Fort Wayne can brag of several local businesses which have brought the city into the spotlight, providing economic development opportunities which have helped raise the profile and built the region for greater growth in the future. One of the best examples of that is Sweetwater Sound, a corporate partner for many of the local arts organizations and a business which has boosted not only the economy of Fort Wayne, but the cool quotient, too. Providing instruments and gear to some of the finest musicians in the world is just one way that Sweetwater has put this city on the map.
But there’s been a lot more than music coming out of Sweetwater over the years, thanks to the leadership and generosity of Chuck Surack, founder and president of Sweetwater Sound and several of its subsidiaries, including Sweet Cars and Sweet Aviation. Beyond the pleasure that these businesses bring, the reach into the community – the constant effort to give back – is why Chuck Liddell was given the Special Whammy (now named the Liddell Award) in 2009. Surack’s attitude about the award underscores why he won the award in the first place.
“I was totally surprised – it was a big honor. I love whatzup, so it was great to be recognized. But I’ve been so blessed that I couldn’t imagine not doing what I’m doing. It’s both a personal and a corporate responsibility to give back.”
The impact of Sweetwater on the local economy itself is reason for pride. Having opened their new and expanded facility in 2006 with 200 employees, Sweetwater has nearly tripled that total, now employing 550 in that once spacious building. Now only a few years later, there are already growing pains and plans for further expansion which will likely be completed by 2014. Surack says the growth will include doubling the warehouse where merchandise demands have burdened their current space and tripling the sales people to stay on top of the growth.
“What I’m most excited about is the growth of the music academy,” says Surack. “We’ll now have a bigger dedicated space to do that so we can train more musicians and give more opportunities and be able to grow our offerings in the future.”
Sweetwater’s Music Academy is at the heart of what the company brings to the talented musical community here as well as those who have long dreamed of developing their musical abilities. The Sweetwater Jazz Project, a quartet of young musicians still in high school and college, recently traveled to New York City to play at the juried jazz festival. Other similar efforts have helped augment some of what the public schools have had to offer under current budget constraints.
“The Sweetwater Jazz Project is just one example of where we try to help out, and it was great helping to send them to New York City,” says Surack. “But our customers and students are all over the map. We provide lessons for young people, we have business people who have always wanted to learn to play an instrument, as well as retirees who now have the time to take on something they haven’t been able to while they were working. Of course we also have the professional musicians who use our equipment so that’s a lot of fun.
“I think one of my favorite things is our rock camps every summer and what we’re able to do with those. They spend a week together, and these young people don’t know each other at all. But by the end of that week, they’ve formed their bands and named them, have put together some music and a concert and have had the experience of recording together. I feel like we’re fulfilling people’s dreams, and that’s a great feeling.”
Surack also reaches out to help other area organizations, often underwriting expenses for performances (such as with the Fort Wayne Philharmonic) or helping to defray costs for needed technological upgrades, as they did when they covered the initial software costs for the Arts Tix ticketing system which Arts United launched in 2012. And Surack isn’t limiting himself to just the arts when giving.
“I try to support a lot of the local musical and arts events, but there are a lot of other, more pressing human needs that have to be addressed too. I am absolutely dumbfounded that in a city like Fort Wayne so many people go hungry every week. Associated Churches run out of food and can’t provide as much as they need to the area churches and food banks. There is such a huge need for help in those areas, and we try to do as much as we can to help out. Unfortunately we can’t do everything so we don’t get into local sports as much since there are other to do that. We might sponsor a local team or something, but generally we focus as much as we can on other areas where we’re in a position to help.”
Sweetwater’s continued growth assures that future help will continue and while more jobs will certainly be created, the increase in status and profile within the community will allow for more of the community assistance which Fort Wayne has come to expect – and greatly appreciate – from Sweetwater Sound and its president. Surack promises not only more space at their present location but also a few fun elements, like a museum to display older technology, adding to the educational component so intrinsic to their mission. As seems to be the case with all of these special Whammy winners, the award, while deeply appreciated, does not spell an end to a remarkable career of giving to the community, but rather it fuels the fire in people like Chuck Surack who are always looking for new ways to lend a hand.
