Art Station could relocate to Uptown Normal

By Dave Fidlin For Chronicle Media

The Illinois Art Station is currently housed in Illinois State University’s Williams Hall, but negotiations are underway to relocate the program unused space in Uptown Normal.

A three-year-old organization aimed at providing children and their families with the tools for creative expression could relocate to a high-profile area in Normal, based on a recent proposal.

Town officials in March announced negotiations are underway for the Illinois Art Station to transplant its operations, temporarily housed in Illinois State University’s Williams Hall, to currently unused space in Uptown Normal.

The town owns a parking facility on College Avenue, and a ground-level deck area is anticipated as the Art Station’s permanent home.

Eric Hanson, Normal’s assistant city manager, said several pieces of the puzzle still need to come together before the proposal is official.

“The agreement will have to be approved by the Town Council,” Hanson said. “It is not anticipated to be ready for the next meeting on (April) 15th,” Hanson said. “I would expect it will be considered for approval sometime in May.

The relocation — a project expected to cost $1.5 million to $2 million, based on information from town officials — is the latest chapter for the overarching Illinois Art Station Foundation, which provides the muscle behind the program.

The seed for the Art Station was first planted in 2016 as planning and logistics were coalescing. The first round of arts education programs and community outreach activities sprouted up a year ago.

Isra El-beshir, director of the Art Station

Laura Berk, distinguished professor of psychology emerita at ISU, played a pivotal role in launching the Art Station, which is described as a mission-based organization aimed at providing children, youth and their families with the needed tools for transformative learning through hands-on experiences in the visual arts.

Visible signs of public art created through the Art Station include the painting of an art mural along the Constitution Trail underpass. It is located below Washington Street in Bloomington.

Berk said the Art Station is modeled after similar programs elsewhere in the U.S., including the Bronzeville Children’s Museum in Chicago and the Children’s Museum of the Arts in New York.

In a statement, Berk said she believes the relocation to Uptown Normal will raise the Art Station’s profile and give the organization more of an opportunity to flourish in the Bloomington-Normal area.

“We believe the site and location will enable IAS to fully realize its mission, vision and commitment,” Berk said in the statement.

In its first year in operation, the Art Station brought on board two full-time staffers and forged partnerships with several civic and nonprofit organizations. Among them: the Boys and Girls Club, Western Avenue Community Center and local libraries.

Assuming all goes as planned, construction on the Art Station’s new deck site is expected to wrap at the end of the first quarter of 2020, meaning the organization could be up and running in Uptown Normal around this time next year.

Isra El-beshir, director of the Art Station, said she believes further growth opportunities will be on the horizon in the new space.

“IAS has been looking at Uptown Normal as a viable option for its permanent home because of its proximity to campus and because the town has created a distinct atmosphere with several cultural arts anchors,” El-beshir said.