Thank you to all of the Originals who call downtown home. Home doesn't have to be the place you lay your head each night. Rather, it's the place where you are surrounded by those you love, it's the place that fuels you with passion and discovery, it's the place where you can feel truly comfortable being you. You've crafted this culture, and for that, we say thanks! This is what being a DWNTWN Original is all about.

Muncie is made up of so many unique and inspiring people. To take a closer look at how this community came to be, we selected ten featured Originals who have played a vital role the in evolution of DWNTWN. Read their interviews below!

kyle_johnson
kyle_johnson

- How did you get into cycling?

I’ve always been a cyclist, ever since I was a little kid. In high school, I had a core group of friends who were into cycling and mountain biking when it was starting to get big. I rode recreationally in college. 

In 2005, I decided to bike commute to work every day, no matter what, because I only lived two miles away. It was kind of ridiculous not to. I did it every day of the year except for two days. That year we got about a foot of snow, and everything shut down, our road wasn’t plowed, but I tried! I feel like I made it up, though, because some days I rode home for lunch. 

Within that time I also did a two year stint of racing mountain bikes for Kirk’s Bike Shop…and I was horrible. I am not competitive whatsoever. Basically I paid $30 to ride around with guys and come in last (all said laughing). 

- You are paving the way for bike culture in Muncie (pun intended). What’s that like?

I guess the catalyst for bicycle advocacy and cycling goes back to my hometown [Winona Lake]. My friends at home started putting on a bike festival. I would volunteer every year and continually saw it grow. There was nothing like that in Muncie. My friends Jarrod [Case], Dave [Bradway] and I all heavily got into cycling at the same time. We thought we should do some cycling events here. Not anything competitive, just fun. So we formed Tour of Muncie, which was a bike ride fundraiser for Muncie-Delaware Clean and Beautiful. We did it for three years, then threw in new events like an Instagram Photo Contest and Cranksgiving. 

In 2014, I got approached by the Mayor [Dennis Tyler]. He said “I want Muncie to become a Bicycle-Friendly Community while I’m in office. What do we need to do to make that happen?” I told him that we needed to start a Bike-Ped Committee, among a handful of other things. A committee was put together, we rewrote the Bike-Ped ordinance and got that approved. Then, we submitted to get Bicycle-Friendly Community status. The first year we got an Honorable Mention, but we were still getting things going at that point. The second year, we started the Big Blue Bike Program and got Bronze! 

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- Why is it important to build a bike-friendly community here?

Ohhh there are so many reasons! I think it’s important to have good, solid bike infrastructure that makes the community accessible for more people to get out and ride bikes. So many people are not interested whatsoever in riding in the road to get places because it’s intimidating. But if you put in bike lanes, a lot more people will get out and give it a try. The Cardinal Greenway and White River Greenway — there’s no other city that has that type of facility that crisscrosses a community like they do. It’s an incredible foundation to build off of. When we grow the culture of cycling, and more people get out on bikes, it will lead to healthier lifestyles and a more connected community — not just transportation-wise, but socially. And getting other people to ride bikes— that’s the best part! 

- And you’re a side home-brewer?

I would say that’s accurate. (Editor’s note: It all started in college with his cousin and a Mr. Beet Home Brew kit. It ended in disaster ask him about it). So a couple years ago I got back into it. This time I wanted to crush the grain and create my own recipes. Eventually Jarrod started helping me. At the same time, Bill [Kerr] and Jason [Phillips] were home-brewing and had been for a long time. When they opened The Guardian Brewing Co., they liked what we were doing and invited us to come brew for them. We were in. We’ve done six brews for them now. 

- Interesting fact: 

I’m a third generation Ball State graduate. My grandma got her degree from the Teacher’s College, and my dad got his Masters in Teaching.

- What makes you an Original?

I am the only GIS Coordinator in DWNTWN. And I’ve been working down here for 16 years. 

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stan_stephens
stan_stephens

- When did your love for craft beer begin?

