Though it didn’t go exactly to plan, with the scheduled “Special Shape Hot Air Balloon Glow Show” being canceled due to weather, Fire Up DWNTWN took over Walnut Street and the rest of downtown Muncie, Indiana, August 6, 2022. Hot air balloons still briefly took the skies, local businesses set up shop under tents, food trucks lined the street and countless other events ran from 1-10 p.m., prompting Muncie’s community to show out in full form.
With hundreds, maybe even thousands, in attendance, those present at Fire Up DWNTWN could meet new people and perhaps forge new friendships. For Ball State University Project Coordinator Kristin Flynn and Ivy Tech Career Coach Linzi Rodgers, that’s exactly what they did.
The two women had never met prior to volunteering at this event. They were randomly assigned to sit with each other throughout a portion of the event and help promote.
Rodgers said, “it’s like they knew these two people were going to make it work.” The two women bonded over their careers, their similar roots and most of all, their love for Muncie.
Muncie has clearly made an impact on each woman, as they repeatedly talked about how much they loved the town they work and live in. For many, Muncie, Indiana is a place they wish to leave, yet for Rodgers, she said her appreciation for the community has only grown as she has gotten to a new stage of life.
“I think when I was younger, I didn't appreciate Muncie, but now, being a mom, being a real adult out here, I love our community, all that it holds, and the people,” Rodgers said. “Our people are different here. Our people are different.”
Flynn said she attended Ball State as a student in the 1990s before becoming employed by her former university. She said during her time as a Cardinal, Ball State “felt like a bubble”, separate from the rest of Muncie.
However, in recent years, Flynn said she believes that “bubble has burst” as she has watched Ball State make an effort to immerse itself with the community it resides in. She wants those in the community to feel welcome on Ball State’s campus, even if they don’t attend the university.
Rodgers said she feels events such as Fire Up DWNTWN can further help the community feel more welcome amongst itself, hopefully sparking the same love for Muncie she has.
“I think Muncie has so much to offer and a lot of people are not aware of the various ways they can plug in and get connected,” Rodgers said. “So stuff like this, where all the vendors, small businesses, everybody Muncie community oriented are out here and I think it's a neat one stop shop.”
One of these small businesses that represented themself at Fire Up DWNTWN was “Ohmugawd!”, a business that designs and sells mugs that piggyback off pop culture, trends and the city of Muncie itself, among other things. Owner, Cameron Grubbs, said he created his small business in 2022, with his idea sparked by, along with his love for wordplay, “having a creative extension and trying to do things that incorporate our love of Muncie.”
Similar to Rodgers and Flynn, Grubbs’ love for Muncie is evident. Through his small business, he said he hopes to translate that feeling and make a product that can connect with the consumer.
“Even if they don't buy anything, I want [customers] to just be able to find [a mug] where they're like, ‘that speaks to me’ or that makes them laugh or anything like that,” Grubbs said. “... I've gotten a lot of positive responses from it, which I appreciate and I love being able to tie things in from the community.”
Though he said his business’s mission is to make products that connect with the consumer, his main goal from participating at Fire Up DWNTWN was to get his small business’s name to become common knowledge within the community.
“For me, this is definitely going to raise some exposure,” Grubbs said. “There's probably going to be I don’t know how many hundreds, if not, probably a couple thousand people here and it's in the heart of Muncie. I’m hoping that it translates into more brand awareness.”
Cornerstone Center for the Arts’ Assistant to Education Emily Curtis and Education Coordinator Leon Crosby jointly painted a mural to contribute towards Fire Up DWNTWN. As was the common theme throughout this event, each of them held a special appreciation for Muncie.
For Curtis, she was glad the event was taking place, as it gave the community a chance to come together and bring Muncie to life. For Crosby, his love of Muncie didn’t originate from his childhood like many others, instead realized during adulthood.
“I’m actually from Toledo, Ohio, and Muncie became my home because I love the vibe,” Crosby said. “I love the atmosphere. I love the small town, yet not small town stuff.”
Like Grubbs, Curtis and Crosby were hopeful that the event would bring recognition to their place of work.
“Not a lot of people, I don’t think, know what Cornerstone does anymore,” Curtis said. “Getting the word out, getting people to know about our classes and stuff like that, really helps us, and all the other community things going on help us because we’re a non-profit organization.”