The A Better Fort organization tends to look at city development a bit differently.
The organization began in 2010 as a volunteer group for young people to support community empowerment. After a series of successful ventures, like the My City viral music video campaign, the organization focused their energy on developing downtown. While similar organizations may draw an audience with public discussions, surveys or even suggestion boxes, the young nonprofit would rather you came to a party.
Their third annual #House4aHouse electronic music concert grows into the two-part music series known as #BAALS this year, starting with a block party on South Calhoun Street today and followed by another one on Columbia Street in August. Shane Araujo, vice president of operations and co-founder, says proceeds from the concert help the organization donate money to Mad Anthony’s Children Hope House.
#BAALS should sound familiar – it’s inspired by the spike of national attention Fort Wayne received in 2011 when city officials went with their better judgment and did not name the government building, now known as Citizens Square, after former mayor Harry Baals (pronounced balls by most), despite being a clear choice in an online poll.
Late night TV host Jimmy Kimmel reveled in the elementary-school humor of the situation, even going as far as having Mayor Tom Henry call into the show. Araujo says the idea was to take the late-night fodder and turn it into something substantial.
Jimmy Kimmel used the name as a launching piece to say a lot of other things about Fort Wayne; we wanted to take what he said and turn it into something positive, Araujo said. There’s a true meaning behind it. I kind of compare it to the slogan, Keep Austin Weird.’ We want that same thing to happen here.
The changes this year don’t stop at the name. The event’s sponsors have helped increase security to ensure a safe event, and Araujo says the organization’s staff has worked on the facade for both block parties, giving the concert a new aesthetic.
The schedule again features local and regional DJs, including DJ Jung, Mizikco and Oskillate. Through the next five years, though, Araujo says, A Better Fort is priming the event to be inclusive of other genres and to become a summer must-have for teens and young adults.
We want this event to be a staple of Fort Wayne. Three Rivers Festival does a really great job of being a staple for the city, but it doesn’t really cater to the younger crowd, he says. We want people to come to Fort Wayne for the music and other things we have cooked up our sleeves. We want this to be a mecca of entertainment.
Believe it or not, #BAALS is just as much a business strategy as it is a community draw. Araujo, who runs A Better Fort as well as online distribution website Panzit with partner Alex Smith, says the block parties, as unconventional as they sound, are a good way to harvest a talented employment pool.
I mean, you would be naïve to think that young people are not going out and having fun, he says. The reality is you need to have something like this that is attractive to young people.
Some people might think it’s a stretch, but if you’re an entrepreneur, a CEO or someone in human resources that’s hiring staff, it helps, and they can see that, he adds.
Araujo says while the city and organizations like Greater Fort Wayne Inc. and the Downtown Development Trust are strategizing on how to develop downtown from its top levels, A Better Fort is striving for the same thing with a grass-roots perspective.
When you’re a 20-year-old and see in the newspaper about the trust purchasing a building on Columbia Street, you may think you have zero skin in that game. Why should you care? A Better Fort wants to come in and say, this is for you, he says.
This is for your younger sisters and brothers and your kids someday. This is a way of transferring that information to them that the city isn’t against us. Everyone wants this to be great place to grow up.