The Journal Gazette
Tuesday, June 22, 2021 1:00 am


(He)art of the city

District designation would help spur growth

Terre Haute's 41/40 Arts and Cultural District boasts more than 400 creative jobs such as graphic designers, musicians and photographers in and around the area.

The district, created in 2019 and named for U.S. highways that intersect near there, also is an economic engine for the city of about 61,000. It's brought in nearly $27 million in creative industry earnings since 2018, a report from the Indiana Arts Commission says, and cultural nonprofit revenue is about $2.5 million.

Beyond the numbers, the downtown-centered district is simply “where fun things happen” – at least according to Theo, the young son of Terre Haute City Councilman Todd Nation.

“His mom Sarah and I talk often with Theo about what we did there last time we visited, and where we'll go next,” Nation, who lives near the cultural district, wrote in a statement published on the arts commission's website.

Fun things happen in downtown Fort Wayne, too – the Three Rivers Festival Chalk Walk and Taste of the Arts, to name just a couple. A potential decision later this week by the arts commission to establish the state's 11th cultural district in the city could pave the way for Fort Wayne to grow its already-vibrant arts scene and secure future funding for projects including improving connectivity to local points of interest.

The 15-member panel will meet Friday and consider adding the Arts Campus Cultural District to the list, a sensible move that would highlight the hard work of local leaders to showcase the arts in Fort Wayne as well as establish a state-designated district in northeast Indiana – the only region of the state without one.

Cultural districts already exist in Bloomington, Carmel, Columbus, Fishers, Jeffersonville, Lafayette, Madison, Nashville, Noblesville and Terre Haute. Such a district, according to the state arts commission, is “a well-recognized, labeled, mixed-use area with unique, authentic art and cultural identity.”

“Each district is a statewide leader in cultural development,” the website notes.

The local district, approved by the City Council this year in a first step toward state designation, checks those boxes. It includes seven buildings – such as the Arts United Center, designed by famed architect Louis Kahn – housing 18 organizations between Lafayette and Clinton streets.

The state arts commission provides money for cultural districts, though The Journal Gazette's Devan Filchak reported Sunday those funding opportunities now are not available.

The designation would give the city a seat at the table among the state's other arts centers and offer an opportunity to receive some of that funding if money is at some point available.

“That's not our total end goal,” Arts United Center President Susan Mendenhall told Filchak, referring to state funding, “but one of the things we have learned through the scope of that process is how unique we are.”

Terre Haute's cultural district includesthe Vigo County History Center, a 34,000-square-foot building that features a replica of the tomb of John Heinl, a Terre Haute florist who – according to legend – wanted his beloved bulldog buried with him. The Swope Art Museum is within the district, as is a children's museum.

The local district includes the Fort Wayne Museum of Art, the History Center and the Auer Center for Arts and Culture, which houses the Fort Wayne Ballet and the Artlink Art Gallery.

The state should recognize its significance by designating it an Indiana Cultural District.

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