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Gordon: IGNITE a true local showcase

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As I stood watching all those local theatre people in one place, doing the singing and choreography for a song they’d starting learning barely an hour early, I felt awestruck. Not necessarily by those doing the song because I know most of them and am well aware of their talent.

The feeling I had was from the realization that IGNITE Peoria! was happening at that time, last Saturday morning at the Peoria Civic Center. Many artists from our area had pulled together to show the public just what they could find and do here, from performance arts to visual arts to everything in between.

And the feeling also come from the realization that with all the artists and genres that were represented at the inaugural IGNITE Peoria!, they really only scratched the surface of central Illinois. While much of the Civic Center was filled, there is so much more that could be displayed it could be overwhelming (which is why IGNITE needs more than one day in the future).

By way of disclosure, I should mention I serve on the board of directors of Art Partners, the chief sponsor of IGNITE, and I was there to help attendees find where they were going. I also am heavily involved in community theatre here, particularly Corn Stock Theatre, so I was lucky that the door I was put at was next to the community theatre stage in the grand hall of the Civic Center.

It was on that stage that Pam Orear and local choreographers such as Tamra Challacombe and Peggy Breaux Hupp took performers young and old, taught them a fairly elaborate dance and song from the musical “Newsies” and, within an hour and a half, had them performing it for the public and for a filming. Talent reigned on that stage, which also was the location of Peoria Players Theatre’s preview of its upcoming season.

When my shift ended, I walked throughout the facility and enjoyed so much of what was there. That included the IGNITE Invitational Car Show hosted by local car artist Darius Donaldson. It was a display of some of the coolest customizations I’ve ever seen on cars, trucks and motorcycles.

There were booths where people could see firsthand how some things are made, things most probably had never thought about. They included clothes and blankets and banners and rugs. There were metal stamps created, a caricaturist showing how he can look at a face and draw it in minutes, and artists who make pictures depicting personalities out of mosaic tiles inviting the public to help. A mosaic portrait of one of our most famous native artists, Richard Pryor, was well underway when I walked through.

The public also was invited to help and learn from weavers, woodworkers, metal workers, jewelry makers, photographers, basket weavers, origami artists, painters, magicians… I could go on but it was amazing to me how many there were filling the exhibit halls or the largest Civic Center in downstate Illinois.

I also realized what I didn’t see that I hope will be among those on display in the future. We have some very fine sculptors here who should be part of something like this. The number of fine painters was not as well represented as it could have been.

Performance arts groups included a couple community theatres, the Peoria Ballet and the Cornerstone, but there are many others that weren’t involved this year.

Don’t get me wrong; I am not being critical. I’m simply saying there are very many more artists in the area than most of us realize.

More than 6,300 people walked through the Civic Center during the IGNITE Peoria! event last Saturday, an impressive number for an inaugural event such as this. As I walked around and talked with some or simply listened and observed, I could tell many felt as I did, that they didn’t realize all the different types of art and how much of it Peoria has available.

“This is fantastic,” one woman told me. “I need more than one day to see it all.”

“I had no idea this was out here,” said another. “I mean, some of the things we use in our lives every day that we don’t think of as art really is art if only because of the skill it takes to make them. And the art we recognize as art is as good coming from our local people as you’ll find in any bigger city.”

That was what Jim Wetherington, general manager of the Civic Center, was thinking when he proposed an event that became IGNITE so the Civic Center could fill space in what is traditionally its slowest month of the year. It’s what Suzette Boulais, executive director of Arts Partners, and Kathy Chitwood, the event chairperson, were counting on as IGNITE was being planned. It was a question of reaching enough of them.

It was what those people and the tireless Megan Pedigo of the Civic Center, Kaci Osborne of the Peoria Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, and Steve Fairbanks of the city of Peoria accomplished in a matter of months.

The investment by the city in our local arts community was welcomed and appreciated and this could serve as a catalyst for more such investment, in time or money or voice of all of the above, in the future, particularly as the Warehouse District moves forward.

As regular readers of The Peorian know, our aim here is to celebrate Peoria. Peoria is an All America City and the kind of hard work and talent that was displayed on Saturday as well as performed behind the scenes proves that once again. 


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).