Unconventional, thought provoking and experimental art forms exist everywhere, and Peoria is no exception. Most of Peoria’s cultural offerings, however, aren’t rigorous investigations of the current state of contemporary art, art history or theory. Unfortunately Central Illinois is risk averse when it comes to exploring ideas that are actually the main menus of leading educational institutions and museums.
It’s assumed that Peoria’s cultural demographic still resembles that which conjured the “If it plays in Peoria” chestnut and that the normative is all that matters. The exception is Bradley University’s Department of Art that fortunately treats its patrons like adults. One of its missions is to set the stage for cultural critique and civic engagement. In the next six weeks the department and faculty will host two events that will challenge your apprehension of visual culture in a profound and lasting way.
The events will be equal to anything the department of art has offered in a decade, and they will also eclipse most of what cultural institutions in Central Illinois have presented during that time. They’ll be inspirational, educational and critical, involving earnest examinations of contemporary art practice at regional and national levels. They’re also likely to be fashionable and pleasurable. If you go, however, don’t expect your opinions to be confirmed or assume that you can be a passive observer. Art will be celebrated and contextualized. The last thing you’ll come away with are ambiguous banalities about pluralism. This is a period of re-definition of cultural priorities for artists and culture at large.
The first is the Midwest Society of Photography Education Conference. “Developing Spaces/Places” was co-organized by Bradley’s Margaret LeJeune and Illinois State University’s Jason Reblando and is designed to “document and promote the discussion of issues including environmental concerns, border demarcations and spatial justice.” It also includes such things that are currently affecting the dissemination of photography as a fine art medium – a historical document replete with social and ideological subtexts. The conference will also include exhibitions and demonstrations of new photographic methods, processes and disciplinary trends. The keynote speaker is the internationally recognized photographer/installation artist Penelope Umbrico who will discuss her work utilizing popular online image databases. Thirty artists who will lecture, speak on panel discussions and exhibit include David Taylor, Wendel White, William Fox, and esteemed 2017 Midwest Regional Honored Educator Judy Natal.
Bradley University Galleries, The Contemporary Art Center, Illinois Central College, Peoria Public Library, the Prairie Center for the Art and the Riverfront Museum will host exhibitions in tandem with the proceedings. The conference is Oct. 12 through Oct. 15 at the Embassy Suites Hotel and Conference Center. Information on registration is at https://www.spenational.org/conferences/developing-spacesplaces.
Several events on the conference schedule are free. Alternative photo-processes demos will be held at the Heuser Art Center at Bradley. Following just three weeks later is the fourth bi-annual Midwest Women Artists symposium titled “Transforming Midwest Culture and Society: Women Artists, 1960s to 1980s.” The symposium is being held Nov. 2 and 3 on campus and is free and open to the public. It’s organized by the Illinois Women Artist Project Director Kristan McKinsey with initial planning assistance from Dr. Sarah Glover. This interdisciplinary symposium will explore the lesser-known experience of Midwestern women artists at a critical time in American history, as well as their impact on their communities, social content, their choice of media and the nature of their critical reception.
The keynote speaker is Lynne Warren. Warren is a curator of contemporary art at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, a long time observer of Chicago artists and one who is particularly knowledgeable about women artists’ contribution to regional and national practice. Panel discussion on “New Directions” includes noted artists Jane Gilmore, Lindsay Lochman, Jane Stevens and Sandra Menefee Taylor. A writer’s panel includes Barbara Jaffee, Susan Snodgrass, Freida High W. Tesfagiorgis and Leslie Bellavance, all significant writers and experts on the reception of women in the history of American art. Like the photography conference, the Midwest Women Artists Symposium is designed to draw attention to essential issues about aesthetics, identity, historical narratives and place crucial to creative production. It is supported by generous contributions from the Terra Museum of Art, the Eugene & Harriet Swager Fund for Public Art and the Taylor & Corrine French Fund/Fine Arts. The symposium also honors the memory of the Illinois Women Artists Project founder Channy Lyons.
The Midwest Women Artists Symposium is part of Art Design Chicago, an exploration of Chicago’s art and design legacy, an initiative of the Terra Foundation for American Art with presenting partner The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation. They’re a chance for students, faculty, professional photographers and anyone interested in contemporary art to hear professionals speak about the most relevant discourse affecting contemporary art culture. The formats allow for frank conversations about professional practice, feminism, social media, technology and the interaction of art and politics. See this site for details: http://iwa.bradley.edu/symposium/about.