SURPRISE! Company is Coming!
Illinois Arts Council Agency staff recently left their Chicago base to embark on a five-day, event-filled road trip. Billed as the “Local Arts Agency (LAA) Listening Tour,” the cadre of arts professionals visited arts groups from northern IL to as far south as Carbondale, with many stops in between. One of those stops was in Havana, Illinois on Monday afternoon, February 27th.
June Russell of Lewistown, Two Rivers Arts Council (TRAC) President, received notification that the IACA team wanted to hear from cultural leaders, artists, business leaders and local officials about art in their communities. IACA Executive Director Joshua Davis-Ruperto envisioned an open dialogue and an opportunity to experience each community. Board Chair Nora Daley, new to statewide leadership, wanted to get to know individual communities. The Illinois Arts Council Agency is entering a new age, and a goal by staff was to understand the needs of arts communities throughout the state.
“I immediately thought of Havana. I knew the IACA group would enjoy a visit to a small, picturesque river town that is truly experiencing an arts renaissance! Havana is unique because a lot of its economic growth is fueled by the arts,” Russell explained. Two Rivers Arts Council, in its 51st year, serves a 13-county region of more than 6,600 square miles that includes Mason County. TRAC’s volunteer board brings the IACA’s Community Arts Access Program to very rural areas and does not maintain a gallery or meeting location.
One phone call later to Havana Chamber of Commerce President April Burgett, and TRAC Board member and President of the Mason County Arts Council Rick Noble, turned the vision into reality. The Cove Gallery and Stella Mae’s Coffee Shop welcomed approximately 20 local musicians, songwriters, theater professionals, visual artists, students, educators, business owners, and arts advocates from Havana and beyond. April Burgett, Chamber President and local Havana business owner, and Steve Larimer of TRAC offered welcoming messages, along with Havana's Economic Development Coordinator Brenda Davenport-Fornoff. Steve spoke of the 51 year history of Two Rivers Arts Council and how their mission helped promote art in rural communities, and Brenda noted how Havana leadership is very supportive of the arts. April stated in her message, “Havana has long been known as a creative hub, a place filled with very talented and creative people and artists, and it's just recently that we have been able to collaborate to really showcase that. Havana is experiencing an arts renaissance and we are still moving in an upward trajectory!”
More than an hour was spent talking about the wide variety of art projects that occur in Mason, Fulton and McDonough counties and beyond, with discussion of both obstacles and successes. The IACA team heard first-hand about how the Community Arts Access program has helped launch or support projects such as the Riverfront Concert Series, First Fridays, youth programs at Macomb Arts Center and Canton’s Art on Main Festival. In turn, participants listened to encouragement by Board Chair Nora Daley, Executive Director Joshua Davis-Ruperto, Deputy Director Encarnacion Teruel, and Program Director Teresa Davis to apply for more grant funding, offering their personal assistance.
The event included a walking tour through downtown Havana, to visit arts-based businesses, murals, Lawford Theater, The Paintbox Studio and downtown revitalization projects. A music-filled networking reception at LuLu’s Craft Beverage Co. allowed more exchanges of ideas before the IACA hit the road for their next stop.
April Burgett explained, "We are just on the cusp of the cultural and creative explosion happening in Havana! The City has recently launched an amazing mural program, we have some really innovative new things planned to elevate First Fridays this year, and the talent coming in for the Riverfront Concerts and the Havana Songwriter Festival, thanks to Ed and Kim Anderson, is second to none! I would encourage everyone, especially local residents to get out this year and enjoy what our beautiful town has to offer and see it with new eyes! You will be amazed!"