December 18, 2003
At 28 Sal Soto has already been around the block a couple of times.
Raised on South Lafayette Street (his parents still live there), the
younger Soto used to walk north to "downtown" where the action was.
It was a route that took him under the Pennsy railroad elevation and
toward the complex of the old Central High School ~ nee
Anthis Center and alternative school ~ where he was sent after being
dismissed for being "bored" at South Side.
"Coming up the rise after the elevated tracks I would see a red
brick building ... there was a stained glass window that caught your
attention," recalls Soto. "I remember asking myself what was it that
went on in there. I assumed it was just a cathedral-type structure
with ceilings that just went on and on. I'm not certain why it struck
me, but as I remember it now I somehow developed an attachment with
Little did Soto realize that he would one day own that red brick
building at 1301 Lafayette Street on the corner of Douglas, let alone
reconfigure it into Fort Wayne's edgiest art gallery and home to a
successful marketing and translation business he would grow from the
Soto (DeSoto is okay, too) came armed into the world with a passion
for art and the conscience of a fellow born on the other side of the
tracks with the will to represent and give voice and space to the
underdog or emerging artists.
"I'm not sure anyone anointed me as the gatekeeper of valid artistic
expression, but I did study the fundamentals in college, and I think
I've a clue about what standards apply ... whether it's coffee house,
gallery or museum quality," explained Soto. "Some people may take
offense to what I choose to show but as gently as I can I tell them
that you need to learn and demonstrate the basics before you choose
to change them."
Instrumental in developing his taste were fellow gallery owner and
artist David Krouse ("He's an awesome artist and a most appreciated
mentor") and former high school teacher and artist Kim Waldschmidt
("She's had a great influence on me with her early encouragement and
Avant Garde means to be at the forefront of action and Soto has in
many ways positioned himself and found for himself a spot ahead of
the action. The phrase avant garde is derived from the French for
vanguard, but it has yet another definition that has to do with
effete or snobbery, you know, the whole 'Frog' thing. But Soto in no
way suggests that he's such a character; he's adopted the name
because it fits: a guy, an entrepreneur, who champions the future for
art and vision in Fort Wayne.
After short stints at Vincennes and IU-Bloomington, where he again
concentrated on the fine arts and design, Soto realized he wasn't
quite ready to settle down to become a full-time, serious student, so
he spent a three-year hitch in the Navy where he indeed saw the world
while continuing to hone his design skills.
"Mark Twain probably says it best with his line: 'Don't let school
interfere with your education.' It's an attitude I found useful to
follow. So almost from the time I enlisted I was making use of my
talents designing and creating company banners, flags, t-shirts, you
name it," he recalls. "Then after boot camp and with the fleet in the
Persian Gulf, I was again tapped as the artist on board and was
assigned various duties which involved using those same skills."
After finishing his tour in Texas, he was discharged and took a bus
directly to Bloomington, where he eventually finished his course work
before returning home to Fort Wayne, finding work and consulting
opportunities in the social work arena where he again employed his
artistic tools incorporating art and design.
"When I began the business and found our first location on Berry, I
hung some of my private collection (he began collecting at 23) in the
offices," Soto said, "I just felt it was natural to display the
pieces so others could enjoy [them], and I've incorporated art in
just about every facet of my life.
"Being on the Board of the Fort Wayne Art Museum has been an
education in experiencing first hand how much work and money are
needed just to curate a single show, let alone an entire season's
worth," says Soto. "Being around the museum staff and its curators
helped me to develop a broader understanding of what it would take to
run a gallery, even from the standpoint of the business-side of
things, contracts to protect both artist and collectors, and so
Without trying to sound self-serving, Soto points out that Richard
Florida's book The Rise of the Creative Class and the author's
subsequent appearance a year ago at IPFW followed his own activities
which gave real meaning to Florida's tenet of "new ideas in old
"Face it, even with the proliferation of smaller galleries and
venues, 'outsiders' in music and the visual arts have a difficult
time getting notice," Soto said. "With this new 3000-foot space it's
a great opportunity to showcase emerging arts and show our commitment
to highlighting the diversity that exists in Fort Wayne."
Perhaps no better example of Soto's vision will come in the form of
Pop Filter, a multimedia event that will present art in a
unique and social environment through a fusion of video, music,
visual art and drama by local artists that is set for its premier
January 17 from 8 p.m. until 4 a.m. at the Avant Garde.
According to an event spokesperson, we are "to expect an
overstimulation of the senses similar to Andy Warhol's Exploding
Plastic Inevitable, as E4, David Sleep, Chris Colcord, Jeff
Moore, John Commorato, Go Dog Go and others showcase their
The first in a projected series, Pop Filter is in part
sponsored by Audio Visual Integration, Work Out Room Yoga Studio, One
Lucky Guitar Graphic Design, Digital TV and Solstice Coaching. A $5
admission charge includes food prepared by Marlon Lyle of the Oyster
Bar. In addition there will be a cash bar from Mad Anthony Brewing
Company and coffee from Higher Grounds.