Junior year of college when I was out of school, I drove a truck. The layovers were terrible then. You may stop and be in a town for three to four days. During that time I would try different local beers. I’d been exposed to a little bit of it, but that really helped broaden my knowledge on craft beer. 

Later on, The Heorot building became available and I was able to buy it. That was the opportunity to open a craft beer bar. That was 22 years ago.

We had about a year and a half that we were the number one seller of Bell's in the state. Larry [from Bell’s] came here to speak and do beer tastings many times. After year four, he kept saying he wasn’t coming back, wasn’t coming back, wasn’t coming back…but he kept coming back each time, changing his mind over the course of the evening. Really, beer tastings and speakers were different then— they were unique. People would sit quietly and patiently and wait for the drinks to be passed out then sit and drink while listening to the description. When we bring speakers in now, we say “You have three samples to talk. After that, it doesn’t matter what you say.”     

A couple years ago, we even had an all-Indiana takeover. The bigger distributors didn’t like that— I think they’re still mad at me. We had beer from our brewery, Wolves’ Head Brewing Company. In fact, our brewery will be five years old in March. 

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- What’s your favorite beer you have on draft right now— don’t be afraid to say your own!

It’s Rig Ulfr from Wolves’ Head Brewing Company, it is. Bob Cox and I got invited to Sierra Nevada beer school a couple of years ago. We took a recipe and managed to convince seven other retailers to make that recipe. Sierra Nevada also took it and made it into one of their summer beers that year. So that was really good. They have another version of it out now. We took the recipe and modified it based on the experience we gained brewing there, and that’s how we are brewing the beer now.

- Your bar has a unique and eclectic style.

There are two different things that inspired it. The first is Wizard’s Keep Game and Hobby Shop. Miniatures, Dungeons & Dragons, I like that time period. Also Beowulf, the dragon is right out of the poem. I’ve been doing the Society for Creative Anachronism for 37 years, and the broken shields in The Heorot have all come from people’s shields I have broken. It’s certainly different— ha. 

We have people from all over the world who come through and love it. 

- It’s such a close atmosphere.

It is. You come and sit with your friends. There are no TVs. You drink your beer and play games. 

In fact, when 9/11 happened, I had a lot of tavern owners tell me they were empty. We were completely packed. People were just so beaten up by the exposure. They just wanted to get some place to sit and talk. They just needed companionship, and they found it here. 

- Something people don’t know about you:

I had a cat that did nine tricks. 

- What makes you an Original?

The Heorot itself, the customers, the staff. The concept was ahead of the curve. It’s been imitated a lot, but it’s never been duplicated. 

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traci_lutton.png

- So you grew up in Muncie? 

I did. I grew up near 7th and Hoyt, so for us, we said we were going uptown! Uptown to the show, to the movies at The Rivoli Theater and to young actors workshops at The Civic Theatre. I came downtown all the time as a child.

Once I got to adulthood and got to Ball State, there was a gap. I stopped coming downtown. Until one of my friends put a note on my door. It said, “Finally found somewhere cool in Muncie—The Heorot. Come now.” I didn’t like beer and I didn’t like bars, but I went anyway. I got a Woodchuck cider, and it was the gateway. Within a week, I was working on my beer card. I even ended up being the first woman with a plaque on the bar! Since then, I haven’t stopped coming downtown. This is the best it has ever looked in my lifetime. And I’m proud of it.

- What has it been like to see DWNTWN evolve since you were a kid?

It’s super exciting! It once felt like a ghost town—we actually saw a tumbleweed roll through once. But then, things started to evolve. The real boom has happened since the initiation of the facade program. It really kicked things off and made this a place that people want to see what was going on. It showed there was an investment, and people wanted to see improvements. 

Now, I love sitting in front of The Fickle Peach seeing so many people. It’s the young, hip guys talking to the older guys. And we’re all just enjoying time together. It’s so special. 

- You’ve been a part of the evolution with your involvement with the Chamber and Economic Development Alliance?

