Things to Do in Fort Wayne and Beyond

A Master Plan for City Art?

Steve Penhollow

Whatzup Features Writer

Published May 14, 2018

Heads Up! This article is 4 years old.

After Mayor Tom Henry and City Councilmen Glynn Hines and Tom Freistroffer proposed the creation of a Public Art Program and Public Art Commission earlier this month, the Fort Wayne City Council voted last week to pass a proposed ordinance out of committee.

A final vote was scheduled to take place this Tueday, after whatzup’s presstime, although passage the proposal was expected.

Pam Holocher, Fort Wayne’s planning & policy director, said the city has been involved in public art projects for quite some time: The Jerrod Tobias mural along Clay Street and the lighting on the Martin Luther King Bridge are two example.

But the city felt that it was time to have a formal process for procuring and selecting public art.

“Also prioritizing what our next public art project should be, whether downtown or in a neighborhood,” she said.

Holocher said that a public art master plan would be one of the first steps after the commission is established.

“The public art master plan would kind of give you an inventory of what you have on the ground,” she said. “So from that master plan, we’ll really inform and prioritize public art projects within the community.”

An important consideration in the art selection process, Assistant City Planner Joe Giant said, is matching community to piece.

“For public art to work, it has to work for the location,” he said. “So that makes original pieces a big focus.”

Some Fort Wayne residents might not intrinsically understand the value of public art, but it is widely seen as a driver for economic development.

Perhaps some people hear the words “public art” and they automatically think of something abstract. But the category also encompasses statues of historic figures.

“It tells the story of the community you’re in, and it engages the community,” Holocher said. “It is crucial in attracting business and recruiting, especially millennials. It is crucial to keeping people here.”

“If you visit Fort Wayne and you see public art,” Giant said, “you’re going to know instantly that we value creativity and we value cultures. These things are draws for younger people looking for experiences.”

For municipalities like Fort Wayne that cannot boast of nearby natural wonders, she said, it is especially important to find different ways to tell the city’s story.

In a community survey conducted in 2005, city beautification was second only to jobs in a list of citizens’ priorities, Holocher said.

“It really told me back then that the way the community looks is really important to people,” she said.

“Art is part of the face of the city; it’s part of the character of the city; it’s part of the history of the city; it’s part of our parks,” Freistroffer said.

In fact, he said, Fort Wayne is one of the few remaining cities its size or larger not to have a funded public art program.

“I think we are overdue for it,” Freistroffer said. “This has already been indoctrinated in 400 other municipalities around the nation.”

And 3,000 cities have public art commissions, Giant said.

“As the 76th largest city in the country, we’re sort of behind the 8-ball in public art development,” he said.

Funding for this program would come courtesy of the Indianapolis model, Holocher said.

The money would be culled from TIF (tax increment financing) districts, Giant said.

“What Indianapolis did was – they were getting a lot of development in their downtown TIF area, but they kind of noticed that a lot of those benefits weren’t exactly helping ordinary citizens,” he said.

“So they said, ‘Well gosh. What if, for every $100 that the city gives to a developer to support their project, we ask that developer to contribute $1 from their own funds to public art?'” he said.

A 13-member commission would decide where that money would go, Freistroffer said.

“[Neighborhood commissions or associations] can apply for monies to be given to [neighborhoods] for parks, parks programs, gateways to the neighborhood, roundabouts, underpasses, overpasses and schools,” he said.

“The developer is already getting 100 percent of the TIF money coming back, as per their contract,” Freistroffer said. “We’re just asking for 1 percent.”

Businesses that fit the above description would have the option of spending 50 percent of their contribution on public art that would end up being displayed on their properties. Compulsory contributions would be capped at $100,000, he said.

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