7 min read

Meet the Art Pantry Fort Wayne: A place to give and take free supplies

"COVID forced us to be apart, but these (mutual aid pantries) helped us connect in a different way."
Meet the Art Pantry Fort Wayne: A place to give and take free supplies
The Art Pantry is located outside Brooklyn Pints Microcreamery at 725 Union St. in West Central neighborhood.

Art can be a form of healing, connection, self-expression and joy. But not everyone can afford (or has access to) the supplies needed to make it.

The goal of the Art Pantry Fort Wayne is to address this gap by providing a physical space for residents to give and take creative tools freely as a form of mutual aid.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the term "mutual aid" became more commonly used around Fort Wayne thanks to a network of more than 20 community food pantries started by Forward Indiana. Rather than charity or philanthropy, in which the “haves” give to the “have-nots,” mutual aid is a form of no-questions-asked reciprocal peer support predicated on the motto: “Take what you need. Share what you can.”

This inspired local artist Keileigh Dantzer to start the city's first Art Pantry outside Brooklyn Pints Microcreamery at 725 Union St. in West Central neighborhood.

We sat down with Dantzer to learn more about the pantry and how she made it happen.

Fort Wayne artist and creator of the Art Pantry Keileigh Dantzer.

Tell us a little bit about yourself. How long have you lived in Fort Wayne, and what have you done before the Art Pantry?

KD: I’ve lived in Fort Wayne my whole life. I’ve always been artistic, but didn’t really have the time, money and resources to actively pursue it until the past few years. I started therapy in 2021, and as I started healing, I got back into some of my old hobbies, and I started oil painting (which is something I’ve wanted to do since high school).

Tell us about your artwork.

KD: I’ve been doing photography on and off since I was about 15. My dad is a photographer, and he taught me a few things. I really like black and white candid portraits. When protests are happening Downtown, I like to get photos and share that positivity on social media. It’s too awkward for me to stage and pose people for photos, so protests are the perfect opportunity for me to go be invisible and capture those raw moments. And at the same time, I get to advocate for things I care about. I met a lot of really cool people at these events, and all of that eventually led me to mutual aid work!

I’ve explored several other mediums, over the past few years especially… but day-to-day, I mostly do graphic art, oil painting and I crochet.

When did you start the Art Pantry, and what inspired you to do it?

KD: I started crowdfunding on social media for the Art Pantry in August 2022. I didn’t let anyone donate more than $15. It still only took five days to raise the money (about $300)! Crazy! I think it was around 35 people or so who pitched in, anywhere from $5-$15.

My biggest inspiration was my best friend, Sarah Thompson, who started Forward Indiana and the food pantries. Then one night, I saw a TikTok from a little art store that was basically doing the same concept as a food pantry… (share what you can and/or take what you need). And then I thought we could just do a small pantry for art supplies here. I talked it over with Sarah a lot beforehand and got some advice from her.

The Art Pantry is located outside Brooklyn Pints Microcreamery at 725 Union St. in West Central neighborhood.

How has the Art Pantry grown and evolved since it started?

KD: Well, we’ve learned a lot… Physically, this is actually our second pantry because the first one fell one-too-many times from high winds. I built a trapped door at the bottom of the new one for bricks so that it can’t be knocked over. We put plastic feet on the bottom to protect the wood and a few other reinforcements. 

In other ways, we have a Facebook group of almost 200 helpers now to shop for art supplies and do repairs on the pantry. We have a Patreon where we currently receive about $30 per month from a few community members, and our following on all the socials keeps growing daily. 

How would you describe the Art Pantry to someone unfamiliar with it?

KD: The short answer and the “motto” is “share what you can, and take what inspires you.” But the long answer would be that it’s a community owned and operated resource where you can share new or gently used arts/craft supplies and also take any of those supplies that inspire you. No questions asked. It has 24/7 access, and we just ask everyone to be respectful and respect the business who is hosting it.

Who painted the Art Pantry, and what inspired its design?

