Last Friday night, Jenny and I had an unusual predicament facing us: lack of any obligations. With nothing on the agenda, we realized what day it was and decided to check out the “First Friday” event for the month. If you don’t know what “First Fridays” are by now, you’ve either just moved here or devote all your attention to things such as Monster Jam or MMA fighting.
First Fridays is a monthly event organized by people and for people who probably don’t know who Ronda Roussey is, hosted by the Central Illinois Artists Organization (CIAO). At First Fridays, all the galleries, art studios, and arts organizations in the area collectively open up house to the general public on (you guessed it) the First Friday evening of every month. The tour boasts around a dozen or so locations, mostly in and around downtown Peoria but even stretch to places such as the Heights, Morton and Pekin as well. It’s enlightening, it’s sociable, and having been unable to check one out over the last year or so, it’s the perfect way for us to spend this Friday evening.
Our tour began in the ever-refurbishing Warehouse district at Studio 825 on SW Adams, where a sign jubilantly suggesting we “LIVE LIFE LOVE ART” greeted us at this first stop of what would be a very arts-saturated weekend for us. Live Life, Love Art? Don’t mind if we do. I’m very anxious to see how this block takes shape in the next few years-hopefully as its development increases, it stays affordable and friendly to artists (cue audience applause at sweeping idealistic statement).
Stationed outside is this cool sculpture, crafted by one of Studio 825’s resident artists that I’ve seen make the rounds in several other exhibits throughout town.
Inside there’s a very steady stream of traffic through this rustic bohemian gallery/studio space where a handful of local artists call home. There is so much to look at in here-sculpture, woodcarving, paintings and more. Plus the weather was great, so all the doors and windows were opened, adding an enhanced, airy feel to the night.
We instantly recognize the work of one of our good friends, artist Suzette Boulais—we’ve actually got one of her paintings in our house!
We got to meet and chat with “Lefty”, one of the resident artists who is also a published author. “Lefty” took up painting fulltime after a thirty year hiatus and you can read more about him and his art at his website. Here he points to a print of the first painting he created (and sold!) after that hiatus.
This friendly but mysterious red door had Jenny mugging and crackin’ wise to see what was behind it (the answer appeared to be nothing—maybe it’s possible space for additional artists in the future?)
We make our way to the very back of the building as sunset approaches. Hanging out in the studio’s fabrication area was this massive sculpture, but that wasn’t all holding court in the rear of Studio 825…
This guy (or gal?) was keeping tabs on everything that was going on.
And just as I suspected would happen, Jenny instantly attempts to make friends. Come to find out, there were kittens roaming this space too that were needing homes. I got Jenny out of Studio 825 before she could try convincing me that she needed to expand her team (we already have two).
Since we were already downtown and not too far, we thought we would next check out the artists spaces in the Murray building, another location that’s been a stop on the First Friday tour these past few years…
What a drag. The Murray building is no longer part of the tour, and the artists have all been evicted for future development of the property. Ah well. Onto the next stop!
As we cruise up Main Street (as opposed to down Main St. like they did before our time), we notice an unusual amount of foot traffic around the intersection at Sheridan...lots of well-to-do families wandering Main Street at dusk, not a typical sight. We wonder if it was related to First Friday? The last time we did this, the turnout was nothing like this!
The Studios on Sheridan at the Sunbeam building sort of serves as a hub for the First Friday activities. Lots to look at inside, and it’s even spilling into the street! There is a small shuttle available that can transport you to the different First Friday stops...but this is not that bus. This mobile tribute to the Fab Four is a “work in progress” by artist Steve Fairbanks and his wife. (The not so “Magical Mystery” First Friday shuttle is parked on the other side).
People of all ages mill about inside, talking, socializing, all coming together over art.
The featured exhibit this month is devoted to a subject near and dear to me: a photo display called “Faces of the East Bluff” by Keith Cotton. These photos can be seen assembled as a collage on the side of a building on Wisconsin Avenue near Nebraska. Here at the Studios, you are offered the chance to get up close to see if you recognize anyone...
And we do! It’s Ian, Karen and Gabriel from The Chef and the Baker!
Live music adds a great energy to the room as people rub elbows and hobnob.
Soon I see more familiar faces—Steve Rouland, one of the Sunbeam/Studios on Sheridan’s owners and a great driving force behind this event, and his wife Michelle, one of my favorite theatre cohorts.
A peek into the window of Lit On Fire Used Books indicates a booming night for business!
Jenny’s got a hankering to shop a bit, so we wander into the Sheared Edge, one of the great shops housed in the building that sells handmade jewelry and other gifts.
We see friends Jonathan and Maegan, one of the proprietors of Sheared Edge, along with her business partner Dana, and Greg who is a web designer and “Whiskey City” blogger. Maegan and Dana are responsible for much of the art and gifts you find for sale at the Sheared Edge.
