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Empowering Local Artists: Alexandra Hall's Commitment to Fort Wayne's Creative Community

Alexandra Hall is the creator of Art This Way, an artist advocate program helping artists create public art on private property.  The program is also associated with the Fort Wayne Downtown Improvement District.

Public art plays a crucial role in enhancing the aesthetic appeal of cities, transforming them into vibrant and culturally rich spaces that inspire and engage residents and visitors alike. The presence of public art acts as a magnet for tourism, attracting visitors who seek out unique and immersive cultural experiences. It has the ability to transform neglected or underutilized spaces and create a vibrant and more walkable city. Beyond its aesthetic value, public art has been proven to positively impact mental health and well-being, providing a source of solace, inspiration, and reflection for all those who stop and experience it. If you had walked the streets of Downtown Fort Wayne before 2016, you would have witnessed a downtown scene that felt dull and lifeless, creating a lackluster and forgettable experience. In fact, if you talk with residents who lived in Fort Wayne around that time, many would tell you they wanted to move away from the area with no intentions of returning. Fast forward nearly a decade later, and the transformation of downtown Fort Wayne is nothing short of remarkable. Thanks, in part, to the vision and hard work of artist and advocate Alexandra Hall and the Downtown Improvement District, together they created Art This Way. Through this program, they have turned downtown into a vibrant and visually stunning destination filled with eye-catching murals, captivating sculptures, and a thriving arts community.

Alexandra Hall was born in Indianapolis, Indiana, but at a young age, she and her family left Indy and moved to a large property in Northern Fort Wayne, Indiana. Growing up in Fort Wayne, she and her siblings spent most of their days playing together in the woods or at the lake in the summers until most of them became more active in sports. When we asked Hall if she had ever played sports, she said,

"Oh, badly! All my other siblings are amazing athletes; I'll just start with that. I was supposed to be good at sports. I'm very tall for a girl, and I think everyone expects you to play basketball or volleyball really well, but I was definitely not good at any of them. I ran cross country for a while, and I did attempt volleyball and softball, but ultimately, my siblings were the sports stars."

We followed this question by asking if she or her siblings were ever interested in art as kids, and she said,

"Yes. Oh yes, always. My mom had a craft room in the basement, so I enjoyed any time I could draw, paint, or play with clay or whatever I could get my hands on. My brother James, who's the closest in age to me, was also someone who enjoyed drawing, but that didn't end up being his career path or something he wanted to do as an adult. My baby brother is a very talented musician. He played football in college but was that jock that could walk up to a piano and play Coldplay for a few hours. We all are creative in different ways."
Alexandra Hall, owner of AH Consulting and Art This Way, helps artists in Fort Wayne create art throughout the streets of Downtown Fort Wayne and beyond.

After graduating from Bishop Dwenger High School, Alex attended the University of Michigan until she transferred to Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana. She graduated from IU with a political science degree and a Slavic languages and literature degree with a Russian language certificate. While earning her degree, Alexandra studied abroad to gain new experiences in other countries. Alex ultimately moved back to Fort Wayne in 2011.

Throughout Alexandra’s early adulthood, her love for art remained. In fact, once she got settled back in Fort Wayne, she opened an art gallery within the city exchange building. Although she had her art gallery, Hall always wished there was more of a public art presence throughout the streets of downtown Fort Wayne like she had experienced in other cities and countries. Eventually, these hopes led Alex to start having conversations with Bill Brown, the former President of the Downtown Improvement District (FWDID), about why there was hardly any public art around the area. She was informed that it was ultimately due to a combination of ‘how to go about installing public art on private property’ and funding such a program. A year later, a former employee of the Downtown Improvement District suddenly lost their life, and Friends of Lincoln Financial sent money to the FWDID with the hope that they may be able to do something in celebration of her life. This individual loved the arts scene, so to best honor them, the FWDID approached Alex at her art gallery and asked if they could use those funds to purchase a large guitar sculpture she had made to display in an alleyway. Alex agreed, and this sculpture became the first art piece installed by the FWDID. After the installation, the FWDID did not intend to continue to program art, largely due to the lack of funding. Hall responded by asking if she found the funding for more public art could they continue to have conversations about the idea. This conversation is what would soon lead to the conception of Art This Way.

