Candace Thayer walked out of the Double Dragon restaurant at 117 W. Wayne St. with her take-out sack in one hand and her car keys in the other. But since she was sure she had a few minutes remaining on her parking meter, she decided to see something her friends told her about – the artwork down the pedestrian alley between the restaurant and MKM architecture + design.
“A couple people told me about it, how neat it is,” Thayer says. “Since I was in the neighborhood, I thought I'd check it out. It's quite impressive. I had seen the murals over by Pint & Slice (on Calhoun Street), but I didn't see these. It's something you just can't drive by and notice. You've got to get out of your car. I just hope people will see it.”
That is also the hope of Downtown Improvement District president Bill Brown.
“There's going to be a block party, probably in September, to take the original work that was done by Alexandra Hall, Theoplis Smith and Terry Ratliff,” Brown says. “We want to take some of that work and create prints to sell, and also potentially have the public art installation take place during this block party.”
The project of displaying artwork in downtown alleys is called “Art This Way.” It is a collaboration in memory of Christy Landrigan, who worked for the DID and later Lincoln Financial Group before she died in an automobile accident last year.
After the accident, Lincoln employees wanted to honor Landrigan's love of downtown and agreed to the alley artwork. With Lincoln Financial matching employee contributions, the proceeds went to the Downtown Improvement District for a commemorative project.
The initial installation came in October 2016, when “Guitar Experiment,” a 16-foot long guitar sculpture built by Alex Mendez and painted by Alexandra Hall, was bolted to the outside wall of the building where MKM architecture + design is housed, next door to the Double Dragon.
That spawned other projects along the alley that connects Wayne Street and Washington Boulevard.
Local artist Diane Allen Groenert added three prints from her Fort Wayne Landmarks series of the Allen County Courthouse, the Lincoln Bank Building and the Embassy Theatre.
Farther down the alley is a 10-foot wide collaboration of Hall, Smith and Ratliff titled “People Moving,” a collage of people, places and things from the artists' imagination.
“We put people, like they were walking on a street,” Ratliff says. “What was great is we got a chance to do many different nationalities and different walks of life, which was really nice, especially in this time of the world.”
Ratliff said the three artists worked shoulder to shoulder on the collage. One would paint a person or image, and another would move into a nearby space and add their contribution.
“I bounced off of them as much as they bounced off of me,” Ratliff says. “We either found faces or figures or people or animals in these little shapes, and basically just kicked it out.
“I was so impressed with them, 'cause here I am, going, well you know, I'm the guy who's done more murals than they have, but yet the way they dove into it, it was constantly bouncing around. We never had a problem. We never had a block. It was like, 'Oh my God, there's 10 inches where I can put a guy on a unicycle.' Stuff like that. We pretty much kept building it. We didn't go like, 'You take one side. I'll take the other.' It was basically we just mixed them all over. We just kept moving around. It was one of the funnest things I've ever done as an art project.”
Not all of the images from the mural were imagined. While working on a face, Ratliff wound up painting himself, as well as his Labrador retriever puppy. He thinks Smith included his wife. “But basically it was kind of anonymous people,” he adds. “We threw a yellow horse in there.”
Brown hopes more works will come.
“The goal is to create an opportunity for more art in the alleys,” he says, emphasizing that no DID funds were used. “We have interest from the majority of the property owners to add murals in the future to their properties. That's what's made it very fun and interesting.
“This is an organic process. It's primarily in the hands of the artists and property owners. We don't have a big, grand plan at this point.”
Says Ratliff: “The hard part is funding. … If we can get funding, we're going to keep doing this.”