KD: Tattoo artist Skylar Phuong painted this pantry, and you can find her work @abuses on Instagram. Here is what she had to say about the inspo behind the design:

“I drew most of my inspiration from the fabric of kimonos and ukiyo-e style prints! I loved how the patterns and scenes were painted, and I just wanted to do something fun. I love the look of Asian motifs and thought that the interesting designs could be eye-catching!”

How did you choose Brooklyn Pints for the Art Pantry’s location?

KD: So the original location for the Art Pantry was at Kitsunè Moon (two doors down), but unfortunately, they are closing their physical brick and mortar shop this month. West Central has been a great spot for the pantry, especially with the artsy culture already in that area. So, I wanted the pantry to stay as close as possible to its original location and the building owner enthusiastically wanted to keep it!

Brooklyn Pints is just a few feet away and just happened to have the only other business owner (Trisha) in the building who I somewhat knew. I also liked the idea of having it at another woman-owned business. And not gonna lie… the ice cream is literally THE BEST. So it’s a win-win for the community.

Tell us about the types of supplies available at the Art Pantry.

KD: You can find your basic drawing and painting supplies… but we also see yarn, macrame, jewelry-making supplies, stickers, fabric, etc.

People have asked what specific things they can purchase for the pantry, and so I created a Target wishlist with some basic items. This is on our LinkTree, which you can find on all our social media accounts.

What are some of your favorite and/or most popular Art Pantry supplies?

KD: The most popular items are probably the markers, paint supplies, notebooks, colored pencils, etc. My favorite thing to see is old vintage items, like sewing kits from the 60s and 70s. Those are really fun to look at.

In addition to the Art Pantry, mutual aid food pantries are popular around town. How would you describe the state of Fort Wayne’s mutual aid community, and what could take it to the next level?

KD: I think the food pantries have made such a huge impact in bringing our community together. COVID forced us to be apart, but these helped us connect in a different way. Also, I don’t think the average person understood the difference between mutual aid and charity until these started popping up. I think it’s always better to depend on each other, rather than the systems in place that obviously aren’t doing enough to keep everyone afloat. 

How would you describe the state of Fort Wayne’s art community, and what could take it to the next level?

KD: I think Fort Wayne has come a long way in the past decade or so. I love seeing all the murals around town and now the pantries, the chalk walk in the summer and even our city buses now, which is so cool! There are several art collectives, groups and markets around town bringing artists together… so many classes and workshops. There are at least two or three co-ops in town where you can go use tools and supplies to create your own art and build things.

I don’t know how we would get it to the next level or what that looks like, but I think bringing more artists together is good. More ideas and inspiration will grow from that.

Any pro tips for people who visit the Art Pantry for the first time?

KD: I would just remind them to look in the little door at the top! Sometimes people forget there is more space up there! Take a picture, and tag or DM it to the Art Pantry so we can share it… and maybe get a scoop or two of ice cream while you’re there. You won’t regret it!

How can people keep up with the Art Pantry and its needs?

KD: You can keep up with the pantry on Instagram, Facebook and TikTok @ArtPantryFW.

I always encourage everyone to take a photo of the inside of the pantry before they leave. This way I can share it on social media to let people know what’s available and remind them that it’s there and maybe inspire them to create something!

What’s next for the Art Pantry in 2024?

KD: As far as the physical pantry, I’d like to maybe do some built in compartments to help keep things organized. I’d also like to add some better solar-powered LED lights for nighttime. Otherwise, I would just encourage others to make a pantry for their own neighborhood (whether it’s food, art, books, etc). I don’t personally have the capacity to start another, but I’d help share and fundraise on social media for anyone who does. I also created a PDF file on how to start your own pantry that I’ll be putting on our LinkTree soon for anyone to access.

Anything we didn’t ask that you’d like to share?

KD: I just try to remind everyone that it’s for all of us. Everyone is welcome to use it, no matter your age, income, artistic abilities, etc… It’s a community-owned and operated resource.

I always sign off on our posts with “Thank you! I love you!”