Art: What is it Good For? | What will it take to be a national arts destination?

Art What Is It Good For

DOUG AND EILEEN LEUNIG

The words “Peoria will be a national arts destination” are heard around town in more and more meetings and gatherings. It’s a grand concept first declared by John Morris, CEO and president of the Peoria Riverfront Museum, but what exactly does a national arts destination look like?

In the simplest of terms, a national arts destination is a place people travel to because of art, whether it’s to see a new play or music performance, to study art, to attend an arts festival or cultural event, to be awed by an art exhibition or to tour monuments and public art.

Peoria has all that. Consider exhibitions for starters. The Peoria Riverfront Museum (PRM) often hosts shows of national merit and currently has three shows that are tourist draws—Rodin, the Golden Age of Disney and Tiffany lamps. Bradley does its part by hosting the Bradley International Print and Drawing Exhibition every two years, and the Peoria Art Guild’s Fine Art Fair draws thousands of people each fall.

Hello Peoria

Public art is a basic requirement of being a national arts destination. “Hello Peoria” is one of the newest murals in town. The abstract paint background was created by the public during the Big Picture Festival. The “Hello Peoria” stencil is by Chelsie Tamms, and the stencil painting was done by Joe Gabbert, above, and Nick Carmack. (PHOTO BY EILEEN LEUNIG)

Also as a national arts destination, arts should not be a luxury available only to a minority. Arts should be out in the open and accessible to folks just walking down the street. We’ve got that, too. Think of the growing number of murals in town, such as “Abraham Blue,” the 50-foot portrait of Lincoln on the Peoria County Courthouse; Sculpture Walk with work from local and national sculptors lining Washington Street; Shakespeare in the Park last summer at Glen Oak Park; and free public concerts held at the riverfront by Peoria Symphony. Top all that off with over 300 monuments that can be seen around the area, yes that’s right—over 300. Check out the map at BigPicturePeoria.org.

All that is only part of the vibrant arts scene in Peoria.

In fact, Peoria has so much to offer in the way of the arts that a 2012 study conducted by Arts Alliance Illinois, Americans for the Arts, and ArtsPartners of Central Illinois showed that nonprofit arts and culture generate $20.4 million in economic activity.

With all this arts activity in town, why is Peoria not already a nationally recognized arts destination? Simply said, we’ve done a lousy job of getting the word out. Our city needs a story that weaves our rich arts community and unique history into our overall community message.

To succeed in this vision, we need:

  • a comprehensive arts development plan outlining key initiatives that harness our rich arts background and our unique history
  • a roadmap for the future
  • a plan that will foster new works of art being created and performed here
  • a plan to nurture talent and develop abilities
  • a plan to engage people in the arts and create enthusiasm for the arts in our children.

We can’t ask the arts groups to do it alone with budgets that only allow for promoting their own events. As a community we need to create a destination brand and to do that we need an ecosystem of businesses and CEO leaders who support the arts. We need the organizations responsible for promoting Peoria to include the arts in their message. We need a champion for the arts. Doesn’t the $20 million the arts bring to the city at least deserve a seat at the decision-makers’ table?

Doug and Eileen Leunig



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