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While many schools continue to provide arts programming in the face of budget restrictions, it has become an increasingly important part of the area’s not-for-profit community to provide outreach to schools which may be lacking. Some organizations focus all their efforts on providing artistic outlets and recognition for the youth of our city. FAME, the Foundation for Art and Music in Education, is decidedly one of those organizations. Now in her seventh year as FAME’s Executive Director, Teresa “T” Irmscher (she has almost never been called Teresa) has brought a background in media to her position and continues to strive to enrich the opportunities for Fort Wayne’s young artists to shine.
A graduate of Concordia High School, Irmscher attended college in Missouri, majoring in broadcast communications. That led to a job at NBC33, one which lasted six years. When the station’s ownership change led to a merger with WPTA, many, including Irmscher, lost their jobs. But before that happened, her work in promotions – which led to a large network of contacts in the not-for-profit world – helped lead to her next position with the American Cancer Society. It was there she learned a thing or two about organizing large events.
“I think my favorite thing about my job at the American Cancer Society was the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk every October. Having so many people gather at the park, being so happy and excited to walk, was really great.”
FAME had already become important to her before this career shift, thanks to a stint on its board of directors. She was no longer on the board when the directorship opened, but she had remained close to those who were still serving on it. She had moved back to Missouri for a time when a friend said, “Hey ‘T,’ did you know FAME is hiring a director?”
“I decided to go for it, though the title ‘executive director’ is a little overwhelming. But I decided to try for it anyway. I’ve always loved the arts. Visual arts especially, but all the arts – dance, music – I love it all. And I believe in serving the community.”
FAME, founded in 1987, was the vision of Dorothy Kittaka, who saw the erosion of arts funding in public schools and hoped to fill that void. Under her leadership for more than 20 years, FAME grew tremendously, and its annual festival has become a major event since its first outing in 1988, becoming the largest single event each year at the Grand Wayne Center. Irmscher says taking over the position after such stellar leadership put her in a good position to move the organization forward.
“Dorothy was here for years and years and then Beth Peter served as part-time director, and they left it in good shape, so I walked into something that was already going strong. My job is to keep it that way.”
In addition to the annual festival, FAME also runs children’s arts classes and summer camps. Irmscher says the goal is to “keep the arts strong and bring out the artist in every child.”
The festival earlier this year provided a merging of arts, math and science, providing a partnership with Science Central to combine artistic expression with the study of space. The Star Lab planetarium was particularly popular, and Mark Phenicie’s Steampunk Spaceship provided a perfect example of cross-disciplines. The next festival, March 19-20, has been designated as an official event of Indiana’s bicentennial celebration.
“We just got the word that we’re an official event for bicentennial, so our theme in March will be Artfully Celebrating Indiana. We’re bringing in a storytelling mime, and I’m really looking forward to seeing what that’s like. We’ll have the Miami Indians coming in also to demonstrate bead work, and the Hearthstone Ensemble will be performing. All of the art projects in the Imaginarium will be Indiana based, and we’ll have 200 singers perform a song specifically created for the FAME Festival and the Indiana Bicentennial.”
One of the most significant changes during her tenure as director has been FAME’s move from their offices at IPFW to the Auer Center for Arts & Culture where they joined Fort Wayne Ballet, Artlink and Arts United as tenants.
“We were at IPFW for three or four years, and we were very appreciative of them for having us. But in the end, we couldn’t turn down the opportunity to be downtown and be part of the arts campus down here. It’s been a godsend for us since it’s easier to collaborate with other organizations down here. It’s been a nice move for us.”
Irmscher is the sole employee of FAME (with the exception of a part-time accountant who sees to the books), which sounds like an overwhelming task. But in the end, she says, FAME is as collaborative within the organization as it is with other organizations. And she credits the board on which she once served with making the work she and FAME do possible.
“Our board works very well together. No one can get to every single event, but our board is there to support us at everything we do,” she says. “They all work very hard, and I think we are very good together. I’m very lucky to have the board that I have.”