The arts community has been hard hit by the realities of 2020, especially for artists who do their biggest business through art fairs and festivals all summer long.
Among many annual arts events in the area is the Rural Studio Tour, one that invites art lovers to visit a variety of art studios to see the artists at work and, hopefully, snag a piece or two for their own collections.
With people beginning to tentatively return to some basic events, Joe and Kathy Pelka have finally taken a long-hoped-for plan and put it into reality. It’s similar in many ways to the Rural Studio Tour which would have taken place in May.
Drawn here from California
“When my wife and I lived in California, we used to be involved with the Ojai Art Festival, which was a tour all about art,” Joe Pelka said in an interview with Whatzup. “Los Angeles really supported it, and it’s one of the best studio tours in the country.”
The very fact that Pelka and his wife now live in Fort Wayne is a testimonial to the way both this city and the surrounding areas support the arts.
“We’ve lived here 16, almost 17 years now,” Pelka said. “We were renting a house in Ojai when our son was young, but we knew we could never afford to own the house we were renting if we were going to keep doing art shows. Basically if you want to be able to afford a house in California, you better marry someone with a lot of money.
“We knew the best art fairs and festivals were in the Midwest, so we drew a circle on a map and saw that every place we’d want to go was within eight hours of Fort Wayne, and here we knew we could afford to buy a house.”
Having enjoyed being here and being part of the community of artists here and beyond, the Pelkas had long spoken of bringing the idea behind the Ojai Arts Festival to the Fort Wayne area. But their plans became a plan of action this spring.
“Fort Wayne has a lot of artists here,” Pelka said. “And with the pandemic we just thought ‘Why not?’ If people are willing to come out now, and they seem to be to a certain degree, this is the perfect time to do this. The pandemic has crushed studio artists because their marketplace, which is the fairs and festivals, is gone. We’re planning to make this an annual event and hope that it gets bigger and better each year.”
Making people feel safe
As is the case with many current events, there is going to be a tremendous amount of care taken to make people feel safe.
To that end, studios will have both indoor and outdoor areas available, so if some don’t feel comfortable in a contained environment, they can stay outdoors to accommodate their concerns. For those who opt to go inside, masks and social distancing will be observed.
Among those participating are The Art Farm in Spencerville featuring the work of Lisa Vetter and Paul Siefert; Kristy Jo Beber’s Stoneware Pottery in Leo; I-Wood Artist, the Churubusco studio of Fred and Rhonda Inman; Pelka’s own Handmade Clay Art and Acrylic Paintings in Huntington; and William Steffen’s Artistry in Wood in Spencerville.
The Inmans will also host guest wood artist Shelly Bice of Against the Grain.
Pelka found those he approached about being involved to be thrilled for the opportunity to show their work again.
“Everyone knows how hard 2020 has been, and we just want something positive to come out of it,” Pelka said. “It was hard to say in May or June how we were going to be able to do this. I do ceramics, but I had always wanted to start painting. So this was the time for me to start doing that, and these paintings will be seen for the first time in public. Personally, one of the things I’ll think about five years from now is, ‘That was when I started painting!’”
Pelka and his wife will also remember that this was when they finally put their hope for an Ojai-style studio tour into action, and it’s something that will last long after the pandemic is over.
Hoping for Future growth
Pelka credits his wife for allowing him to focus on his art while she handles the business end of the studio. He said her organizational skills are a big reason they have big hopes for the future of Falling for Art in the years to come.
“We’re starting small this year because we want to make people feel comfortable coming out and provide a safe environment,” Pelka said. “But in the future we want to continue to grow and build on what we’re starting now. We want to make it an annual event on the same weekend in October, and maybe someday we’ll build it to where it’s a two-day event. Maybe people in Chicago will think, ‘This is a good weekend to go to Fort Wayne,’ and we’ll start bringing in people from outside the area who stay at our hotels and eat at our restaurants.”
Pelka said it’s “eye opening” how many artists are in his adopted hometown, and he wants to get that message out in the years to come. For anyone who wants more details for this year and to see the event evolve in the future, the Falling for Art Facebook page is the place to visit. Pelka just hopes this will provide a respite from the difficulties of this year.
“We just want to bring a bit of positivity and a little bit of sunshine to people’s lives,” he said. “As an artist, our responsibility is to uplift people during these weird times. We’re elated to have the artists that are with us this year.”
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