Arts incubator to double as economic driver

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Artlink is bringing the art incubator concept back to Fort Wayne.

The endeavor was announced Aug. 15 as a “reimagining of the incubator concept” that is at the heart of Artlink, Executive Director Matt McClure said.

Artlink had an arts incubator several years ago focused on arts and entrepreneurship, McClure said.

“People who did go through it benefited from…looking at art from a business point of view,” he said. “However the thing we learned is not all artists want to be entrepreneurs – most simply want to create and be paid to create.”

The new space, to be named 212 and set to open Feb. 12, 2018, would focus more on getting artists employed and connected to opportunities.

“Last year, we reimagined that concept, instead of focusing on entrepreneurship, we’re now focusing on arts as an economic driver, and as an engine for growth and a creative economy rooted at the individual artist level,” McClure said.

The first class at 212 will consist of animation, illustration, and interactive artists, the last of which includes creative coders and game designers.

Work in animation, design and cinematography, which currently employs 64,400 people nationwide, is expected to grow 6 to 11 percent nationally by 2024, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Creative coding and web development, which employed 148,500 people in 2014, is expecting to see growth of 27 percent nationally.

Unfortunately, most of that growth is being seen in other parts of the country, McClure said, though 212 seeks to change that.

“You don’t have to be in [Los Angeles] or Toronto or New York or Chicago to work in these industries your first time,” he said, adding one of the goals of the program is to see “artists working across these mediums creating here and being paid here and employing others here and serving as small business leaders, project leaders, conduits of other industries that don’t look at Fort Wayne or northeast Indiana as viable right now.”

These industries also serve as “connective tissue” for other emerging industries in the area, including the film industry, McClure said.

The program will work by having artists pitch ideas via an application to an advisory board of professional artists in those fields. Those ideas that show “the most industry potential” are offered a 6-month residency or satellite opportunity to work on the project.

Those accepted will have access to one-on-one mentoring with industry professionals on the advisory board, as well as the opportunity to use new studio space in Artlink for their work.

This space includes computers, virtual reality equipment, video and photo equipment and more, McClure said.

Artlink’s 212 is different from many programs in that while there is an application fee, there is no other upfront cost to the artists. Instead, artists will give a tax-deductible gift based on the revenue of their project, ranging from 1 to 5 percent, depending on the project.

“If the project requires a lot of time that our mentors have to put in, we’ll ask for a little more,” McClure said.

To fund the equipment costs upfront, Artlink received “generous support” from the Knight Foundation, the Community Foundation of Greater Fort Wayne, the Indiana Arts Commission, and the Ian and Mimi Rolland Foundation, as well as individual sponsors.

The physical incubator space will come from an underutilized classroom at Artlink itself, McClure said.

It has also been supported by artists on the board, most of whom have connections to Fort Wayne itself or have gone through similar incubator programs, McClure said.

“They see that this need is something that has to be addressed for individuals to have same opportunities as others do,” McClure said. “It is about access regardless of geographic location or economic station.”

“Artlink was founded nearly 40 years ago as a place for emerging artists to have the spotlight shown on them,” McClure said. “What this program simply does is embrace that in a more fully realized way in the current climate.”

In this way, the incubator’s name, 212, is appropriate.

“Two hundred twelve is the boiling point,” McClure said of the name. “For us it is symbolic as the point of when something goes from inaction to action. This is the point for our region that it goes from talking about a creative economy to having one.”

More information, including an application for artists, can be found at artlink212.com.