The Community Venue
The Arts United Center serves as the home to community theatre and arts programs alike and features performances by the Fort Wayne Civic Theatre, The Fort Wayne Youtheatre, Fort Wayne Ballet, Fort Wayne Dance Collective, Fort Wayne Philharmonic, numerous community organizations, as well as classes and a wide variety of events. Its grand brick arches and folded concrete walls are a tribute to the foresight of community leaders and the Fine Arts Foundation, now known as Arts United, that creative quality of place supports a vibrant quality of life. The acoustics are top-notch, and every seat has a clear line of sight to the stage.
The venue also contains two spacious studios for rehearsals, a fully equipped scene shop for set construction, and office spaces for the Civic Theatre, Youtheatre, and venue staff. In the front of the building a large plaza of brick opens to Main Street and provides space for warm weather gatherings and festivals.
In the early 1960’s the Fine Arts Foundation expressed a bold vision to provide a permanent home for local member arts organizations. They envisioned an arts campus which would create a downtown focal point, bring together member organizations, attract as many individuals as possible and form a catalyst for the foundation and the complex. They envisioned a campus similar in amenities to the Lincoln Center in New York and engaged the services of Louis I Kahn a foremost mid-century architect to spearhead the project. The first phase of the project was to include a theatre of the performing arts, an art museum, a reception center with offices for the foundation, and a lecture hall. Future phases would include an art school, a school of ballet and music, a historical museum, and a music hall. Of these plans, only the Performing Arts Center, now known as the Arts United Center was realized.
“I am building a theater in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and having observed theaters, I came to the conclusion that one must regard
the auditorium and the stage as a violin, a sensitive instrument where one should be able to hear, even a whisper, without any amplification. The lobbies and all other adjunct spaces may be compared to the violin case. The violin and its case are completely different.” – Louis I Kahn
Louis Kahn is known around the world for his monolithic, monumental, mid-century designs. He drew inspiration from Greek and Roman architecture, Scottish castles, and the play of natural light on Egyptian tombs. He preferred to work in fundamental materials and with basic geometric shapes. Based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Kahn taught architecture at Yale University, and was awarded the AIA gold medal for architecture in 1971. His notable designs include the Yale University Art Gallery, The National Assembly Building of Bangladesh, the Salk Institute for Biological Studies at La Jolla, the Phillips Exeter Library, and the Kimbell Museum of Art in Fort Worth. He would pass away six short months after the theater in Fort Wayne was completed.
Inspiration and Realization
Louis Kahn’s original concept for the fine arts complex included 9 structures and 3 outdoor spaces. He once commented “There is an entity present: the philharmonic is dependent on the art school, the art school on the civic theatre, the civic theatre on the ballet, and so forth. And it is so: the plan is so made that you feel one building is dependent on the other…” “…I’ve found the extra quality, which makes the coming together more than what they are when the buildings are separated from each other”. His inspiration for the performing arts building was a violin and its case: an instrument which creates beautiful music enclosed by a protective shell. Indeed, at the core of the Arts United Center is a 660 seat theater, and surrounding that theater is an outer brick shell containing the entry ways, promenades, ticketing and other facilities to support the theater building. The Arts United Center is the only Kahn work in the mid-west, and the only performing arts theater he designed. Kahn’s arrangement for the venue was to provide a sense of the importance of the events which occur within it, acoustical superiority, and structural simplicity. His choice of materials included brick, concrete and oak. The play of natural light through the interior spaces gives the building a sense of poetry, life, and grandeur. Kahn was the distinguished guest and lecturer at the opening week for the theater in September 1973. It would be his last completed venue prior to his death.
“Every building must have… its own soul.” – Louis Kahn
The Arts United Center is owned and operated by Arts United. Tours are available by appointment only Monday through Friday and may be scheduled by calling 260.424.0646.