Our region is full of artists who crave opportunities to showcase their work. Learn how these local nonprofit organizations preserve and promote the arts.
Nonprofits come in many shapes, but those that support and promote the arts hold a special place in our hearts. Their colorful settings ignite our creativity and take us back to our younger days of playing with paint, clay and construction paper.
The arts are alive and well in every corner of our region, and that’s for the better, because arts programming has a profound impact on our quality of life – for children and adults alike.
Here, we introduce you to three organizations – independent nonprofits and government entities – that take an active role in preserving the arts.
Barrington Cultural Commission
A growing scene for cultural arts in downtown Barrington didn’t happen by accident. The village’s cultural commission is quietly working behind the scenes to coordinate and cross-promote the village’s many arts-related festivals, performances and events.
In fact, most of the 21 members on this village-led commission represent the arts and related programming in some way – nonprofits, dance studios, photography studios, film festivals, art fairs, the school district and the library, to name a few.
“We always worked independently, but now that we’ve got the cultural commission, we can bring everyone together, and we can give more exposure to events,” says David F. Nelson, commission co-chair.
Since its launch in 2010, the commission has helped to incubate rising events like the Catlow Film Festival, the Oscar Shorts Film Festival and Barrington’s White House, a new social events venue that opened in 2015 after a multimillion-dollar renovation. The historical home in downtown Barrington now serves as a community gathering space for area nonprofits and hosts an expanding season of top-notch cultural events.
An attic-level performance space at the White House accommodates audiences of about 100 people for intimate gatherings. The closest seats are no more than a few feet from performers, who entertain with lectures and musical performances. Elgin Symphony Orchestra’s conductor, Andrew Grams, delivered a chamber music performance this past May.
Village President Karen Darch believes the commission and the village-owned White House are important tools for driving the local business community.
“The arts are hugely important as a tool of economic development,” she says. “Especially when you look at downtowns like ours.”
Side Street Studio Arts
Tanner Melvin, Erin Rehberg and a host of volunteers are doing their part to engage all of Elgin in the arts. The husband-and-wife team behind Side Street Studio Arts started their nonprofit on a whim in 2013. Four years later, their organization is thriving at two addresses in downtown Elgin.
The main studio hosts regular art openings, while a performance space upstairs welcomes live performances, art displays and regular classes. An art lab next door invites working artists to utilize the screen printing press, photo darkroom and kiln. An adjacent shop sells art supplies.
Melvin and Rehberg have assembled a passionate team of professional artists to help with Community Moves, an outreach program that introduces interdisciplinary art to students in four Elgin schools. Working in weeklong blocks or eight weeks of regular sessions, these paid instructors introduce youngsters to music, dance, art and multimedia.
“When we first started it, we realized quickly there was such a need for it,” says Melvin. “There’s a need for it everywhere, but especially in Elgin, with the socioeconomic setting we have.”
Side Street has earned an eclectic mix of supporters, from mosh pit music lovers to symphony patrons and serious art buyers. The secret is a philosophy of openness.
“We’re working to take the intimidation factor out of art,” says Rehberg, who splits her time between Side Street and online dance instruction for Middle Tennessee State University.
Funding for Side Street comes from a variety of sources, including events, local grants, individual donors and partnerships with area schools. Revenue also comes from the supply store and workshops. The group welcomes any volunteer support.
This summer’s Small Wonders class for youngsters has been so popular that Side Street is launching Big Wonders to help adults engage in creative playtime. Melvin and Rehberg’s passion is infectious.
“We’re giving people a voice,” says Rehberg. “They see a call for art and they think, ‘I can do this thing.’ We don’t have a room full of people getting critical. We’re going to put your art on the wall and give you a way to create and express yourself. For those of us who live a life in the arts, we know it’s necessary to find happiness and healthiness, but sometimes when you’re not in this world, you need a voice calling you to do this. We’re that voice.”
St. Charles Arts Council
Look around St. Charles and you’ll quickly spy the evidence of this city’s appreciation for the arts: sculpture along the river and inside parks, murals on several buildings, thriving venues for music, theater and visual arts. Visit on the right evening and you might also spy one of the chief efforts of the St. Charles Arts Council: Pop-Up Galleries.
Nearly 20 times over the past few years, these short-term gallery openings have arisen in venues around the city, from places like Pheasant Run Resort to the Rabbit Barn at Kane County Fairgrounds.
The Arts Council’s signature event is ArtsFest – a weeklong celebration of the arts that’s like Pop-Up Galleries on a massive scale. Held Sept. 8-17, this year’s event happens across nearly 15 venues that together showcase art in all of its forms.
“It allows every group, organization and business in St. Charles to help us promote the arts,” says Elizabeth Bellaver, chair of the gallery committee, an organization founder, and past president.
Bellaver’s husband, Guy, is a sculptor whose works are in many public places, including St. Charles’ riverwalk. Herself a musician, Bellaver has always had an appreciation for the arts. It was while St. Charles emerged from the recent recession that she noticed inadequacies in the local market.
“There were no spoken-word events, and really no venues for writers to come and perform,” she says. “I saw there were actually a lot of holes in the arts fabric, and I thought we needed to do something about it.”
The Bellavers joined with three others in 2011 to form the nonprofit St. Charles Arts Council, charging it with a mission to serve and promote cultural activities for benefit of artists and the community. Funded primarily by small donations and a stipend from the City, the arts council truly is driven by its volunteer core.
Those volunteers have been fundamental in driving an inventory of public art found in public places, and have so far collected nearly 170 examples around town. The Rev. Dr. C. Alfred Patten is helping to connect public artwork with the stories of their subjects and financiers.
The arts council is branching out in many ways. This winter, look for collaborations with the library and the Geneva Film Festival – a relationship started, of course, through arts council connections.
“The arts are certainly not falling on deaf ears in our community,” says Bellaver.