Coordinating the installation of nine large outdoor public sculptures in downtown Peoria has always been challenging even without social distancing amid a global pandemic.
“Every day now there’s like a new little roller coaster we’re on,” said Jennifer Gordon, executive director of ArtsPartners of Central Illinois, which has organized the city’s Sculpture Walk since 2014. “Our timeline, as most things have been experiencing, has kind of been thrown into a new universe.”
A public opening celebration of this year’s Sculpture Walk originally planned for May 16 has been scrapped, but Sculpture Walk 2020 will go on eventually.
“I do think it’s going to be a bright spot for our community when it is in place,” Gordon said.
The first bit of business will be deinstalling the 2019 sculptures that are still located along Washington Street in the city’s Warehouse District before the new sculptures can be put into place.
“Our goal is to ensure that we get all of these pieces installed safely and at no risk to anyone’s health. That’s the bottom line,” Gordon said. “It will depend on when different states release their shelter-in-place orders so we can coordinate with those artists to be able to safely, at no risk to anyone, come in and install those pieces.”
The nine pieces in this year’s Sculpture Walk were selected by a jury of civic leaders and arts professionals from entries submitted by artists from around the country.
ArtsPartners is also looking into a variety of ways to engage the public while still being mindful of social distancing practices.
“We’re working on producing a virtual opening experience that people can enjoy from their home,” Gordon said. “So even if shelter-in-place orders are lifted and people still aren’t comfortable with engaging or going downtown, there are still going to be some really cool virtual experiences that they can have. You can even enjoy Sculpture Walk from your car.”
Gordon hopes that guided public walking tours of Sculpture Walk that are typically offered throughout the summer can be rolled out eventually, but she has no idea when or if that will be possible.
“We’re being flexible. We have some incredible artwork coming that we’re really looking forward to,” she said. “I think public art more than ever is going to really help people engage with their community and also provide some inspiration and some positive creativity.”
The public can download the Otocast app for a self-guided tour of the 2019 Sculpture Walk and eventually the 2020 installation.
Other arts organizations, including the Peoria Art Guild and the Peoria Ballet, have turned to online opportunities for classes and programming. PAG Executive Director Shannon Cox is hopeful the 58th annual Fine Art Fair will still take place on Sept. 26-27.
“We are trying to remain optimistic about the Fine Art Fair, but at this point we are not sure what will happen,” Cox said. “We are working closely with the Peoria Park District and relying on advice from the CDC and our governor so we can make the best decisions about the fair.”
In an online brainstorming session Cox facilitated with other art leaders, Peoria Park District’s supervisor of Riverfront events Nick Conrad said his office is still unsure if they’ll be allowed to host any events by late summer or early fall.
“I certainly hope by late September that things will be back to at least a new normal,” he added.
Usually by now up to 250 artists would have applied for the 130 available spots in the annual Fine Art Fair, but only 90 applications have been received so far, Cox said.
Looking back at last year’s fair, which struggled with a tornado warning on Friday and non-stop rain on Sunday, Cox said, “It was the worst weather ever in the fair’s 57-year history. If we can survive that, we can survive this. It just may look different this year.”
Art classes and more
In another response to the pandemic, the Peoria Art Guild will be offering free online
art classes. The first class, Color 101, is currently underway and can be accessed any time after registering at www.facebook.com/events/691221001680973. The course offers fun activities for all ages, Cox said.
Ironically, January was a record-breaking month for PAG classes after the Guild weathered a few lean years, Cox said.
More online classes will be offered in the coming weeks. The Guild also is planning to put together art kits for kids that may be mailed or delivered for virtual classes. “We know that creativity starts at home, and it is our intention to get these supplies into the homes of our youth so they can have a creative outlet,” Cox wrote on the Guild’s Facebook page.
While scholarship funds are being used to continue to pay art instructors during the pandemic, the Guild is seeking donations to help with the efforts. Each student kit costs $20 to put together. For more information about Peoria Art Guild classes or how to donate, visit the organization’s Facebook page or website at www.peoriaartguild.org.
For more information about Sculpture Walk, visit the event’s Facebook page or the ArtsPartners website at www.artspartners.net.