by Michele DeVinney
Thursday, April 27
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Community Unity — Community dinner, games and prizes, and neighborhood safety forum, 6-8 p.m. Wednesday, April 26, Jennings Recreation Center, Fort Wayne, free, 427-6028
Issues and Ales — Panel of experts discuss important issues in the community with audience Q&A , 7-9 p.m. Wednesday, April 26, Calhoun Street Soups, Salads and Spirits, Fort Wayne, free, 456-7005
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Chris Worth — Variety at Nick's Martini & Wine Bar, Fort Wayne, 7:30 p.m., no cover, 482-6425
Fort Wayne Comedy Connection — Comedy at Latch String Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m., no cover, 483-5526
Hubie Ashcraft — Acoustic at River View Tavern, Decatur, 7-10 p.m., no cover, 724-3500
Open Mic — Hosted by Mike Mowry at Pedal City, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m.-12 a.m., no cover, 415-6167
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Classic City Karaoke w/Bryan Lee — Karaoke at Pine Valley Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 8:30 p.m., no cover, 490-9464
Fort Wayne Karaoke w/Brian — Variety at AJ's Bar and Grill, Fort Wayne, 8 p.m., no cover, 434-1980
Fort Wayne Karaoke w/Josh — Karaoke at Columbia Street West, Fort Wayne, 9:30 p.m., no cover, 422-5055
Fort Wayne Karaoke w/TJ — Variety at Chevvy's, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m., ,
Karaoke w/Bucca — Variety at Wrigley Field Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 485-1038
Karaoke with Rooster — Variety at By: Belle Haven, South Whitley, 8 p.m., no cover, 866-716-9243
Shooting Star Prod. w/Stu — Variety at Office Tavern, Fort Wayne, 8 p.m., no cover, 478-5827
Shut Up and Sing — Karaoke at Duesy's Sports Bar, Fort Wayne, 7-11 p.m., no cover, 483-5681
Three Rivers Karaoke — at Dupont Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m.-1 a.m., no cover, 483-1311
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Little Shop of Horrors — IPFW Department of Theatre performance of Alan Menken-Howard Ashman musical comedy, 8 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, April 26-29, Williams Theatre, IPFW, Fort Wayne, $5-$18, 481-6555
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37th National Print Exhibition — Juried exhibition featuring contemporary printmakers from around the nation, Tuesday-Sunday thru May 5, Artlink Contemporary Art Gallery, Fort Wayne, 424-7195
41st SOCA Student Exhibition — Works from students currently enrolled at USF’s School of Creative Arts, daily thru April 30, Weatherhead Gallery, USF Rolland Art Center, University of Saint Francis, Fort Wayne, 399-7999
Echolilia — Works from Timothy Archibald and his autistic son, Eli, Tuesday-Sunday thru June 11, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $6-$8 (members, free), 422-6467
Diane Allen Groenert — Exhibition of local artist’s Downtown Series and new works, Monday-Saturday thru June 24, West Central Microcreamery & Cafe, Fort Wayne, 415-9293
Expressions of Existence — An exhibition of works by artists through history, including Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol, Francisco Goya and others whose works have been influenced by disabilities, Tuesday-Sunday thru June 11, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $6-$8 (members, free), 422-6467
Fort Wayne Artist Guild Exhibitions — Works by Alice Siefert at Aldersgate United Methodist Church, Jennifer Caudel at Allen County Retinal Surgeons, Anita Trick, Citizens Square (2nd and 3rd floors), Darlene Selzer Miller at The Einhaus Group for Women’s Health, Patricia Weiss at Heritage of Fort Wayne, Emily Jane Butler at Ophthalmology Consultants (Southwest), Linda Binek at Ophthalmology Consultants (North), Carolyn Stachera at Rehabilitation Hospital of Fort Wayne, John Kelty at ResCare Inc. Adult Day Service, Wiletta Blevins at Town House Retirement, Karen Bixler at Visiting Nurse Hospice and Barb Yoder and Karen Harvey at Will Jewelers, thru April 30, fortwayneartistguild.org.
Fort Wayne Photographers Club — Exhibition featuring local photographers, Tuesday-Sunday thru April 30, Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory, Fort Wayne, $3-$5 (2 and under, free), 427-6440
Glass: A Medium in Art and Automobiles — Dale Chihuly blown glass and fiberglass auto, daily thru Sept. 8, Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum, Auburn, $7.50-$12.50, 925-1444
Jan Krist-Finkbeiner — Exhibition of ceramic reliefs, Tuesday-Sunday thru May 5, Artlink Contemporary Art Gallery, Fort Wayne, 424-7195
Kathy Funderburg & Diane Schafer-King — Acrylic paintings (Funderburg) and works in marbled paper and fabric (Schaefer-King), Monday-Saturday thru April 29, Orchard Gallery of Fine Art, Fort Wayne, 436-0927
Outdoor Sculpture Invitational — Fifteen outdoor sculptures from regional artists, daily thru April 30, School of Creative Arts campus, University of Saint Francis North Campus, Fort Wayne, 399-7999
Rhoda Gerig: The Hope of Eagles — Photographic images of eagles, daily thru June 4, Clark Gallery, Honeywell Center, Wabash, 563-1102
Sharon — An exhibition of Leon Borensztein photographs chronicling the struggles he faced raising his severely disabled daughter, Tuesday-Sunday thru June 11, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $6-$8 (members, free), 422-6467
SOCA Graduate Program: Student Highlights — Juried exhibition of works by students enrolled in USF’s School of Creative Arts graduate program, Monday-Friday thru April 30, Lupke Gallery, University of Saint Francis North Campus, Fort Wayne, 399-7999
Spring 2017 BFA Exhibition — Exhibition of works by IPFW graduation seniors, daily thru May 3 , Jeffrey R. Krull Gallery, Main Library, Allen County Public Library, Fort Wayne, 481-6709
Spring 2017 BFA Exhibition — Senior thesis projects from Bachelor of Fine Arts candidates Brenda Drayer (sculpture), Derek Hibbs (printmaking), Ellen Mensch (painting), Nathaniel Morris (sculpture) and Kyle Snodgrass (sculpture), daily thru May 7, Visual Arts Gallery, IPFW, Fort Wayne, 481-6709
Spring Palette — New original works by more than 50 nationally recognized artists, Tuesday-Saturday and by appointment thru April 30, Castle Gallery Fine Art, Fort Wayne, 426-6568