Yes! With a few different objectives. One focus is working to bring new businesses and capital investment to Muncie. The second is working for the expansion and retention of existing businesses, for the big ones and the small ones. The newest objective is creating a desirable place to live by improving quality of place and life. It’s a new model for economic development and we are enthusiastically diving into new territory. In a nutshell, I’m working to bring wealth opportunities to Muncie.

- How did you first get involved with DWNTWN on a professional level?

The Downtown Business Council was the first board I served on in my career. I didn’t own a business, but I was a student who loved downtown, so I emailed asking if I could get involved. Luckily they said, “Please come!” Next thing I new, I was a part of it. That was an important part of my career and involvement in downtown. I offered to help and they were like, “Come aboard, we want you!” There’s a recognition here of the overall benefit of inclusion and diversity- it’s wonderful. The people involved with DWNTWN realize that giving a voice to different people benefits us as a whole, and I think that’s unique. I feel like I’m where I need to be. 

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- What makes you an Original?

I choose to live here, work here, spend my social time here and spend my money here. These are my people! Because of downtown, I feel connected to the community. I love going into a business down here— going to lunch at the The Downtown Farm Stand and seeing Dave back there prepping the food, going to Vera Mae’s and having Steve fill my water, going to Heidi J Hale and seeing her making the jewelry. The business owners really care about your experience. They are there, and they are present. You don’t get that experience anywhere else. I’m lucky to be a part of it.

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kyle_perry
kyle_perry

- What brought you to Muncie?

Ball State originally brought me to Muncie because I was going to school to get my undergrad in Architecture. For my Masters program, I actually applied to a lot of schools elsewhere, in New York and L.A. I got accepted, but decided to stay at Ball State because the program here was investing in CNC technology and software. That’s when Adam and I started working together on our thesis, ProjectiOne. We decided that we were going to push through with that idea and turn our thesis into a business. 

- Is that why you stayed?

We didn’t have a shop or capital, so we worked out a deal with Ball State. During the day, we would teach students and show them how to use the CNC machinery. After hours, we would utilize their machines to work on our projects. That’s what opened the door for us. We got larger projects and were able to grow organically. We found shop space in Muncie and began filling it with machinery. 

Our future right now is in Muncie. We knew we wanted to stay in the Midwest. We didn’t want to get flooded and drowned out of the design scene in a bigger city. We knew there was more to be done here design-wise, so that’s what kept us here. 

For me, doing the public sculpture across from Madjax is my work highlight of the year. It’s the most public project we have done to date, and it’s the first big outdoor project.

- How are you helping shape maker culture here?

It’s always funny when we hear that. I know we are well-known for being Muncie makers, but nobody comes up to us and is like, “Oh, you’re the maker dudes.”  It’s odd to be referred to as a maker. When we started ProjectiOne, we were architects. Then we fell into an artist thing. Then the maker title came along, and that coincided with Muncie launching its makerspace. 

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We’ve had a hard time categorizing ourselves. Sometimes we are contractors when we are on the job. Sometimes we are fabricators and artists. We can be architects, and some days we are engineers figuring out machine tolerance. We wear so many hats, and that’s how we like it. We like controlling all these processes. We don’t want to give up the making aspect and only do design work. And I don’t want to just make a project and let someone else install it. We want to control all the bits and pieces of what we do. Somedays, we want to hand it off because it’s hard work. But at the end of the day, it’s worth it. 

- Interesting fact:

I’m a national champion in track racing. I won Elite Nationals on the track in Trexlertown, Pennsylvania this year.

- What makes you an Original?

I think being a DWNTWN Original comes over time. When you get to meet everybody and become comfortable with a place, you start feeling like you’re a part of a bigger family. I know the quirks of the area and all of the characters. I enjoy all of it. That’s what makes me a DWNTWN Original.

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dale_basham
dale_basham

- You are basically the face of DWNTWN volunteerism. How did you first get involved?

I’ve always been interested in DWNTWN Muncie. Since the early 80s, I lived in an apartment building near downtown. I worked at Kade Florist for a time, and on my lunch break, I would go down to Ballard & Co.’s hardware store. There was a lady—I called her Lucile—who seemed to be stuck in the early 1940s. Her clothing, her hair, her makeup all evoked a vintage time. During my lunch hour, I would come down, get to know her and ask her for some innocuous piece of hardware, and she would know exactly where it was. It was so much a part of my lunch hour that I got to know and love that building. I’ll never forget it. 