Jenny gets to talking, and I, in typical fashion, wander off. As I stop to admire these cool prints on the wall, a familiar glowing reflection catches my eye…
I’m almost positive those BOWL letters are the sign from Town and Country bowling alley, where I bowled every Saturday for several years in my youth-now closed and still sitting for sale. Suddenly I realize we don’t have much time left here and we haven’t even hit my favorite part…
A stop inside Urban Artifacts! They stay open late as well on First Fridays and I’ve been itching to get back in here since our basement has been finished. I need to see if there’s anything in here I can’t live without!
Urban artifacts is as much museum as it is shop, and if anyplace in town could get away with charging a browsing fee (besides the porn shops) this would be it. There is so much to look at in every direction, its energy is frenetic tonight and the whole joint seems like a beautifully demented carnival midway.
I stop for a moment to pay tribute to this bad boy. An arcade cabinet featuring not only Ms. PacMan and Galaga but dozens of other classic arcade games (including Burgertime!) built in. Jenny and I always laugh when people begin Kickstarter or Gofundme campaigns for things they should be paying for themselves...so instead, I’ve started collecting all my loose change. But that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t accept donations if they happened my way…it will be mine. Oh yes, it will be mine.
Once the Sunbeam building closes for the night, people spill into the nearby bars. We find some friends and end up rubbing shoulders with Peoria’s finest hipsters at Broken Tree Coffee (they serve liquor) and then Pitch Karaoke bar, but it’s not too late of an evening because we have plans the next morning…
Saturday is the day for Peoria’s second annual IGNITE PEORIA event at the Civic Center. This is a “celebration of creativity” that consumes nearly every inch of the Civic Center with art of every kind. Not only will you find painting, sculpture, music fashion and dance at IGNITE, but with its merging of the World Fest event and All or Nothing Car Show, you get cultural arts, industrial arts, mechanical arts and much more! There is truly something for everyone here, because as one of IGNITE’s founders and organizers Kathy Chitwood said to me that day, “What isn’t art?”
Jenny and I spent the first part of our day at IGNITE volunteering at Corn Stock Theatre’s information booth while watching numerous friends perform a flash mob style interpretation of “Let the Sunshine In” from HAIR, a show I directed three years ago and appeared in eleven years ago.
Afterwards, we spent several hours wandering the Civic Center, taking in all the booths, displays and demonstrations that were happening. Many of the fine art organizations, such as the Illinois Art League, even allowed visitors the chance to create their own works of art right on the spot!
Got wood? Because this table certainly does! Some incredibly carved pieces were on display at this booth…
The Peoria Symphony’s area included numerous percussion instruments where kids (and some adults) were allowed to “make their own kind of music”. Jenny and I regularly attend the Symphony’s concerts and it’s really grown on me a lot. They have another season starting soon with a great mix of programs-they do a really good job of finding something for everyone in each of their seasons. Check them out, and you’ll be a better person for it
I was so excited to run into this old friend on the exhibit floor—it’s CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG! I got to drive and fly this actual “Chitty” two summers ago at Eastlight Theatre when I played Caractacus Potts (Dick Van Dyke in the movie). And in case you’re wondering, yes—it was actually harder than driving a real car.
Even cosplaying had a presence at Ignite Peoria. It’s a good time to be in the Star Wars business with all the new movies that will be released soon. Jedis, Wookiees, and other creatures wandered the floor and were hanging out at this booth.
This entire row of exhibits were for the “left-brained” artists of the world-robotics, drones and other scientific and engineering based exhibits and art forms could be seen and demonstrated here.
Peoria Playhouse offered these giant foam blocks and pieces for budding engineers and designers to create.
We aren’t really into cars, but it was definitely worth checking out the Car show, and the view you got when walking into the arena was incredible. Last year, it was held in the exhibit hall, but moving into this space was a great idea.
This was my favorite car out of the bunch.
On our way out, we stop to look at this great mural of Peoria. While gawking, we met a lady who just moved back to Peoria after several decades away, and she was surprised and pleased to see how vibrant and interesting the community had become (hey Marty, this might be your soulmate!) and was now really excited to be back here. It was great to chat with her and share some of our knowledge and experience.
If you look closely, you can see this mural was assembled from name tags on which people wrote what they love about Peoria. I was at one of the events where they collected these several years ago, but now I can’t remember what I wrote or where my tag is on here.
After IGNITE on Saturday night I had to strike the set for Corn Stock’s production of GREASE, which I designed and lead the build for (my only theatre commitment of this summer). Finally on Sunday we made a whirlwind trip up to the Theatre District in downtown Chicago for one of the final Windy City performances of the National Tour of PIPPIN, a show very near and dear to me as it was the first one I ever directed.
It was a tremendous show. I loved every second of it. And with that, it’s curtains not only on PIPPIN but an exciting weekend. I’m still worn out a week later.