The Journal Gazette
Wednesday, March 16, 2016 5:59 am

Art and how we talk about it is part of city's image

Susan Mendenhall

As a professional, millennial and member of the "creative class," I’m always intrigued about commentary on the topic of public art.

Northeast Indiana’s collection of public art is a reflection of the personality of our region and the people who live here.

This work promotes dialogue, learning, expression and social capital among citizens in a complex society.

Mixed opinions about public art among our citizenry are healthy and should be encouraged.

Recently, Fort Wayne’s citizens have used social media to sound off about the Superior Circle project, which involves the installation of a large sculpture designed by local artist George Morrison at a key gateway into downtown.

Active public commentary has also surrounded Wunderkammer’s graffiti murals, IPFW’s Sculpture with Purpose bike racks, the Fort Wayne Museum of Art’s reinstallation of Mark di Suvero’s Helmholtz sculpture in Freimann Square and the refurbishment of the Anthony Wayne statue in Freimann Square.

Community leaders are listening and taking note of the feedback – the good, the bad and the ugly. But, more importantly, residents and visitors are listening, and they are forming impressions.

Consider your favorite city and the impressions you gather about the people who live there from that city’s architecture, landscapes, streetscapes, signage, sculpture and murals.

What do you think Fort Wayne’s collection of public art says about us?

More significantly, the tone of our dialogue says something about us, too.

The Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership recently asked citizens from 10 counties to describe the personality of northeast Indiana through its "Our Story Project."

According to the study, the participants expressed a desire for our region to be perceived as bigger, bolder, more assertive and more progressive.

Many in our region are eager to shed stale aspects of being perceived as conservative and traditional while retaining a strong sense of foundational values and heritage.

The Knight Foundation’s Soul of the Community survey conducted in 2008-10 found that three leading drivers of resident attachment in Fort Wayne were aesthetics, social and entertainment options, and a perception of openness.

Greater Fort Wayne’s increasingly rich tapestry of art, music, culture, heritage, trails, parks and sports helps us attract and retain a talented workforce and business investment.

When the citizens of Fort Wayne fail to demonstrate a level of openness, inclusivity and civility in our commentary about our public art, what signals are we giving to potential employees or businesses that are interested in relocating to northeast Indiana?

What impressions are being formed among our community’s youth, whom we desperately need to retain?

Does our dialogue about the Superior Circle sculpture reflect the values of our community?

Does it reflect yours?

If we are going to maintain our momentum and enthusiasm around regional goals, it will be critical to elevate our dialogue about the role that arts and culture play.

Susan Mendenhall is president of Arts United of Greater Fort Wayne. She wrote this for The Journal Gazette.


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