I have often talked about the accomplishments in downtown and the many assets that we have that sometimes go overlooked or unnoticed. We have and are creating a fantastic community. I have also talked about building a sense of community pride one person at a time.
We all remember situations from our teen or college years when stories about us or our friends built a reputation whether we liked it or not. I remember during college dating a girl who had decided to put the boys she was dating on a white note board on her dorm door (this was before the Internet). She would rank them as to who was the most romantic, most fun, etc.…When a friend of mine told me I was on the board and “quickly moving up the ranking,” I will admit that I was both embarrassed and angry and stopped seeing her, telling her I didn’t want to be a part of anybody’s ranking system. The reality was that the PR campaign had already been launched, and I was powerless to stop it. For a few months, I had more interest from girls within that dorm, helped by my friend who told everyone I had stopped seeing the girl authoring the “Top 10 list,” than I ever thought possible. I was not a flashy guy, but all of the sudden I was on a list, moving ahead quickly and a topic of discussion.
Recently I was made aware that Dayton was now ranked second in Midsized City arts destinations in Style Magazine. What was most impressive was not only did Dayton finish higher than Asheville, N.C., a perennial No. 1, but that the high ranking was entirely due to a write-in campaign. Dayton was not even originally on the list of choices, but because of its write-in success has been a buzz as the next hot spot that everyone should check out as an arts destination. Think about that — Dayton, a city very similar to Fort Wayne, now being compared as a Top 5 arts community. I don’t mean to take anything away from Dayton and its arts district because it is a really cool place, but now it is being described as an up and coming city, a community on the move, all because of a strategic and conscious PR campaign by a number of clever individuals.
Fort Wayne is ready for such a campaign and probably on multiple fronts. Combined with recognition in areas that we already know we are strong in, we could let national media do much of the storytelling and sales pitch beyond our backyard and region for us. We could easily get on the radar for our trails, bike-friendly amenities and other quality-of-life initiatives. Our zoo and minor league sports have been recognized, so keep these coming. Similarly, how do we rank as a community of successful entrepreneurs, start-ups and in number of patents? I am sure we are making great strides in these areas and becoming recognized in various polls and studies will help cement our image. It would also help us build our reputation as a place where talent comes to succeed, a key part of our Vision 20/20 platform. I have been very surprised at how frequently stories submitted to various arts publications on success in various areas here in Fort Wayne have been picked up by others and then followed up with by reporters looking for more of the story. Think about how an endorsement or series of them related to our quality of life or business start-ups might begin to spread the word in ways that no marketing campaign could do. It is always better to have others support your reputation rather than advocate for yourself. Remember: reputation is something we earn through others’ eyes.
Let’s get our community, its success and unique assets in front of the world. With the right recognition, the viral racetrack of the Internet and our ability to back up the accolades with substance, who knows how quickly and high we can fly. Watch out, Dayton! We are in your rear-view mirror.
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.