1026 West Berry Street: The Fort Wayne Art School
This exhibition is a celebration and exploration of the birth and development of the Fort Wayne Art School in its century as a downtown Fort Wayne cultural entity. It brings together elements of the school’s history and a collection of works by many of the faculty members who left their mark on the school, its students and the city. Much of the art in this exhibition was loaned by students, friends, family and faculty who hold many fond memories of their time at the “Old Art School”.
Many former students of the Fort Wayne Art Institute recall the creative energy, excitement and camaraderie of the Berry Street campus. A sense of community and family existed in the enclave of former homes and out-buildings that was the Art School’s campus for seventy years.
The students benefitted from one-on-one time with professors, small classes and the intimacy of the one-block campus. Many of the faculty members not only kept studios on the campus, but also lived in the neighborhood. The campus was a hub-bub of activity – often from morning until late into the night. The Art School – a place of industry and excitement was felt by many non-students to be the cultural core of the West Central neighborhood.
Much as the move from the Hamilton carriage house must have felt to the students and faculty in 1903, the move in 1991 to the Indiana-Purdue campus was bittersweet. Many lamented the loss of freedom that the downtown campus allowed, but the merger provided a sound new building and more space to dedicate to each discipline. The Department of Fine Arts also gained better access to university life than it had as a separate campus. But many who remember Berry Street still feel nostalgic about the gritty downtown campus – for them that was the real “Art School”.
Tenacity and adaptability – resilience in the face of changing circumstances continue to be defining characteristics of this institution. A little painting class became the Fort Wayne Art School, later the Fort Wayne Art Institute, then the IPFW Department of Fine Arts and is now organized as the Purdue Fort Wayne Department of Art and Design and Department of Visual Communication and Design. Each iteration has a history of attracting outstanding faculty, each bringing something new to the students, enabling specialization in media and skills. The programs continue to evolve to support changing student needs and economic demands as new technologies replace old methods, while adhering to the fundamentals taught by the earliest instructors. What started as a small painting class in 1888 now educates hundreds of students annually in design, fine arts, art education, art history and visual communication.