The concept for the new, collaborative art exhibition “Fort Side Story” is something ripped right out the musical “West Side Story.”
It’s all about turf.
However, the Sharks, Jets and their choreographed knife brawls will be absent as artists on the east side of the city face off against the west side in a friendly art competition.
Artlink and Wunderkammer Company will house the two rival exhibits for the next month, leaving the winning vote up to the viewers.
“The audience appreciates it because they have a voice. They are actively engaged in our competition,” says Deb Washler, executive director of Artlink. “The bigger idea is to demonstrate that these artistic neighborhoods and communities exist.”
The two galleries divided the city in half, using Calhoun Street as the midpoint. Artlink will open its exhibit of east side artists today, and Wunderkammer will follow with west side artists March 14.
Viewers are to take the remainder of the month to check out both exhibits before voting for which side of the city they prefer.
The winning gallery will host a community block party this summer.
As a former Artlink member and part-time employee, Wunderkammer founder Dan Swartz says it has been more of a reunion than an actual rivalry.
“When we first opened, I would hear that it’s you versus Artlink, but there’s so little square footage for galleries that there isn’t room to have competition at this point,” he says.
“There are way more artists than galleries. Plus, a rivalry is going to make people devalue arts in the community at large. You’re essentially putting artists at risk to have the ability to do anything.”
Washler says it’s the limited amount of gallery space that made her approach Swartz with the idea for an exhibition.
“Our artist panel wanted to focus on neighborhoods in Fort Wayne that have a high density of artists, but we haven’t been able to do what we wanted because we needed a larger space,” she says. “(Swartz) was up for it, so we set up the partnership about a year ago. It took us a few months to formalize the theme.”
Washler says that from the information Artlink has gathered, certain ZIP codes appear to be prominent for artists. To the west, Washler says ZIP codes 46802, which covers the West Central neighborhoods, and 46807, the southwest area where Wunderkammer is located, have a high concentration of artists; to the east, the 46805 ZIP code, which includes Wells Street, Coliseum Boulevard and East State Boulevard, has a large population of artists as well.
“I think it’s because the areas are so close to downtown,” Washler says. “It’s urban, but you still have access to the park and trail systems.”
Washler says she wanted to recruit a range of east side artists who don’t usually exhibit at Artlink or haven’t exhibited their work recently, while Swartz says he wanted to demonstrate the sample of styles from high school students, young professional artists and older artists who may usually exhibit in different venues.
“We wanted the west side exhibit to emulate the culture of organizations that are in it,” he says. “We have a gamut, and that’s one of the positive things about this exhibit – it lets you highlight the diversity all over the city.”
Swartz knows how in-gallery competitions can attract the viewer to participate. He had a similar experience with Wunderkammer’s “Old School vs. New School” exhibit last year, which pitted younger artists against their more mature counterparts to show how age can influence the experiences of artists.
Swartz says he loves taking the observation of age and applying it geographically to the range of artists that call the city home.
“It’s just really apparent that our city as a whole has a very rich, diverse heritage,” he says. “It doesn’t matter what side you’re on, it’s about showing that we have an arts community that you need to support. The concept is to support the east side or support the west side, but really it’s about supporting everybody.”