Transforming Our Town

IPFW Sculpture with Purpose™ offers Fort Wayne the gift of public art
May 1, 2014
Tammy Davis
Jeffrey Crane

A new project has Fort Wayne raising the bar for community vibrancy even higher. On May 17, IPFW will present 50 sculptural bike racks to the community as the culmination of a two-year public art project commemorating the university’s 50-year anniversary. Says project leader Ruth Stone, “It’s going to permanently enrich the look and feel of our streets and campus.”

Embracing public art for this project made sense from all angles. For some time, the local arts community had been considering ways to use public art to enhance the vitality of the city’s streetscapes, as well as the quality of life for its residents. In addition, the city affirmed a strong belief in the positive impact of art in its 2011 Legacy Task Force report: “A strong arts and culture presence improves a community’s identity by connecting residents and visitors with what is unique about their community.”

IPFW took the effort a step further, however, by introducing functionality to the proposition. A task force explored what other communities have done and found inspiration in places such as Louisville and Toledo. These cities had commissioned sculptures for public display - all of which would also function as bike racks. The committee loved the idea, and Sculpture with Purpose™ came to life. 

When he announced the project, retired IPFW Chancellor Michael Wartell emphasized, “IPFW has always been about the future, about momentum and about ensuring our region remains vital. In fact, you could say that since 1964, moving forward together truly has defined who we are as a university and a community.”

Sculpture with Purpose has been a wholly collaborative effort, living up to its “public” label in every sense of the word. Local businesses and organizations underwrote the sculptures, which were commissioned from artists all over the country. Independent community members make up each of the committees that oversee all aspects of the project, from art selection to promotion to event planning. 

Last October, scale models of all 50 sculptures were unveiled in a ceremony at the Fort Wayne Museum of Art. Though they are no longer on public display, photos of all the models can be viewed at sculpturewithpurpose.com. 

All of the designs look more like works of art than traditional bike racks, but another part of the project addresses any confusion that might arise about the sculptures’ function. Sculpture with Purpose provided 50 recycled bikes to the AWS Foundation for area school children and those with disabilities to creatively turn into art. The art bikes will be attached to the sculptures when they are presented in May to visually define their purpose as bike racks. The public received a sneak peek of these art bikes in March when they made their debut at the FAME festival.

Project leaders passionately believe in the value of public art to the community, and they hope that Sculpture with Purpose will serve as inspiration to others. 

“We hope this initiative will serve as a catalyst to more public art projects,” says Irene Walters, IPFW Executive Director of University Relations and Communications.

One of the main benefits of public art is that it engages social interaction, not only following its installation, but also throughout the entire process. In fact, as project leaders began planning the ceremony scheduled for May 17, several community groups came alongside to participate. What started as an event to present the sculptures has now grown into a full-blown downtown festival, aptly named Kickstart.

Now Arts United, the Downtown Improvement District, Fort4Fitness, Fort Wayne Trails, Visit Fort Wayne and the YLNI Barr Street Market have joined together with IPFW’s Sculpture with Purpose to organize a full-day event celebrating bikes, art and music. Slated to be held on the Main Street Arts Campus, this festival will feature something for everyone. A bike tour, market, musical performances and kids’ activities wrap around the highlight of the day: the presentation of the sculptural bike racks.

Kickstart embodies a holistic approach to community well-being, celebrating active lifestyle in all its meanings. So much enthusiasm surrounds the event that organizers hope the festival will become an annual tradition that will continue to kickstart Fort Wayne summers. 

No matter what happens, one thing is certain. The sculptures commissioned by IPFW in celebration of its 50th will enrich Fort Wayne’s landscape for years to come. They will be a true gift to this community. 


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