By Craig Stocks / Photography by Craig Stocks
This week marks the one year anniversary of Playing Peoria. What started as a hazily formed idea for a small, personal photography project has been transformed into an online publication serving the arts community of Central Illinois.
The idea formed while my wife and I were spending some time in Los Angeles. It seemed like everyone was in the art or entertainment business – photographers, artists, actors, entertainers, drive-thru attendants at In-N-Out Burger – everyone wanted to be in show business. I realized that there’s just as much talent in Central Illinois, but much of it is hidden. I wanted to explore the concept photographically, and I wanted to learn the artists’ stories. In the end, it only made sense to share what I’d learned through a blog, and so Playing Peoria was born.
They say, “Luck favors the prepared,” but I suspect I’m more likely the beneficiary of “Dumb Luck.” One of the first people I contacted was local magician Mitch Williams. He eagerly agreed to be part of the project, but he also introduced me to Suzette Boulais, Executive Director of ArtsPartners of Central Illinois. We quickly realized we had similar goals, and my photography began serving two purposes. Besides illustrating the stories on Playing Peoria, my photos also became part of ArtsPartners’ “All about the Arts” marketing campaign celebrating the breadth and depth of talent in Central Illinois.
I’ve had the privilege to meet some of the most amazing people along the way, and many of them have become friends. The one thing they all have in common is a passion for what they do and an eagerness to share it. Actor and theatre owner Mary Simon wants to make sure fellow actors and audience alike have a good time. Sculptor and artist Morgan Elser didn’t even realize she was an artist until just a few years ago when she found she could translate the image in her mind through her hands and into clay, and that discovery changed her life.
Painter Steve Boyd paints fanciful scenes and attempts to recreate the colors he saw during a near-death experience. Steve’s paintings are fully formed in his mind before he ever puts brush to canvas while fellow artist Becky Draland-Doyle’s works evolve as she lets the canvas tell her what it wants to be.
Many of the artists are involved with education and community improvement. Sculptors Fisher Stolz and Jaci Willis help Bradley students develop as artists. Former music group roadie Jeff Mosher applies his skills to helping members of the ELITE Pulses of Hope Drumline beat the drums of success while dancer Amanda Relph mentors young dancers in her CityDance program. Jon Neidy facilitates lifelong learning for adults while business woman Jan Sullivan provides the costumes for intermediate and high school performances throughout the US and Canada.
Through this experience, I’ve also learned a lot about the arts community in Central Illinois. I was lucky that we had art and music programs in school when I was young. Unfortunately, many people today consider art, theatre and music to be luxuries for just a few. The truth however, is that we all benefit from the arts. Nearly everything you see and hear was created by an artist with the goal of enriching our lives. I can’t imagine how dull life would be without artists.
I’ve also learned that the arts are good business. Businessmen like Steve Rouland, Jon Walker and Jeff Embry are leveraging art into business, but it doesn’t end there. A recent study by Arts Alliance Illinois found that just the non-profit arts events in Peoria generate $20.4 million annually in business revenue, jobs and tax dollars. And, much of that comes from cultural tourists visiting the Peoria area. The arts don’t just play in Peoria; the arts pay in Peoria too.
Through it all, I’ve had lots of help. Suzette Boulais and ArtsPartners of Central Illinois have helped me find many of the people who’ve been featured on Playing Peoria. My wife Debbie and my mother Wini have spent countless hours proofreading the posts. Artist Tracey Frugoli braved the heat of summer 2012 to help out on a number of photo shoots, and local photographer Nancy Davis helped with scheduling and logistics during the fall. Right now, I’m fortunate to have Bradley journalism student Amanda Stoll doing most of the writing while Molly Richmond and Carol Davidson are finding artists and scheduling photo shoots. Playing Peoria is very much a team effort, and I’m truly grateful for their help. And, none of us get paid for this, it’s entirely a volunteer effort.
What’s next? I’m looking forward to the next year of Playing Peoria. While we’ll continue to see traditional artists and entertainers, we’ll also be searching out the more obscure and quirky artists and entertainers. Every artist is unique, and I love hearing and sharing the story of their passion. I’ll also continue to partner with ArtsPartners as we develop a new message for 2013. October is National Arts and Humanities Month and we want everyone to be a part of the celebration.
It’s going to be a fun year.