Muncie Gras brought me into Muncie Downtown Development Partnership (MDDP) volunteerism. Vicki [Veach] and Cheryl [Crowder] invited me. I thought, okay here I am, I was either on the Muncie Community School board or Principal of Southside High School at that time. So I said yeah, I’ll come. I thought, I’m going to sneak into Muncie Gras. I had never been at that point. I got there and it looked like I just stepped into a big ass party, and I might have to explain some of this if they take any pictures! So I’m thinking I’m being all sneaky, sneaking around the edges of Muncie Gras because I’m pretty sure I’m going to run into a parent! So I’m sneaking around and I find this little tent to sneak in to. I think, oh, I’m safe here. There are some beautiful women singing and performing. I think, oh that’s great! And I notice they are all really tall. So one of the really beautiful women comes up to me and says “Hi Mr. Basham,” in a deep, deep voice. And it clicked, I’m in the drag tent. I didn’t recognize her, but she said “You were my guidance counselor.” Immediately I thought, "How cool is it that this person is comfortable enough to come up to me and say hi?" It was moving. That was my first MDDP experience, and there have been many, many more since. 

I am the Chairman of the Business Education Partnership, which is a standing committee of the Muncie-Delaware Chamber of Commerce. And on my nameplate, mine is DWNTWN Dale. So a lot of times people will introduce me as DWNTWN Dale, and it’s such an honor to have that nickname. 

- What do you do for DWNTWN now? (Moonlight Movies, parent tours, Board Member)

All of that! The parent tours give me the most satisfaction— though all of them are fun. They start in a MITS bus on campus, and right away, I start with how lucky their students are to have been selected by Ball State. It’s really a world-class university. As we approach Minnetrista, I start talking about the Ball Brothers and how they landed here. Then we arrive downtown and I talk about the facade grants and how they have turned our city into what you see today. When we come to the big black box building, I hear people say “That doesn’t belong there.” I tell them to look in the reflection. The building is not the same time period as the rest, but it’s done beautifully to reflect all of the other buildings around it, so it’s okay! I tell the parents that Muncie is quaint and on the upswing. It’s got great places to eat, to drink, and their kids get a free bus pass, so they can go anywhere in the city. You really see the parents’ faces transform from “Oh Muncie…yawn, yawn” to “Oh my gosh, what a cool place it is for my kids! I can’t wait to visit them!”

- Cheryl said you were also the official DWNTWN Muncie t-shirt model. 

Oh, okay! I’ll take it. That’s why I can’t eat those damn donuts you offered me!

- Have an interesting story of why you chose to call Muncie home?

Okay, so I am engaged to a girl in 1974. I was teaching in my hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, and she had landed a job in Jay County, but moved to Muncie. We decide that at the end of that year, as we prepared to get married, we would both apply for graduate school in the other's town. Whoever got the better offer would move. I got a really great offer from Ball State’s Department of Theatre, so I moved. At the end of my Master’s program, I was cast at Harold Hill in The Music Man. At the end of one of the performances, a guy comes up to me and says “Hello, I’m the Principle at Muncie Southside High School, and my English, Speech and Drama teacher has taken a leave of absence last minute and was wondering if you might happen to have a license to teach?” And I say, I do! But I told him I was pretty sure I was going to New York or LA to be a star, so I wasn’t interested. But that weekend I thought about it, so I went to his office for a meeting, and he hired me on the spot. The guy whose place I took never came back, and I never left. Oh, by the way, we didn’t live happily ever after— I did though! 

- What makes you an Original?

I loved downtown before it was cool to love downtown. 

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jannell_summers
Jannell_summers

- You do a lot DWNTWN. Can you just run through some of your favorite projects?

