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Cathie Rowand | The Journal Gazette
BuskerFest drew plenty of people to watch street performers. The goal of the city’s Cultural District is to maintain interest when there isn’t something special to get people downtown.

Maintaining momentum


Downtown advocates who attended a Pop Up Cultural District event Wednesday at the Arts United Center may not have gotten a complete picture of all the action behind the scenes. The purpose was to gather ideas about proposed plans to ensure the Fort Wayne Cultural District becomes an iconic destination drawing people downtown – even when a festival isn’t on the schedule.

Residents less familiar with efforts to develop the city’s Cultural District but interested in getting involved would have benefited from getting a few more details about the plan at the public event last week.

But all the details of the proposed Cultural District plan are easily accessible on the Arts United website at

“We’ve tried to provide enough structure so people know what’s been proposed but enough flexibility so people feel they have a say,” said Jim Sparrow, executive director of Arts United.

The Fort Wayne City Council granted the Cultural District its official designation in July 2010. The planning effort, a partnership of the city of Fort Wayne, Arts United, Visit Fort Wayne and the Downtown Improvement District, is meant to complement other downtown revitalization initiatives such as the Downtown Blueprint and the Riverfront Development Study.

The plan is based on eight targeted areas: Public Market, Creative Business Incubator, Creative Storefront Development, Culinary Incubator, Public Art, Telling Our Story, Activity and Connectivity.

“What’s nice about this project, but also a challenge, is some of these things are already under way, for example the public market,” Sparrow said. “It’s less about how to get these things happening. It’s more about the sustainability of these ongoing efforts.”

The public markets action area includes supporting the existing downtown farmers markets and working to make them year-round.

The creative storefront initiative is meant to attract unique and independent retail business, and the culinary incubator to expand local food-related businesses such as mobile food trucks.

Sparrow explained the Creative Business Incubator initiative might include something similar to a mural project in Cincinnati, which serves as a workforce development project as well as a public art project. The city hires youth to paint a mural downtown. The project teaches them job skills as well as potential career opportunities involving artistic expression.

“We are very aware that some of this is figuring out how to get the information to the widest audience possible,” Sparrow said.

One way they plan on doing that is through a smartphone application that they expect to release toward the end of July.

The app will serve not only as a resource for information on local arts events but also a ticket sales system.

Residents not able to attend any of the previous Cultural District meetings are still able to give their opinions about the plans and share their ideas for the district by completing an online survey on the Arts United website. There will also be a more formal opportunity to get involved with the effort at the Taste of the Arts event on Aug. 24.

“There are already efforts that are going on,” Sparrow said. “This will give us an opportunity to send interested people to the right ‘bucket.’ The primary areas for action probably won’t change, but the details will – based on the feedback.”

The goal of the plan is to develop the district to the point that the area routinely attracts a critical mass of people even when there are not special events planned.

Sparrow said the community has to drive the effort.

“We do want it to be successful. We want it to be something the community truly wants and not just something that’s been laid out on a piece of paper,” he said.