Local art galleries Wunderkammer Company and Jennifer Ford Art have seen artists come, and they have seen them go. Now, the two galleries are bringing both groups together for "Import/Export."
The exhibit features artists who have moved to Fort Wayne in the past five years, and artists who have moved away from Fort Wayne in the pursuit of their art careers.
Inspired by the discussion on talent attraction and rentention, we asked gallery owner Jennifer Ford a series of questions by email. Responses have been edited.
Explain the concept for "Import/Export," and how has it been to collaborate with Wunderkammer?
Ford: "Import/Export," a fine art exhibition featuring works by “Imports,” artists not native to Fort Wayne who have moved here within the past five years, and "Exports," those who have since moved away and have pursued artistic careers. The synergism between JFA, a for profit gallery, and Wunderkammer, a nonprofit gallery, has been wonderful. This is an important conversation in the city of Fort Wayne right now and each space is able to address different aspects of that discussion.
Within the city's redevelopment, we hear a lot about talent retention. But what do you think we can take from residents who move away from Fort Wayne through the "Export" side of this exhibition?
Ford: Discussions surrounding talent attraction and retention have been vital for the preservation and growth of Midwest cities over the past decade, culminating with “Young and the Restless”, a groundbreaking 2005 study by Joseph Cortright and Carol Coletta, which identified the trend of young talent (25 to 34 year olds) choosing their city first, and then their method of employment once there. ... At its core, Import/Export explores how and why arts communities are built and supported.
Creative economies rely on contributions and collaboration from all levels of participants, but the most favorable conditions occur when artistic abilities, innovative social structures and acceptance exist in a city. What cultural, social or economic structures are attractive in the Midwest and what are the catalysts of change that can retain the creative class? With these questions central to the thesis of the exhibition, invades the vernacular sense of “place” in Northeast Indiana, giving the viewer multiple answers to these questions, while eliciting their own response.
Do you see a difference in the work produced by the "Imports" vs. the "Exports”?
Ford: We asked all of the artists how your geographic location affects the production of your art. The overriding theme revolved around the proximity to other artists for collaboration. There is a void in the Fort Wayne art scene that can only be filled by a large collaborative studio or maker space. Many artists crave the daily connection with artists that you would be able to find in a larger city. Surprisingly, the art market in Fort Wayne was not an obstacle. With digital media connecting us with opportunities all over the world, sales can happen in different parts of the world making it easier to be a working artist in Fort Wayne.
What do you want viewers to discuss after the exhibit?
Ford: I would like them to think critically about the environment necessary to support the artists living and working in our area. Support is critical, from a government and legislative perspective, but through corporate sponsorship of public art programs, individual collectors buying works of art, and also families teaching, bringing kids out to art galleries and museums to make it part of our culture from an early age.