Well, the latest thing is We’re Trying Art Collective. We started it as an official group to do art-based projects. The first thing we are doing is creating a mural for the side of the Mark III Taproom. I also do Art Club at The Fickle Peach. I started doing that because there are Drink and Draw groups in a bunch of other cities. Here, I wanted to make it more inclusive than just drawing. Anything that you can bring to the bar and comfortably work on with other people is welcome. Art Club is time designated to getting around people and working on cool shit. Then there’s CritChat, of course. It’s an unaffiliated sister to Art Club. It’s a place to get feedback on your work. Of course there’s the internet, but nothing beats a good ole back and fourth conversation. That’s been my favorite project. All of these things stem from doing really solitary things at home and wanting to be around other people and still feel like a part of the community, while still doing your own thing. 

- When did you develop a love for art?

My mom and grandpa were both artists, so I grew up around it. My grandpa was a maker before that was even a word. So it comes naturally in that regard. I do wish I went to school for art, so I’m trying to make up for it by doing things like those projects in the community. 

- Do you remember the first piece of art you made that you were proud of?

It was just a drawing. It was abstract and stupid, but I liked it. I slapped it in a frame, hung it up and started getting compliments on it. This was when I started noticing that people enjoyed it or were interested by it. It was in early adulthood that I was like, “Okay, I’m gonna do this.” I stopped dicking around and started taking art seriously in the last 10 years.

- You’ve helped transform the nightlife here, too. How’s that been with DJing?

That’s actually the only thing that is keeping me hanging on. It’s literally the one thing I have wanted to do forever. I’ve wanted to be a DJ since I was a little ass kid. My mom bought me a book about making money as a kid, Better than a Lemonade Stand. I was always trying to make money from a young age. I don’t know where the hustle mentality came from— I made an allowance. But one of the things in that book was Disc Jockey. It said materials needed: lots of music. I had definitely been collecting music forever, so it was a fit. Obviously nobody hired me when I was 10 or 11, but I did have some pretty fly birthday party mixtapes. All I’ve ever wanted to do is make large groups of people dance. 

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- And now you partner with local bars/organizations to do just that.

Luckily, I weaseled my way into DJing after some of the bands during Weekend Windown at The Fickle Peach. I put some bugs in people’s ears, telling them to say they liked what I was doing so I could keep DJing there. Some people did, and I think [Chris] Piche saw that it was worth it. It’s the most fun thing. I made some people make out one time. That was weird. Long story short, I’m really fucking happy to be here. 

- Have any interesting stories to share?

I was convinced for several years as a child between the ages of probably 8 and 11 that I was going to grow up and be a famous MC and hip-hop rapper. I thought this was very real, and it took a lot of convincing from my mother that I should not try to move to Compton and get involved in gang life. That’s all. (Editor’s note: Jannell actually told me about 12 interesting stories off-record. Please ask her to share. She’s full of them).

- What makes you an Original?

Instead of taking off to the bigger cities like all of my friends, I have tried to stay here and create what I want there to be. When you pull off something really cool here, there aren’t 12 more of the same thing happening in different boroughs. I’m not saying those people aren’t making as big of a cultural impact, but you can really see it here. There’s only one DWNTWN. If you want to become a part of things, or if you want to start something, you can do it here. 

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Kent
Steve
 

- How did you get into the food industry?

K: Well, we came separately. I grew up in my grandmother, Vera’s, restaurant. Hence the name Vera Mae’s. I had been in the food industry since 1984. I always wanted to own my own restaurant. To make a long story short, I opened Vera Mae’s in October of ’99. In 2001, I met Steve. He was ready to make some changes in his life. 

S: I had a business that I had run. We met. This building became for sale, so we jointly bought it, expanded the restaurant, and joined forces. 

- Why did you choose this style of food?

K: Well, the style evolved. Each menu has changed somewhat. With the concept I had in mind, I wanted the restaurant to be located in an old commercial building. Where are you going to find an old commercial building in Muncie, Indiana other than downtown? So I bought the building in May of ’95. That was before the rejuvenation of downtown. I would tell people I bought it, and they would say “Eww.” It was a big and risky step. With the bistro, I got this visual: an eclectic, dark woods, brass type of atmosphere. Then with the bistro name, that dictates the menu to some extent as well. 

