Take a good look around Peoria. The once barren and gray cityscape is starting to bloom with art. There are sculptures along Washington Street and the Peoria Riverfront Museum, murals on commercial buildings like CT Gabbert’s and Lava, more outdoor concerts on the riverfront, and art in after-school programs in Peoria Public Schools. Peoria is waking up to the power, value and outright enjoyment of the arts.
Big Picture, a new nonprofit, is adding to the visual landscape with exciting art additions coming this fall.
First up is “Abraham Blue,” a 50-foot portrait of Lincoln that will be unveiled in October on the Peoria County Courthouse. The choice of Lincoln may seem an obvious one in the Land of Lincoln, but there is more to the message. With “Abraham Blue,” artist Doug Leunig has created a dark and brooding piece that honors an American hero who in 1854 stood in Peoria and took a stand against slavery. The image also raises awareness about depression and mental health.
Lincoln referred to himself as the “most miserable man living.” Leunig’s artwork bathes the historical likeness of Lincoln seen on the five-dollar bill in shades of blue to represent the struggles the man faced during his lifetime. As public art, “Abraham Blue” seeks to encourage dialogue and open conversation about depression and the stigma that too often surrounds it. As Peoria moves toward being a center of healing, the image of “Abraham Blue” serves to remind us that we do not need to suffer alone.
Finally, Lincoln recognized the value of controlling his image. In addition to documenting his speeches for publication, he sat for artists, photographers and sculptors to become one of the most recognized faces in America. Peoria can learn from him. For too long we have let national media, that knows nothing about our community, give us labels that we end up believing. It is time for Peoria to control our image and share the stories we all have to tell.
The second big arts event for the Big Picture team is the Big Picture Arts Festival Oct. 13 in Peoria’s Warehouse District and the film festival that night at the Peoria Riverfront Museum. This free event is for folks from all parts of our community and will include a community paint-by-number mural, professional mural painters creating more art for our city, music, performances, kids’ projects, paint fling, camera candy, breakdancing and more.
The third component of the growing art focus in Peoria is a great message for the future and positive enrichment of the lives of children. Peoria Public Schools has been awarded a 21st Century Grant to provide students with experiences in arts to complement a project-based academic program. The grant will focus on Glen Oak, Trewyn, and Manual schools.
“It is overwhelming to see how this grant is bringing together many agencies, organizations and volunteers that demonstrate the true fabric of our community –– a willingness to blanket our students with experiences and hope by extending the school day and open hearts to be creative and collaborative. Our students will benefit from the many role models,” said Susan Grzanich, Innovation and Grants Officer.
Yes, Peoria is becoming more vibrant. Come out for the Big Picture Arts Festival and unveiling of “Abraham Blue” and see for yourself.