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Why not Peoria?

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Paul Gordon

Even Rocco Landesman knows a lot of people think the arts are frivolous and therefore unworthy of tax money.

But Landesman, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, said there is money out there that, regardless of that narrow-minded thinking, is going to be spent somewhere. It's a question of where and to which groups are selected, he told the crowd at Wildlife Prairie Park a couple days ago.

So why not in Peoria?

Shoot, why not right there at Wildlife Prairie Park? It seems these days to be on constant life support and yet it could be a venue for different arts-related programming that could make it a regional draw. It has the space, it has creative thinkers running it.

One reason that money won't be coming to Peoria any time soon is because the arts community can't seem to get the business community to help it raise matching funds, as required under the NEA program that administers the funding.

I have to tell you, that surprises the heck out of me. Peoria is big on and in the arts, especially for a city this size. You have to look hard to find a city or metro area this size with a regional ballet company, a symphony, an opera company, several theaters, art studios and home turf to quite a number of renowned artists.

I consider myself part of the arts community. I sing, I perform in and work on plays at Corn Stock Theatre and Peoria Players. It was in that capacity I was invited to Wildlife Park on Monday to hear Landesman speak to a crowd of a couple hundred, not bad considering there was only had a few days notice that he was coming.

Kathy Chitwood and Suzette Boulais, who were the two most instrumental in getting Landesman to visit Peoria two years ago after he made a somewhat disparaging remark about the arts here, got it together this time, as well. Eddie Urish, director of special events and marketing at Wildlife, and his staff busted humps to get the place ready, including the stage for performances by various arts groups, only to have to go to a backup plan when a storm rolled in and everything had to be moved inside.

Landesman was brought back by U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock, R-Peoria, because he wanted the NEA chairman to see what has been going on the past two years – namely, Museum Square, which is under construction downtown – and to give more arts groups the chance to meet with Landesman and show him their talents.

Schock said that Landesman came to Peoria again when he has all 50 states to worry about says something about his growing friendship with the city and its arts community. "It says something about you, too," Schock said, referring to the perseverance of the local arts community to make itself seen and heard and how it impressed Landesman during his previous visit.

Landesman said he agreed to return because Schock is an ardent supporter of the arts and because of Peoria's strong arts tradition. Also, he wanted to see firsthand Museum Square and see proof that the city and its corporate community will support the arts. "The museum is a testament to Peoria's support for the arts," he said. He noted studies that show arts keep children in school, that arts education helps children succeed better as adults and that the arts can be economic drivers.

"The last time I was here you were facing the challenge of getting everybody in the arts community together. Now you have to get the funding to match the grants. With that there are some great proposals that will start being funded. I want to work with you as a full partner going forward," Landesman said.

That would be a valuable partnership to have, Peoria. Let's grab it and hold it. If we don't, somebody will.

 

About the Author
Paul Gordon is the editor of The Peorian after spending 29 years of indentured servitude at the Peoria Journal Star. He’s an award-winning writer, raconteur and song-and-dance man. He also went to a high school whose team name is the Alices (that’s Vincennes Lincoln High School in Indiana; you can look it up).