When she arrives she appears in a color-coordinated outfit: red and black cardigan sweater over a black blouse with tailored black slacks and ox-blood leather shoes. It's the sort of casual business attire, accented with understated jewelry that signals style and good taste. The ensemble is of a kind not typically associated with Value City and at the same time doesn't conjure up a reference to Talbot's. She finds a middle ground, more like a Bloomingdale's girl, sophisticated, comfortable and classic.
When she speaks it can be in the languages of the "suits" or of the "streets." Her ability to barter is widely acknowledged and respected across the board. She is valued and sought after for her talents as an appraiser, not simply in judging a piece’s place in the art continuum, which she routinely does in curating Artlink’s many shows, but in assigning a work’s worth for an estate sale. That ability, to flutter back and forth between business and culture, between banker and artist, to live in both worlds at the same time, is the hallmark of Betty Fishman, the almost-octogenarian Executive Director of Artlink, one of the few not-for-profit art galleries in Indiana not associated with a university, housed since 1991 at 437 East Berry Street.
Driven by a passion for the arts (not only the visual spectrum - she indulges in them all: cinema, theater, dance and music, even opera), she derives a source of energy most younger people struggle to find. If she is guilty of being myopic or headstrong in one area it has to be in championing local artists.
"I've for many years visited New York City, and when I'm there I'm just going from gallery to museum to gallery," Fishman said. "Obviously, I make mental comparisons with what I see there versus what I know is being produced at home. There is an enormous amount of solid work being made by local artists that isn't being offered up to the general public through conventional means. Artlink provides that vehicle."
Fishman conceded time for this interview between a visit to her bank and an Artlink financial committee meeting in the midst of a typical, tightly scheduled day-timer day. Quick to speak of the quality of the current exhibition, “Key Strokes,” she shortly turns to plans for the upcoming regional printmaker’s show which opens in May (“It is undoubtedly one of the best anywhere.”) and then rattles off the 20 artists who are to take part in what she hopes is a blockbuster mixed-media exhibition tentatively titled 'Growing Up in Indiana' which is slated for the fall of 2005.
From whence cometh her knowledge and wherewithal to accomplish her revered place in the local scene? Fishman can only speculate.
“I read lots, looked and sometimes even studied,” she explained. “I grew up in an environment that was nurturing. My grandmother crocheted, made hook rugs, and my mother read. I was exposed to books and ideas. I was obviously conditioned that way, and I've just continued along that path. Just being around and involved for so long may also have helped.”
After high school in Hicksville (an ironically named alma mater), Fishman pursued art and education at both Ohio State and Miami University then returned to pick up her Master's at Saint Francis from where she was later awarded an honorary Doctorate. In the midst of all that Fishman also studied at the old Fort Wayne Art Institute, the Penland School of Arts in North Carolina and the Arrowmont School in Tennessee.
As an artist Fishman has worked in numerous media. Known mostly as a printmaker, she has at various times also expressed herself in drawing, painting, cyanoprinting and jewelry. "I somehow always seem to lose interest in a particular medium once I play with it. I then just move along to something new, another interest. Collage is probably my favorite form." Her works have been the focus at a variety of venues throughout the region.
After school and for the next near-quarter-century, Fishman taught at both middle and high school levels in the East Noble County school system ("Believe it or not, I actually preferred the middle-school students.").
A certain pride exudes when she speaks of the successes of some of her former students as well as her own daughters who followed artistic careers in painting and dance and ultimately engendered grandchildren with artistic bents.
Fishman toyed with notions of operating a gallery several years ago when in partnership with a friend, Ellie Golden, she established the Goldfish Gallery, first on an upper floor of the Fishman's women’s apparel store and later in a similar spot in Golden's men's wear outlet both in downtown Fort Wayne. (The Goldfish name would resurface later when it was appropriated by St. Francis as part of its Ian and Mimi Rolland art complex. It currently offers a year-round space for student work and also serves as a laboratory for students in gallery and arts administration.)