In 2016, Art This Way was officially launched. When we asked Alex to describe in her words what Art This Way is, she said,

"Art This Way operates under the Fort Wayne Downtown Improvement District. In 2016, when I started it in partnership with the Fort Wayne Improvement District, there was a gap in artist opportunities. The visual landscape of the city failed to highlight the many creatives that live in Fort Wayne. The hope with Art This Way was to solve the problem. So, we started having conversations with private property owners and gave them the option to put public art onto their property. That was something that had never been offered to property owners before. What we found was that they wanted it, but it was more about the hurdles and unknowns of it all, like, how do I meet an artist? How much is this going to cost? What does maintenance look like? We were able to approach these concerns with many answers and solutions to most of their problems. So, in 2016, the idea of Art This Way was to create public art on private property, ease the burden on property owners, and establish a financial model to pay the artists. The artists that were hired initially for all of our projects for Art This Way were not me; I was hiring other artists. From the very beginning, it was about advocating for other artists and giving creatives the ability to express themselves in the community."

Alexandra Hall's first art gallery was once inside the city exchange building in downtown Fort Wayne IN, DTFW, and she was able to work with the Fort Wayne Downtown Improvement District to display the first art piece funded by the FWDID. The art piece was a large guitar sculpture that still is displayed today in the alleyway of the old MKM building near the double dragon.

When we talked about the beginning stages of Art This Way, we asked Alex what she remembers being the most challenging hurdles to get over, and she said funding and educating property owners. She said these two challenges are something she still has to overcome year after year. She said,

"The hope was that the visual impact of what people are seeing and Visit Fort Wayne using us as a major mechanism for tourism; you would think the money would just be rolling in. Unfortunately, the fact is we are still looking year to year for the funds to continue the program at the rate we've been programming. We also want to continue to step it up because the hope is to do something bigger and bolder and keep challenging Fort Wayne. I would say funding is something we will always be pursuing and looking for different avenues to continue to grow and program. As I mentioned, education is ongoing. Each property owner is different. Sometimes, I have property owners or entities that are not Fort Wayne based; rather they are a large LLC, housed within an LLC, within another LLC, so with those types of corporate holdings they typically don't care about your community. They're not necessarily going to say no to the project, but maybe they don't have the mechanisms for approving these types of projects. So I still run into a little of that and I still see local owners that are a little hesitant to participate in a public art project."

We asked Alexandra how she finds artists for each project, and she explained that there are a couple of different ways they find an artist. The first way is through their open RFQ (Request For Qualifications), which is a tab on their website that is always live. The RFQ allows artists from across the globe to submit their portfolios and express their interest in being considered for any upcoming or current projects. The second way they find artists is through an invitational process. This process is precisely how it sounds: they invite specific artists, asking them to submit a proposal for the project if they are interested. The invitational allows Alex to invite artists who specialize in a particular style of art that may be needed for the project. Once all the proposals have been submitted, Alex establishes a review jury of 12-15 people to consider the artwork proposals, and collectively, the jury decides whose proposal they will install. We asked Hall if the business owner knows what the final mural or art piece will look like before the project begins, and she told us that the only people in the dark during these projects is the public. Once a design has been selected by the jury, it is immediately sent over to the property owner for final approval. After that approval is granted, the artist is officially hired.

Before any of this can take place, funding is already in place, and the property owner has signed a contract to participate. The next steps are creating and signing a contract with the artist. Then, it comes down to filing for permits, scheduling the artist, and securing any heavy machinery they may need to complete the project. Alexandra said that she has had projects turn around relatively quickly, but that was only when all the stars aligned. Typically, from the start of talks with property owners through the completion of the project, it takes about 2-3 years. We asked Alex how many of the murals we see downtown are her work, and she told us that aside from the guitar in the alleyway of the old MKM Building, she did her first mural for Art This Way this year. She said the only reason she had the opportunity to create one was because the sponsor specifically requested that she be the artist for the project. We followed up by asking if she had been waiting for the moment she could do a piece, and she said,

"No. Truly, it has been such a joy to see other creatives get to do things, and I'm always so impressed by everyone's talent and professionalism. I love meeting with the artists that visit from outside of our region; they have so much experience and strong resumes. I enjoy introducing them to our local creatives. It is a joy to see others shine. It was obviously an honor to have gotten selected and have someone want to see me execute their project. It was lovely, but it wasn't like, ah, finally."

Alexandra Hall had the honor of creative a 2000 squarefoot mural for Norwak Supply in Fort Wayne downtown.

