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Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette
The Wunderkammer Company on Fairfield has erected a community chalk wall

Chalk walls let communities share the love

What makes Fort Wayne so special?

Well, the writing’s on the wall.

Artlink and positive-image campaign, Love, Fort Wayne, are collaborating to create communal chalk walls that engage neighbors with a more tactile experience. The organizations have already established one chalk wall on the exterior of Wunderkammer Company representing why neighbors love the 46807 ZIP code.

Future locations will include the downtown Arts Campus, Firefly Coffeehouse and Parkview Field; organizers plan to have a wall in time for the Taste of the Arts Festival this month and Firefly Coffeehouse is scheduled to open their wall this month as well. Parkview Field will construct the wall during the Fort Wayne TinCaps postseason.

Similar to Wunderkammer, each site will represent a certain area: Firefly will focus on the 46805 ZIP code, the Arts Campus will ask participants to express their feelings about downtown, while Parkview Field will ask why participants love their own particular neighborhood.

Deb Washler, executive director of Artlink, says she was first inspired by the Before I Die movement, a global chalk art project that encourages participants to consider what they want to accomplish with their life. She says after attending a workshop on community engagement, she lasered in on a local focus for the project.

“We should always be engaging audiences – that’s how we have impact in our community,” Artlink Executive Director Deb Washler says. “With the launch of the Fort Wayne incubator, we’re training artists and creative folks to launch these businesses, but we need the community to support those businesses.”

“It’s great when a shop opens up, but what about the people who are supposed to come in and support it?”

To jump-start the project, Artlink approached Love, Fort Wayne, a community-action project born out of a group from the 2014 class of Leadership Fort Wayne. The group has captured over 50 video testimonials of residents and community leaders explaining what they love most about the city.

Volunteer chair Amber Recker says the collaboration with Artlink was in sync with what the organization already began with their video project.

“We’ve got the video archive online, but we wanted to bring the same opportunity out to the community. By constructing these chalk walls out where people can go at their convenience and share what they like,” she says. “I think our city sometimes has image problems and a lot of people get bogged down in the negative. By encouraging people to talk positively, we hope people start to think about what it is they love about where they live.”

The construction of the walls are fairly easy. Washler says it requires nothing more than chalkboard paint, spray paint and stencils. But the organizations wanted to first team up with familiar venues to ensure the chalk walls could be quickly put into action.

“We had already partnered up with Wunderkammer for the Fort Side Story, which engaged the 05 and 07 ZIP codes, so it made sense to start there,” she says.

The Fort Side Story was a collaborative exhibit that spurred an artistic rivalry between Artlink and Wunderkammer in March. The gallery with the most votes would host a community party.

Dan Swartz, executive director of Wunderkammer, says he unveiled the gallery’s chalk wall during the gallery’s “victory” block party.

“We had over 300 people throughout the day (for the block party), and people definitely interacted with it and enjoyed it from afar, which I thought was interesting. The nature of it is to be participatory, but it actually attracted more onlookers, which is kind of interesting,” he says. “I found it funny that multiple people wrote their neighbors are their friends – it’s up there three times already. That’s just something that strikes a chord with me, because I see that. I see a lot of people who are friendly down here.”

Swartz says the project evokes a similarity to graffiti; it gives participants a sense of control in their environment.

“Somebody who feels they have control of their environment usually wouldn’t scrawl on someone’s property. It’s usually people who think they have a lack of control, so they take control,” he says.

“I feel like it engages people because we all have a little bit of that inside of us, no one has 100 percent control over their life and their environment; it gives them the ability to feel like ‘I’m doing something.’

“It’s like a vanilla version of the same mechanics of graffiti because we actually have delineated where you can scrawl something and give you the materials. It’s a very simple version of it, but it’s the same mechanics.”