The Chicken Brie Raspberry and Dill Cod are signature items and have been on the menu since we opened. Everything else, we will trade out. That started out…not really as a mistake, but we had invited 12 or 16 of the most critical and bitchy friends we knew over to test what we thought our menu would be. We did a run-through. We wanted people’s honest input. It came down to the chicken, and at the last minute, I realized I had not ordered a couple of important ingredients for the chicken dish. It was just crazy chaotic. On the fly, we threw this dish together, and people had more compliments on it than anything else. It was created but not planned.

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- What’s your favorite meal you serve?

K: My all time favorite is the Dill Cod. It’s unique and always good. With each menu, I have new favorites.

S: I enjoy the pasta, any way they prepare it. 

- How has it been to watch DWNTWN evolve over these past years? 

K: It has been enlightening. I think the momentum, even since the beginning, has always been here. It’s been slow at times, but I think that is realistic. Downtown didn’t die overnight, and it certainly is going to take quite some time to come back. 

S: In the middle of all the evolution, we decided to make downtown our home as well. That was a bit of a gamble because there weren’t many people living down here at that time. So you think, okay, we’re going to try this. 

K: With the exception of Cheryl Crowder—she’s been down here for 100 years. 

S: Well, yeah. It’s become a neighborhood.

K: You look out for one another.

S: It’s everyone’s downtown. Everyone who lives in Muncie—it’s their downtown. You want something to be proud of, and you want that to be downtown. 

- Do you guys want to tell me an interesting fact about one another?

S: An interesting thing that people don’t realize is Kent is very easy to get to know. He doesn’t know a stranger. I have a bit more of a struggle with that. I’m not being snooty—I’m being shy. This has been good for me to break through some of that. We contrast, and it works really well. 

K: I think something that would surprise people is that before this, you were in the lumber business for 21 years. So that’s a total change. 

- What makes you an Original?

K: We are both non-conformists. We are pretty much non-chain train of thought. We want to do things differently and unique in our business. You’ve got to do what you do and do it well. 

S: We’ve been very fortunate. Muncie has been very good to us. You take a couple guys trying to run a business, being who they are and Muncie has come around to us. That’s been good for us as well because Muncie has helped us expand our friends and family in many ways. 

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- What was the first piece of jewelry you created? 

Ohhh man. Probably a flower crown out of dandelions. I totally count that as jewelry. Anything decorative that is assembled and meant to be worn as an accessory on your body is jewelry. It’s interesting because, in a lot of ways, it’s that same mechanical, cold connection assembly of one thing to another that still leads how I make jewelry today. 

- When did you decide you wanted to make jewelry-making a career? 

I started falling in love with handmade artisan jewelry that I couldn’t afford at $500-$600 a pop. Then I thought, “You know what you like, you are capable, you have a metals background. You can make the things you are falling in love with." And I’m riding this wave until it dies. 

- You’re helping pave the way for Creative Placemaking in DWNTWN. Why do you think that’s important for our community? 

I was first introduced to the concept of Creative Placemaking in 2011. I was instantly intrigued and simultaneously validated. Without having such a succinct title for the kind of work I was interested in, that concept was always driving me. It encompasses the whole of what I do downtown.

- How have you helped build the artist community here?

One of the first things I did as Gallery Manager (at Gordy Fine Art and Framing Co.) was create a Small Exhibit Award for the BSU School of Art Annual Student Art Show. A lot of people were giving away monetary awards. I thought, “Fifty dollars is cool, but what if instead of giving away money, we give away a professional development opportunity?” So we did. 

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After that, Monkey Thunder was born. It started with Ben Gordy. He suggested, “Brian and Genny are going to be gone for five days. We need to take advantage of that. We need to throw an art party.” I remember thinking, that’s brilliant! The show planning had to happen quick, and it had to happen quiet. (Editor’s note: They told Brian and Genny, and they loved the idea.) So we did it, and it was one of the most rewarding things I have done. It was one of my earliest experiences of feeling like I could positively affect people’s perceptions of what Muncie has to offer and the kinds of opportunities that are available for people downtown. People were asking when it could happen again. It was fantastic, and there’s something about that feeling that is like a drug. To know that I was in a position to do that kind of work for the public— why would I not?

