The three rivers that come together at the heart of downtown Fort Wayne are in the early stages of getting a serious makeover. One of the chief makeover artists is Alison Gerardot, recently hired to be the director of programming and events for Riverfront Fort Wayne, the group formed by Mayor Tom Henry to oversee the rivers’ revitalization. We’re excited to find out what’s in store for our city’s flowing heart, so we asked Gerardot to play 20 Questions.
1. What excites you about the rivers?
The support the community has for them. The community has shown without a doubt that’s where the energy is.
2. How will you attract people to the rivers?
This job is programming and events. A big piece of that is changing the identity of the space. For a long time, the rivers have been viewed negatively. Changing that has a lot to do with education – what our rivers are and what they’ll never be. Our rivers will never be blue.
3. How do you do that?
A lot of it is looking at best practices (elsewhere). What are other urban riverfronts doing, like Louisville, Lexington, Pittsburgh? The Highline in New York City is a long, narrow, outdoors project (that’s similar to Fort Wayne’s rivers). In doing that, I found a lot of commonalities. You have to filter ideas into key “buckets,” like arts and culture, education and the environment and land- and water-based recreational activity.
4. What’s your background?
I was born and raised in Fort Wayne, but I moved away for a while. When I moved back, I decided if I was going to be in Fort Wayne, I needed to be part of making Fort Wayne cool.
5. What are your three keys to success?
Positivity. It’s really easy to become discouraged. You have to have no fear – it holds people back. And action. You just have to do stuff.
6. What does “outreach” mean to you?
Outreach can mean communications, letting people know what you’re doing. But it’s also giving people who don’t have the opportunity to do things a chance. You need to go around those barriers.
7. Is that where the “Faces of the Fort” project comes in?
Yes. It’s a public, civic, community arts project. The goal is to change the way we think about a space. We’re reaching out to underserved populations, like the disabled, seniors, veterans, and they’ll be creating the art, which will be 4-foot and 8-foot balls that will be anchored in the river and hanging from the bridges. That’s opening June 30 and will run through Three Rivers Festival.
8. If you were a river creature, what would you be?
9. How will the rivers benefit from you being in this position?
I bring a really large perspective. I’m taking the 20,000-foot view from a strategic standpoint. I’m figuring out the puzzle pieces and really looking at Riverfront Fort Wayne in a holistic view.
10. What about the homeless who camp by the rivers?
I don’t have a direct impact on the homeless population, but I think my social work background with Catholic Charities allows me to be empathetic. I think a lot of other cities have found really creative ways to … serve the homeless population while protecting the community. I hope we’re able as a community to come up with (solutions) for all of the issues across the board. We have to take fear out of the equation.
11. You used to work with the Fort Wayne Dance Collective, and you founded dAnce.Kontemporary. Why do you love dance so much?
Dance is my passion, my creative outlet.
12. What can people look forward to this summer?
We’re partnering with Riverpalooza to bring back the Dragon Boat Race June 25. We’ll have public art in the rivers, and we’re partnering with Cinema Center for an outdoor, immersive movie event. The Middle Waves Music Festival will be Sept. 16-17.
13. Isn’t that the same weekend as the Johnny Appleseed Festival?
Yes. We as a city have to get excited that we’re going to start to overlap events. In big cities there are many options of great things to do happening at the same time. We’re getting to be a big city.
14. What’s your favorite spot on the rivers?
Swinney Park is really beautiful and also Stevie’s Island. I love that we have an island in one of our rivers.
15. What are three words that your family and friends would use to describe you?
Busy, passionate and hopefully they’d say creative.
16. If you could have a super power, what would you choose?
To pause time for a little bit, either out of necessity or because you look at your child and wonder how they’ve grown so fast.
17. What’s your guilty pleasure?
18. What’s your favorite thing to do on the rivers?
Being on a pontoon boat. It’s just so beautiful.
19. How will you ensure that people using the Rivergreenway will also use the rivers themselves?
The riverfront and the greenway are all part of the same district. The people on the Rivergreenway are using the rivers. It isn’t just being on the river itself. For example, we’re partnering with Fort Wayne Trails on a bird-watching program.
20. As a Millennial yourself, how do we attract and keep people like you in Fort Wayne?
We need to stop apologizing for Fort Wayne. There is nothing that makes me more irritated than when people ask (newcomers) “why are you here?” That’s step one. We need to really believe that it’s cool. We have an awesome span of cultures, a world-class, phenomenal music scene in just about any genre. I don’t think we lack for things to do or opportunities for cool stuff. It’s the way we package ourselves.
First appeared in the May 2016 issue of Fort Wayne Magazine.