I admit that I am both a realist and an optimist — but not a dreamer for the sake of dreams. I get frustrated when this community shows a lack of vision or displaces blame regarding our path and success. I have learned that my way can be a narrow and idealistic way to approach things because sometime a person’s or a city’s life follows the circumstances that were dealt. Some people and communities are given much, but with much given much should be expected.
I state all of this as context because I have spent the past few weeks looking at the challenges of the Great Recession and our future. How will it affect my children, Fort Wayne’s future and America’s position in the world? What will be the place of art, philosophy, culture and public discourse? Through this contemplation, I see opportunity but opportunity brought through reaffirming our purpose, our priorities and our future. I still believe strongly that Fort Wayne’s future is bright. The blows that this community has taken with the loss of Harvester, Lincoln’s Headquarters leaving and a downturn in traditional manufacturing over the last few decades has awakened what has always been the soul of this area. That soul has at its heart entrepreneurship and the ability to get things done by taking responsibility for where we are, where we want to go and the work needed to get there. I also believe strongly that our sense of responsibility includes a vibrant cultural community, not because we want things to do and a beautiful place to live (though we do) but because I believe that the arts, philosophy, ideas and our ability to create what we see in our dreams is the key to shaking the Great Recession’s grip and making a better future for Fort Wayne and the country.
I have noticed that we have been forced to learn valuable lessons as we have weathered our economic slowdown. We once again look with more purpose at what is valuable to us as people, families and community. Building a vibrant downtown is not just about building buildings to for the sake of new physical spaces, but about creating community space where we can interact. Even the way we are creating this space is about mixing and sharing — unlike the cold, separate spaces of 20 or 30 years ago. We have begun to value how our differences and our interaction can make us better. We have also begun to slow down and realize that a disposable lifestyle with disposable things not only is not feasible, but it also cheats us out of experience and connection. What we once chided our grandparents for as frugal now is understood as financially prudent. We’re interested in investing in our relationships, the function and care of items we use and the communities we live in. Our challenge has been painful for many, but perhaps it was necessary for us to reach an even brighter future.
I feel blessed for the opportunities I have had, for living in this community, for my family and the chance to work in a field I feel passion for. I wonder how much of my appreciation has been intensified by my challenges. As children, we take much for granted, but as we lead our lives we gain perspective. Fort Wayne and the Midwest have weathered much, but they are positioned to help America and Americans find what may have been lost or overlooked.
Expecting someone else to do things for you or waiting for a pot of gold will not get us where we need to go. Isn’t this the character of our city and our region? The efforts we have made show both pragmatism and optimism. I don’t think that is an oxymoron. I think that is the gift of being a Midwesterner.
Jim Sparrow is executive director of Arts United, the third-oldest united arts fund in the United States and the second largest arts council in Indiana.