But it wasn't until much later that Fishman was to return to the gallery business when she encountered Bruce Linker and his upstart “Artlink” gallery on the second floor of a Broadway building located across the street from the recently vacated 3 Rivers Food Co-op. Eventually the small gallery moved across the street and shared space with the Co-op before moving to its current site.
When Fishman took charge there wasn’t enough money to cover payroll, but now that’s not a problem even with a largely expanded mission and more frequent exhibitions.
That’s not to say the facility operates problem free.
"These are tough times for the arts," explained Fishman. "We're experiencing cuts like other non-profits. We learned recently we’ll have a shortfall from our Arts United allocation. In addition, some of our corporate and foundation sponsors have told us they’re holding off their commitments until later in the year which doesn't help in our planning."
"It makes the picture for the coming year a question mark. Any classes or projects that don't pay for themselves we can't do. We may also have to cut back on shipping costs for art exhibits and honorariums for artists and exhibit judges. Well pull our horns in and see how the rest of the year goes," Fishman recently told another writer.
In spite of her successes at the helm of Artlink, Fishman's name is also conjured up for her role as President of the former Fort Wayne Art School in the 1960s, when she helped empower that institute to a height some consider as the “golden era” of Fort Wayne art education and activity.
Local artist Don Kruse along with the late painter/professor Noel Dusenchon and Russell Oettle, painter/teacher/department head (who was once married to Fishman) formed a vanguard of art enterprise and were seen as the “Three Musketeers.”
“Those were exciting times when it seemed the arts and people were flourishing,” recalled Kruse recently. “Russell gave us free rein to teach and explore, and Betty somehow found the money to provide us with the tools and the environment to allow for lots of creativity.”
“She wasn't the “society lady” rubbing elbows with the art crowd. She understood the creative process and was really good (and remains so) at recognizing what was good and honest in people as well as their artwork. There are some great stories and some great art that came out of that period. She deserves credit for helping engender that.”
Fishman has received a number of honors and awards from her honorary doctorate from St. Francis, to her “Betty Fishman Day” in Fort Wayne and was recognized for her contributions to arts and culture with a Sagamore of the Wabash distinction from the governor’s office. You get the impression however that it is her own sense of pride and accomplishment that means the most to her.
"I often wonder what it would be like to choose a few pieces, somehow store them away, then come back in 50 years or so and judge their relevance," Fishman pondered before darting off to her financial committee meeting.
"I happen to know some of the pieces Fishman has in her home: George McCullough, Tom Keesee, Russell Oettle, Norman Bradley and Don Kruse. It is a group that has certainly held up well and adds credence to her status as taste maker. I also know some of the artists on her short list, her picks to click as it were. If you’d like to know more just ask her, she’s not shy about sharing her views, never has been.
by David Tanner
Click on the headings below for full calendars
Click header for complete Things To Do calendar
Art on Broadway — Tours of 5 downtown venues featuring art from Alexandra Hall, Julie Wall, Peter Lupkin, Daniel Dienelt, Knotodday, Kay Gregg, Terry Ratliff and St. Monci, 5 p.m. Saturday, March 25, Broadway Street, Fort Wayne, free, 417-5925
Beer, Bourbon, Bacon Festival — Unlimited beer sampling from national and regional craft breweries, fine bourbon sampling and bacon inspired treats, 6-9 p.m. Saturday, March 25 (5-9 p.m. VIP), Marquis and Three Rivers Ballrooms, Hotel Fort Wayne, Fort Wayne, $35-$75, 484-0411
An Evening with Author Tom Frank — Author of What’s the Matter with Kansas talks about his new book; hors d’oeuvres, lecture and book signing included in admission, 6 p.m. Saturday, March 25, CS3 Hideaway, Fort Wayne, $15 plus donation, 602-1008