- What makes you an Original? 

All the beer I drink. Actually, I was fortunate to be given a behind-the-scenes downtown experience when I was young. I saw so much potential down here. The people are all so good, and there is nowhere else for me to be. Everything I do is downtown, all of it: I socialize here, I work here and I live here. Everything that I need Muncie to be is within walking distance. 

- Interesting fact: 

I’m a DJ. Sort of. One half of DJ ))(( TOUCHBUTTS. 

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michael_wolfe
michael_wolfe

- You’ve got a lot going on. Can you tell me a little about your current endeavors and why Muncie is in need of these organizations?

Absolutely— Famished is a group that works to restart and drive the local food economy. It’s got a really interesting team of people behind it. We’ve got 12 acres of unusable industrial wasteland right off the Greenway that we intend to turn into farmable land right in urban downtown. So that’s off to an ambitious start to turn things around.

Sustainable Muncie was created to turn around downtown from an economic development standpoint. It will help push a lot of the local initiatives that need to be moving forward. We’ve taken on the Cintas project that later became Madjax. We’ve also taken on Verge Muncie and Hope House. We are currently looking at an energy network that wants to come into town to help drive sustainable energy. We want stuff like that that we can uniquely handle. It’s fun, and it fills a good gap. 

Then, of course, Ontario Systems, which is fun. We have a lot of people doing cool things downtown. That’s another one of my hats—to encourage and drive people at Ontario to get involved in programs downtown like Verge and to participate in all that’s going on. As a workforce, we are heavily involved in downtown through non-profit board leadership. 

Servesting was put together to really participate in the turning around of downtown— purchasing properties, primarily architecturally-significant ones. We are able to find a model, fix up the space, and get people in the building. The goal here is not to flip but to buy and to hold, so we can keep people in the building and it up to date. The theme is sustainable businesses. You want people in the buildings who want to be downtown and keep their business here. Intentionally, we are looking for things we don’t have downtown, so we don’t get chains. If you want to live downtown, a pharmacy and grocery must be down here. So we’re looking at local businesses and co-ops to fill those gaps. It’s so nice when you can get everything to line up, so you save the building, save a business in need, and make sure more tax roll money is coming in for everyone. Win, win, win!

Urban Muncie does almost the exact same thing as Servesting, except with residential properties. We’re really looking at architecturally-significant homes that have been let go. These can either be homes that are empty or ones that people currently live in. We want to restore the homes, bring some dignity back, and let the people who already live there continue to. We aren’t trying to gentrify these neighborhoods; we are trying to give the people who are living in these neighborhoods some dignity. People are paying top dollar to live in some not-so-great places. There’s no need to raise the rent, just the quality of life. 

The next is Ancestral Meats. The cured, smoked, seasoned, yummy pork products. It’s another good thing where one of my hobbies turned into a business opportunity. 

I got involved in all of these because there are so many people doing great things downtown, and we are so close to a tipping point. I want to help push Muncie over the hump. Partnering is the key to making all of this happen. The people who work on these projects are great. 

- Why is DWNTWN Muncie the centralized location of these efforts?

It’s where I chose to live for work, and now my kids live here. I’ve lived in Muncie for 20-something years and hadn’t participated much. I stayed busy with work and hobbies and things like that. A while back, I came to the realization that even though I am not from Muncie, my kids are, and I want them to end up being proud of the city they are from. I’ve always been the type to think if you go in, you go all in. So, I got heavily involved because there are so many opportunities here. 

- Anything else on the radar?

Oh yeah. I’m always looking for interesting projects to work on. I’ve got several hobbies that haven’t become businesses yet. I read an interesting book about craft distilling the other day, so you never know. 

- Interesting fact:

I love to learn the languages of the places I’m going to visit. 

- What makes you an Original?

