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Ready to IGNITE the arts in Peoria!

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When Kathy Chitwood was asked to help light a fire under local arts groups and bring them all together, she agreed even though she believed it would be a difficult task.

Now, just days before the inaugural IGNITE Peoria event at the Peoria Civic Center, Chitwood said it turned out to be “one of the easiest things I’ve been part of.” The reason, she notes, is because the arts groups are ready for the recognition this event will bring them and are eager to do what they can.

“You know, it’s sort of like an audition when you have 3,000 people show up and everybody gets to be in the production. Every director dreads the kind of audition where not nearly enough show up and you have to go out and find people and frankly, I was worried that’s what this would be. But it wasn’t and it has been fun,” said Chitwood, chairperson of IGNITE Peoria, which will bring together a few thousand artists from many genres in one space and allow the public to see just what Peoria and central Illinois has to offer.

That was basically the purpose of IGNITE, which was proposed nearly a year ago by Jim Wetherington, general manager of the Civic Center, in a meeting with various arts groups. He and his staff hatched the idea while trying to figure out ways to bring people to the Civic Center in August, traditionally the facility’s slowest month.

“This is a perfect opportunity to bring folks downtown and into town and to expose the arts that we have in Peoria,” Wetherington said.

Arts Partners got involved and Chitwood was asked to staff the event and work with the Civic Center and the Peoria Area Convention and Visitors Bureau to make the first one happen. The city got involved by moving some of the Tourism Reserve Fund to the project to pay for the Civic Center’s overhead for the event.

That is the only funding the Civic Center is receiving, Wetherington said. The event is free to the public.

“I figured this first one would use maybe Exhibit Hall A and a couple meeting rooms and that it would grow from there. But we are using all Exhibit Hall space, the theatre lobby and all the meetings rooms. The only space not being used in the theatre house and the arena,” he said.

He hopes the event will quickly grow from one day to a full weekend, he said.

Chitwood believes it will. “Oh, this is just the beginning. There are a lot of arts and a lot of artists out there still to be recognized and we want to bring them in. The city is making an investment in this and it wants this to grow. I’m already thinking about next year,” she said.

This Saturday’s event is being billed as IGNITE’s Big Bang Creation Celebration.

Chitwood and Wetherington agreed that at one point during the planning process it appeared nothing much was going to happen. But Chitwood said the tireless work of the people involved helped it keep growing. “Plus, you have to remember that artists, for the most part, don’t plan too far out. So I’m not surprised a lot of it came together late,” she said.

“Our decision to plan less and include whomever wants to participate in the event was the best decision we made. We said, ‘If you want to do something at IGNITE, we’ll give you the space and you just come in a do it. And they have done it,” she said.

She credited Megan Pedigo of the Civic Center, Kaci Osborne of the Convention Visitors Bureau, Suzette Boulais of Arts Partners and Steve Fairbanks of the City of Peoria for making her job easier.

“They have opened a lot of doors to these groups and they’ve been reaching out. The Civic Center has been great to work with and Jim Wetherington has been behind us 1 million percent,” Chitwood said.

Chitwood said the only thing that has surprised her has been some of the artists that have come forward to be involved. “For me the most incredible thing has been the unusual artists I didn’t even know existed. And it makes you realize that everything is art in its own way and you can connect so many things to art, like science and technology. I didn’t know what to expect and I couldn’t be more pleased,” she said.

There will be performing arts, including theatre, dance, music, all in various forms of their respective genres. There will be visual arts, including painting and sculpture. Then there will be unique arts, where the items used may not be conventional. For example, automobile paints will be displayed in a car show that could bring a large tourist following, Chitwood said. Shoes and different types of fibers are other examples.

There also will be the family art experience. Creation stations will be set up to allow children and their families to create art.

“This whole region embraces the arts so much more now than it used to and it’s getting better. Next we need to get the arts community as a whole to realize Peoria is a great place for an artist to live. Arts change neighborhoods. Arts can change communities,” she said.

The event opens at 9 a.m. and continues throughout the day, with most activities wrapping up by 5 p.m. There is no charge to get in and parking is free, as well.

For a complete listing of the artists and events visits or


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).