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

roots up.

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

refined outlook”).

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.