I think everything myself and my teams are working on directly have the words ‘Downtown Muncie’ in their mission statements (with the exception of Famished, which reaches all of Muncie-Delaware County). All of the projects are focused on turning around the area and pushing it across the tipping point. There’s just a bunch of cool energy and momentum here. 

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ann_johnson
ann_johnson

- From the sounds of it, you really put Muncie on the map as an artist hub.

I’ve believed in DWNTWN for so long! My downtown involvement really started way back in the very early ‘80s, when I moved down to the building at the end of High St. with the round port holes. I opened up a business called F.B. Fogg down there. I had been F.B. Fogg since the ‘70s but wanted to bring it to downtown Muncie at that time. I had a studio that made handmade paper sculpture and jewelry at first. That developed into clocks. In the front of that building space, we decided to open a little gallery called Once in a Blue Moon. We had about 800 square feet of retail space. I filled it with unique clothes I had designed, jewelry I had designed, sculpture, and things I found from my travels. I had been involved in the American Craft Council, which put me in a situation where every year they would send me abroad to help women in third wold countries develop their crafts. When I would go, I would also bring back crafts and things from those countries. So the gallery became very unique and a popular spot in Muncie.

A fire broke out in the upstairs over our gallery. The front of the store and the office were just melted, but the studio where the paper products were wasn't, so we put the product in the pick-up and drove them through the car wash! But, of course, they closed the building because there was a fire.  

- What happened after the fire?

We had to find new studio space. Jay Roberts Daily said to me, “I hear you’re looking for a building. I’ll meet you at The Men’s Club at 2:30.” I had no idea where that was, even though I had driven past it a thousand times! It was over on Main St. and butted up with Meeks Mortuary. We walked in and Jay said, “Well?” I thought it was a little dirty and dingy and didn’t have any windows, but I thought, "We could make this work." He told me he was asking $135,000 for the space. I didn’t even have that much to my name! As I was leaving, he asked me, “How much could you give me for it?” I said, "I guess $30,000." He said, “You’ve got a building.” So I paid for it on my credit card, and I’ll never forget it. So we bought the building and decided to make it a magical world. It was a gallery for 10 years, and it was neat. It was the first gallery down here.  

heart_of_muncie

There was so much space that I was able to do Saturday Salons. I’d let a local artist come in one Saturday a month and show their work. I didn’t charge anything, so all the money they made was theirs to keep. There wasn’t anywhere else to do this in Muncie. Out of that, I took 25 artists who had done Salons with me, and we opened up ArtWorks, which was a co-op gallery. It lasted 10 years, so that was really good.  

Our business downtown was so successful, and galleries started opening, and downtown got the idea of being an art town. I always knew it could be because we have such a huge heritage of art. There are probably more artists in this town than in the bigger cities. 

- What type of art did you specialize in?

I did F.B. Fogg for some time, and I had been making figures and jewelry because I knew a woman would always buy something to wear. Then, I made a cow clock for a friend of mine to be funny. It had whiskers and a tongue that went back and fourth. I said to my husband, "Put a clock part in there and make it work!" We sent it to my friend as a wedding gift in Washington D.C., and it was on the table with all the silver and the crystal. People loved it because we all know where people from D.C. are from—the Midwest! People were like “Who made the cow clock?!” After that, I had 600 orders! We sat in my house and made 600 clocks to fill the order!

- What are you up to these days?

Even now, when I am in the grocery store or traveling, I see people I know through Fogg. It was a wild and wonderful ride. In 2007, I needed some time, so I sold the company.  

Today, I find myself teaching again at Ivy Tech. I also paint now, and of course, this involves downtown! I want to see more galleries in the downtown area. I’m really glad that Muncie Arts and Culture Council puts local art in so many places. I would love for there to be another co-op down here.  

I'm also the head of the Mayor’s Art Council.

- What makes you an Original?

I believe in the fact that you take it to the heart of the city. People want to come to a city center. They want to come to Canan Commons and the cute little shops. I bring so many of my friends downtown and they all say, “This is the cutest place I’ve ever been! Take me to the shops.”  

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