Puttin’ on the Ritz —Active 20-30 club fundraiser with live music from Chris Worth and Company, gourmet edibles, wine and beer, live and silent auctions; black tie optional, 7 p.m. Saturday, March 25, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, Fort Wayne, $50-$90, 450-2844
Shipshewana on the Road — Food, craft and primitives show and sale, 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday, March 25 and 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday, March 26, Allen County War Memorial Coliseum, Fort Wayne, $4, 483-1111
Click header for complete On the Road calendar
Click header for complete Music & Comedy calendar
Big Dick and the Penetrators — Classic rock at Navy Club, Ship 245, New Haven, 7-11 p.m., no cover, 493-4044
Brat Pack — Rat Pack/variety at Nick's Martini & Wine Bar, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m., no cover, 482-6425
Cougar Hunter — 80s glam rock at Vinnie's Bar, Decatur, 10 p.m.-2 a.m., $5, 729-2225
Ellsworth Sharp — Neofolk at Friendly Fox, Fort Wayne, 6:30-8:30 p.m., no cover, 745-3369
FBC Band w/Sheba — Variety/Music and Memories benefit at C2G Music Hall, Fort Wayne , 8 p.m., $7-$15, 426-6434
Fireball Matinee — Rock at Hideaway Lounge, Bluffton, 9 p.m.-12 a.m., no cover, 824-0455
Fleshwounds — Rock at Hamilton House, Hamilton, 9 p.m.-1 a.m., no cover, 488-3344
Fort Wayne Funk Orchestra — Funk at Dupont Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 9:30 p.m., cover, 483-1311
Fu5ion — Variety at Mitchell's Sports Bar & Neighborhood Grill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m.-2 a.m., $3, (260) 387-5063
The Illegals — Rock at O'Sullivan's Italian Irish Pub, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m.-1 a.m., no cover, 422-5896
Joe Stabelli — Jazz at Don Hall's Gas House, Fort Wayne, 5:45-9 p.m., no cover, 426-3411
John Curran & Renegade — Country at Alley Sports Bar, Pro Bowl West, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m.-1 a.m., no cover, 483-4421
Johnny Freakin' Xcitor — Country rock at Beamer's Sports Grill, Fort Wayne, 9:30 p.m.-1:30 a.m., no cover, 625-1002
Kat Bowser — Variety at Don Hall's Guesthouse, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m.-12 a.m., no cover, 489-2524
The Orange Opera w/Mickyle James — Rock at Brass Rail, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., $5, 267-5303
Prime Suspects — Variety at American Legion Post 499, Fort Wayne, 8-11 p.m., no cover, 483-1368
Quincy and the Q-Tet feat. Phil Potts — Rock/variety at Downtown Eatery & Spirits, Warsaw, 10 p.m.-1 a.m., no cover, (574) 267-6000
Second Nature — Pop at Crazy Pinz, Fort Wayne, 8-11 p.m., no cover, 490-2695
Shannon Persinger Quartet — Jazz/variety at Club Soda, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m.-12 a.m., no cover, 426-3442
Todd Harrold & Nick Bobay Duo — R&B/blues/variety at American Legion Post 148, Fort Wayne, 7 p.m., no cover, 423-4751
Click header for complete Karaoke & DJs calendar
Ambitious Blondes Karaoke — Variety at Office Tavern, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 478-5827
Beat Karaoke & DJ — Variety at American Legion Post 296, Fort Wayne, 8 p.m. , no cover, 456-2988
Bucca Karaoke w/Bucca — Variety at Tower Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 436-6310
Classic City Karaoke w/Bryan Lee — Karaoke at Corner Pocket Tavern, Fremont, 10 p.m., no cover, 495-9255
Classic City Karaoke w/Tobin — Karaoke at Toad's Tavern, Monroeville, 10 p.m., no cover, 623-6226
DJ Shawn — Karaoke/variety at Club Paradise, Angola, 10 p.m., no cover, 833-7082
Fort Wayne Karaoke — Karaoke at Latch String Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 10:30 p.m., no cover, 483-5526
Fort Wayne Karaoke w/Brian — Variety at AJ's Bar and Grill, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m., , 434-1980
Fort Wayne Karaoke w/Josh — Variety at Arena Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 557-1563
Fort Wayne Karaoke w/TJ — Variety at Chevvy's, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 436-4748
House DJ — Variety at Early Bird's Ultra Lounge, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m., cover, 483-1979
House DJ — Variety at Flashback on the Landing, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m., cover, 422-5292