While talking about all the great work going into downtown's art scene, we asked Alexandra if she had any plans of expanding Art This Way outside of downtown, and she educated us further on how the program works. She explained that since Art This Way is partnered with the Downtown Improvement District, they must stay within the 99-block area where the FWDID lives. The city council designates the area, and property owners within that 99-block area are asked to pay a little extra tax to get the perks that the Downtown Improvement District offers. For example, the additional tax money helps provide the vibrant flowers and landscaping you see throughout the sidewalks in the spring and summer. It pays for the Christmas decor that is so elegantly displayed throughout the streets of downtown Fort Wayne throughout the holidays. It keeps the roads cleared of trash or sidewalks clear after accidents. So, many of the unseen perks of living within the city are possible because of those property owners who contribute to that extra tax and the hard work of the FWDID. Because Art This Way operates under the FWDID, it is essentially a program that only operates within those 99-blocks. With that said Alex told us that she works closely with a program provided by the City of Fort Wayne called the Public Art Commission. Their mission is to ensure art is available to all and can happen in anyone's neighborhood.

We asked Alexandra what her hopes are for the future of Art This Way, and she said,

"That's a hard one for me because Art This Way is a piece of a larger puzzle that I hope is making Fort Wayne a better place. My hope for the future as an art entity is that Art This Way encourages a more walkable city and that people are making more conscientious efforts to build the city to allow pedestrians to navigate this town safely. We are already seeing people wanting to live closer to downtown as a result of the more vibrant, culturally rich city. So I guess the hope for the future is that we continue to challenge this city with bigger and bolder public art projects, and as a result of that growth, we see a more densely populated and walkable downtown Fort Wayne."

Those interested in donating to Art This Way can do so on their website or by mailing a check to the Downtown Improvement District. Another way to contribute to the program would be by attending their annual Art Crawl, which has been held every September since 2017. Until 2023, the Art Crawl consisted of attendees going into multiple non-traditional gallery spaces and having a different experience within each venue. Due to the growing attendance, the event had to be moved outdoors, and the concept was shifted slightly. Instead of going inside various venues, attendees were encouraged to explore Downtown Fort Wayne's art-filled alleyways and enjoy unique experiences within each space.

Alexandra Hall is a true advicate for artists and creatives alike. Through her help along with the Fort Wayne Downtown Improvement district, downtown Fort Wayne is now a thriving arts scene. The alleyways are filled with art pieces, scultures, light displays, and murals for tourists and residents to enjoy all year round.  Alexandra Hall has no plans of slowing down, in fact, she plans on helping artists find ways to create bigger and bolder pieces to challenge Fort Wayne, and hopefully bring in more tourisim and increase the population for people that want to live in a culturaly rich community.

If you want to be more involved in Art This Way, Alex says they often need volunteers throughout the year. Volunteers are needed not only for the annual Art Crawl event but also for more minor things. For example, if an artist is coming into town for a project, Hall may reach out to volunteers interested in showing guests around the city during their stay. Another situation in which volunteers are needed would be in the summers before they put out their giant chess set at PNC Plaza to help paint squares on concrete to create the chess board. For local creatives, Art This Way offers apprenticeship opportunities to work under and learn from other artists. Artists can also get involved during the annual Art Crawl. To participate in the event, you must sign up to be considered by the selection committee. This committee is set in place to ensure a diverse group of artists are showcased throughout the event.

The collaboration between Alexandra and the Fort Wayne Downtown Improvement District has resulted in a remarkable revitalization of downtown Fort Wayne. Today, the streets and alleyways are filled with an abundance of captivating murals and sculptures that have breathed new life into our city's streets. Together, it's clear that they have improved downtown's overall atmosphere, attracting new businesses, tourists, and investment to the area. As Art This Way's mission continues to bring public art to private properties, we will continue to be amazed by the remarkable efforts of the creatives who choose to display their work for the public to enjoy.

If you want to stay connected with everything happening at Art This Way, follow their Instagram page or visit their website, as both are updated regularly. To finish our conversation, we asked Alexandra what advice she would give someone hoping to leap into entrepreneurship, and she said,

"I have a couple pieces of advice. One is to be brave, don't be afraid to start. Two is to be smart, research things first and then ask questions. Do not go into it thinking you know everything because that's a sure way to fail. But also be okay with failure because we all do, and hopefully we learn from it."
The Fort Wayne Business Journal had the honor of speaking with Alexandra Hall, owner of AH Consulting and Art This Way. She described her entreprenueral journey to us about how she got to where she is today. It is safe to say that without her help the downtown Fort Wayne arts scene would not be as bold as it is today. Alexandra is a true advicate for other artists and Fort Wayne is honored to have her here helping bring more art to our community.

We want to send a huge thank you to Alexandra for taking the time to speak with us about her entrepreneurial journey that led her to the collaborative creation of Art This Way. Thank you to Nike, owner of Creative Roots Media, for capturing the pictures you see throughout this article. If you enjoy reading the stories of entrepreneurs helping to shape Fort Wayne, one business at a time, or you want to stay connected with everything we do here at the Fort Wayne Business Journal, sign up for our free monthly newsletter so you're always in the loop.


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