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The arts thrive in Peoria

Courtesy Peoria CVB

Long known as a quintessential middle-American city, Peoria, Illinois, has cultivated a lively art scene that is anything but ordinary. The city’s community arts organizations showcase local talent through a variety of venues — open studios, First Friday celebrations, its popular Fine Art Fair, live theater and a wide span of musical performances, from jazz to Bach.

Peoria Art Guild at the
Foster Art Center

Founded in 1878, the Peoria Art Guild is Illinois’ oldest community arts center. It features works by well-known and emerging local, regional, national and international artists in all mediums. Two renovated gallery spaces offer rotating exhibits.

On the last weekend in September, the Peoria Art Guild hosts the annual Fine Art Fair on the riverfront. Recognized as one of the top fairs in the country, the 50-year-old festival features the works of 150 artists from 26 states and Canada. Live music, the Kids Art Festival, art demonstrations and a community mural round out events.

The mural program is a free, ever-changing art project open to all. Participants are given a blank, numbered square tile, a paint brush and a paper image for use as a painting guide. The mural emerges tile by tile because each square helps complete the picture.

Special pricing and events for prearranged group travel include behind-the-scenes and live art demonstrations with a local artist, lunch coupons for festival vendors and a possible take-away.
“The group event for the 50th anniversary celebration is new this year and was created due to group requests,” said Lelonie Luft, leisure tourism manager, Peoria Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. “The fair plans on continuing a group event every year.”

Toraason Glass
Hiram Toraason’s contemporary glass art studio, Toraason Glass, gives groups a firsthand view of the art form and the artist. In the 4,000-square-foot studio and gallery, Toraason demonstrates glassblowing from start to finish during hourlong sessions. Groups sit on church pews placed strategically in front of his oven for up-close viewing.

“We get nothing but accolades from groups — people love him,” said Luft. “Toraason’s work can be found throughout the area. It seems there’s really nothing he can’t make out of glass.”

Each attendee takes home a hand-blown keepsake ornament. Toraason’s gallery offers a variety of finished glass pieces for show and sale, from functional to one-of-a-kind creations. His work includes decorative vases, plates and commissioned busts, plus works for businesses and the medical profession, such as hearts and teeth.

First Fridays
Fridays are notable art days throughout Peoria. On the first Friday of each month from April through November, Peoria’s First Fridays program showcases Peoria’s artistic talent. Sponsored by the newly formed Central Illinois Artist Organization, the tour includes 12 locations such as studios, galleries and arts organizations. Illustrators, potters, woodworkers, sculptors, printmakers and photographers open their studios.

“Some venues offer wine, appetizers, while local musicians play,” said Luft. “People really enjoy mingling with the artists.”

Contemporary Art Center of Peoria
The Contemporary Art Center of Peoria, a former coffee bean warehouse turned art center, immerses visitors in art. Twenty resident artists work and display their art at the center. New exhibits open six times per year and are celebrated with receptions and performances by dance troupes, excerpts from plays, local choirs or musicians.

Live at the Five Spot’s smoke-free, nightclub atmosphere showcases regional musical talent. Three fine-art galleries are open to visitors. Salsa and swing nights start with an hour of basic instruction before the floor opens for dancing. Several artists open their studios for First Fridays. And the center’s Rhythm Kitchen Music Café offers home-cooked meals plus live music in a fun, eclectic atmosphere.

“On Friday nights, we’re an ideal venue for groups because there are so many options under one roof,” said executive director William Butler. “There’s the restaurant, art, dancing and two different bands performing.”

Elizabeth Hey

Elizabeth Hey is a member of Midwest Travel Journalists Association and has received numerous awards for her writing and photography. Follow her on Instagram and Facebook @travelbyfork.