Karaoke — Variety at Crooner's Karaoke Bar, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m.-3 a.m., no cover, 486-1979
Live DJ — Variety at Wrigley Field Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 485-1038
Shooting Star Prod. w/Barbie — Variety at Uncle Lou's Steel Mill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 436-5787
Shooting Star Prod. w/Stu — Variety at Pike's Pub, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 478-6200
Sidecar Gary's Karaoke & DJ — Karaoke at Kville Pub, Kendallville, 9 p.m.-1 a.m., no cover, 348-1677
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The Children’s Hour — Lillian Hellman’s seminal drama about bigotry perpetuated against the LGBT community and how easily a lie can spread, 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 25, First Presbyterian Theater, Fort Wayne, $12-$20, 426-7421 ext. 121
Getting Sara Married — Comedy about an unmarried lawyer in need of a husband (according to her aunt), 7 p.m. dinner, 8 p.m. curtain, Saturday, March 25, Arena Dinner Theatre, Fort Wayne, $40 (includes dinner & show), 424-5622
One Foot in the Gravy — Howard Kingkade’s comedy and winner of Fort Wayne Civic Theatre’s Northeast Indiana Playwright Festival, 8 p.m. Saturday, March 25; 2 p.m. Sunday, March 26, Arts United Center, Fort Wayne, $10-$20, 422-4226
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Click header for complete Art calendar
22nd Annual Valentine’s Invitational — Works from local and national artists, Tuesday-Saturday and by appointment thru March 31, Castle Gallery Fine Art, Fort Wayne, 426-6568
2017 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards — Award-winning works from northern Indiana and northwest Ohio middle and high school students, Tuesday-Sunday thru April 9, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $5-$7 (members, free), 422-6467
Afros: A Celebration of African Hair by Michael July — Contemporary photography exhibit by Brooklyn author/photographer, daily thru April 14, D’Agostino Art Gallery, Indiana Tech, Fort Wayne, 399-8626
An Artful Spring — Works by Gwen Gutwein, Patricia Weiss, Austin Cartwright and more, Tuesday-Saturday thru March 31, Crestwoods Frame Shop & Gallery, Roanoke, 672-2080
Decatur Sculpture Tour — 31 original sculptures and 15 permanent exhibits on display, walking tour maps available, thru April 1, Decatur, free, 724-2605
Echolilia — Works from Timothy Archibald and his autistic son, Eli, Tuesday-Sunday thru June 11, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $5-$7 (members, free), 422-6467
Entropy — Daniel Swartz solo exhibition explores relationship between death and mourning through combinations of mythology, mathematics, multi-dimensional physics and pop culture, Monday-Saturday thru April 1, Jennifer Ford Art, Fort Wayne, 740-1309
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, $5-$7 (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
Garden Party — Garden-themed works in a variety of mediums from over 30 local artists, Monday-Saturday thru March 31, Orchard Gallery of Fine Art, Fort Wayne, 436-0927
Generations: A View of Who Was Who — Works by Romare Bearden, Kara Walker, Alma Thomas, Jacob Lawrence and other African-American artists, Tuesday-Sunday thru April 9, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $5-$7 (members, free), 422-6467
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
A Mary Poppins Garden Party — Child-oriented garden exhibit, Tuesday-Sunday thru April 1, Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory, Fort Wayne, $3-$5 (2 and under, free), 427-6440
Moments in Time: Reflecting on the Human Spirit — Elizabeth Opalenik photographs from her recent Amish series A Journey Home and her Reflecting on the Edge exhibition, daily thru March 26, Visual Arts Gallery, IPFW, Fort Wayne, 481-6709
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
RAW. Untamed. Unashamed. Visions of Freedom. — Abstract romanticist works in acrylics and epoxy from Kristy Jahn, Fridays and Saturday-Thursday by appointment thru March 25, The Gallery at Pranayoga, Fort Wayne, 423-9642
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, $5-$7 (members, free), 422-6467
Wabash County Schools Exhibition — Works by high school art students, daily thru April 16, Clark Gallery, Honeywell Center, Wabash, 563-1102