit designs for up to two counties.

For counties that didn't pick their artist upfront like Wells, the submissions were trimmed down by an overall Mural Fest committee before the finalists were presented to individual county committees that picked a design in a blind jury process.

“You'll see the beauty and the specific qualities of the counties come through” in the finished murals, says Kate Virag, vice president of marketing and strategic communication for Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership.

That beauty will last because murals have longevity, she says. They can be enjoyed for years to come and investing in public art will lead to longtime success in the area.

She points to cities such as Detroit, Toronto and Portland which have murals that are landmarks years – sometimes decades – after they were created.

Virag says communities across the region are at different places in their own public art journeys, but the level of excitement was encouraging as the partnership began approaching counties about Mural Fest.

There were four goals of Mural Fest: to enhance collaboration throughout the region; to produce representations of the Make It Your Own brand and highlight quality of life assets in northeast Indiana; to drive exposure of the region as an area with a high quality of life; and to create opportunities for students and emerging regional artists to develop their talent.

Muralists installing work in Adams, Huntington, Kosciusko, LaGrange, Noble, Wells and Whitley counties will mentor artists during the festival.

Amber Caccamo, executive director of the DeKalb County Visitors Bureau, says the Mural Fest process has been a great partnership between all the counties.

The DeKalb mural, a 2,500-square-foot piece on the side of City Hall in Garrett, will pay homage to the history of railroads in the county, says Caccamo, who calls it a great landscape piece with some bold contemporary elements. It is being installed by Ricco Diamante of Defiance, Ohio. His work was chosen from 11 submissions for the county.

There are murals projects in at least two other DeKalb cities, but the Mural Fest piece is the first large-scale public art project in Garrett, Caccamo says. Like Wells, DeKalb is looking to create more murals. There are already some grant requests out for funding.

Caccamo says that is something that wouldn't have happened on this scale without Mural Fest.

“We really want to take the good energy that is unrolling with this and make it last for a couple more murals,” she says.

People want things to do outdoors, and public art can help draw people into communities – to visit, to shop and maybe to live. So a project like Mural Fest can boost economic development, says Caccamo, who is hopeful the event will return.

Mural Fest is all about investment in our community and celebrating the unique qualities of communities across the region, Virag says. Quality of life and quality of place, which are enhanced by public art, help with development and attracting people to live and work in our area.

“A company can talk about their company and how great it is to work there and how much they pay and their benefits,” Virag says about courting a potential employee. “But if the person ultimately doesn't want to move to our community, they won't be able to attract them.”

Kline also hopes to see long-term benefits from Mural Fest. The Wells County mural will give the community something to be proud of, he says, and will hopefully bring people into downtown Bluffton, which has been undergoing revitalization efforts and includes new boutiques and a brewery. The Parlor City Plaza is home to live music and a farmers market.

If someone hasn't been to downtown Bluffton in a few years, they're going to notice a lot of change, Kline says.

Funding for Mural Fest came primarily though sponsorships, Virag says. Each county also provided a percentage, there were several grants from groups such as the Indiana Arts Foundation and the spring cycle of Arts United's AmplifyArt crowdfunding program raised money for the projects.

There are some events planned to coincide with Mural Fest, but that portion of the festival was scaled back because of the pandemic. The public is invited to come out and watch the artists work from a social distance, and there are meet-and-greets scheduled with the artists. A social media contest with prizes for the winners will kick off after the festival to encourage the public to get out and take a look at the finished works.

Wells County is planning an event in the Parlor City Plaza on Sept. 18 and 19 to show off its mural, Kline says.

Hubie Ashcraft and Missy Burgess will perform under the DeKalb mural in an event starting at 4 p.m. Sept. 17 during which Diamante will officially unveil his piece and Ashcraft will also speak about what the railroads have meant to his family in the area.

Allen County's mural is designed by Key Detail and installed on the rear of the building that is home to Fort Wayne Orthopedics and several other businesses in the 200 block of West Wayne Street. Key Detail is a husband and wife team based in New York but originally from Minsk, Belarus.

The mural will be part of the Experience Art This Way event from 5 to 9 p.m. Sept. 18 in downtown Fort Wayne. That event replaces Art This Way's Art Crawl, which is taking the year off because of guidelines related to the pandemic.

Experience Art This Way will officially unveil several pieces of public art including the seven new murals on the former Utopian Coffee building at 222 Pearl St. and the first stages of the “Off the Wall” sculpture that is planned for 113 and 127 W. Berry St. For more information on the event, go to

The murals

Adams County

Installation: Sept. 11-21

Artist: Zach Medler of Noblesville

Location: 411 E. Line St., Geneva

Allen County

Installation: Sept. 8-18

Artist: Key Detail of

Minsk, Belarus

Location: 201 W. Wayne St., Fort Wayne

DeKalb County

Installation: Sept. 8-18

Artist: Ricco Diamante of Defiance, Ohio

Location: City Hall, 130 S. Randolph St., Garrett

Huntington County

Installation: Today through Sept. 18

Artist: America Carrillo of Huntington

Location: 35 W. Market St., Huntington

Kosciusko County

Installation: Sept. 8-18

Artist: Tim Parsley of Fort Wayne

Location: 212 S. Buffalo St., Warsaw

LaGrange County

Installation: Sept. 8-18

Artist: Amy Buchs of Waterloo

Location: 202 N. Detroit St., LaGrange

Noble County

Installation: Sept. 8-18

Artist: Tobias Studios of Fort Wayne

Location: 122 N. Orange St., Albion

Steuben County

Installation: Continuing through Sept. 8

Artist: Justin Suarez of Rochester, N.Y.

Location: 900 N. Wayne St., Angola

Wabash County

Installation: Sept. 8-18

Artist: Claudio “Remix 1” Rico of Wichita, Kan.

Location: 214 E. Main St., North Manchester

Wells County

Installation: Sept. 13-21

Artist: David Rice of Portland, Ore.

Location: 122 W. Market St., Bluffton

Whitley County

Installation: Sept. 8-18

Artist: Shawn Dunwoody of Rochester, N.Y.

Location: 116 W. Van Buren St., Columbia City


Sister city inspires new mural

Tokyo-born artist JUURI will will begin work Saturday on a 20-by-30-foot mural at 128 W. Wayne St. It is expected to be completed by Thursday.

JUURI's work is inspired by Japanese motifs, and elements of her design for the local mural are inspired by Takaoka, Japan, one of Fort Wayne's sister cities. The artist is currently based in Oklahoma City.

Art This Way and the Downtown Improvement District announced the project Thursday. It is separate from Mural Fest.

- Journal Gazette

On the web

• For a full schedule of meet-and-greets, artist and county profiles and other details, go to

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