Enriching the Artistic Landscape

by Mae Gilliland Wright

New partnerships and continued growth push ArtPop Peoria artists to new heights.

Above: Alex Tsigolaroff's "The Future is a Funny Thing," winner of the 2018 ArtPop Peoria People's Choice Award, will be displayed on the Maxam Building for the next year.

Those who have enjoyed seeing large-scale artwork on area billboards in recent years can look forward to a new presence downtown this summer. Each year since 2015, ArtPop Peoria, an ArtsPartners of Central Illinois initiative, has placed the work of five local artists on billboards provided by Adams Outdoor Advertising. Thanks to a new partnership with the Maxam Building, there will be six featured artists this year—and one of them, the People’s Choice Award winner, will have their work displayed on the Maxam Building itself.

Although ArtPop Peoria is an ArtsPartners program locally, it is also part of a larger national organization whose executive director has been affectionately hailed as the “Fairy Art Mother.” When she founded ArtPop, Wendy Hickey was looking for a way to inspire local communities and fill outdoor spaces with vibrant, colorful artwork. After starting the program in Charlotte, North Carolina, Peoria became the third U.S. city to participate. Today, ArtPop is in 14 cities nationwide, including Las Vegas, Nevada; Nashville, Tennessee; and Norfolk, Virginia.

A Wide-Reaching Audience
With an average of more than 85,000 weekly impressions, each billboard offers an annual value of more than $35,000 in advertising—a marketing expense that is not feasible for most artists. For those hoping to grow their customer base, it’s an opportunity that is potentially life-changing. ArtPop Peoria 2017 artist Merrell Hickey says the resulting recognition can be a surreal experience. “Strangers come up to me when they recognize my name or my artwork from the billboard and strike up a conversation,” she explains. “My art has been seen by so many more people than I could ever have imagined.”

Jessica Peterson reflected on her ArtPop experience in an article she published on Medium last year entitled “This is Why Artists Need Criticism: How My Painting Rose to Great Heights.” She recalls a critical remark from a teacher about one of her paintings: that the canvas seemed split in two, the top and bottom portions appearing incongruent to his eye. The critique was devastating to the artist. Yet when she saw ArtPop Peoria’s unusual proportion requirements, Peterson discovered an opportunity to make use of just the top portion of her painting, thus resurrecting it.

When she learned that it was selected by the jury, she felt shocked but vindicated—remarking that “half a bad painting is not a reason to throw it out.” One of the benefits of ArtPop Peoria, she adds, is simply being able to tell people that her art has been featured in such an unusual way. “It has given me more confidence to try other things,” she notes.

Chloe McEldowney's "Vivid Glance," 2018 ArtPop Peoria winner

Building Awareness
When the billboards come down at the end of each year, they sometimes find new life as large-scale artwork. Methodist College now features the work of several ArtPop Peoria artists on its campus, including fiber artist Dana Baldwin. When she entered the competition in 2016, Baldwin said she wanted to bring positive attention to the fiber arts.

“My expectations were met and then some… To see those tiny stitches blown up to massive proportions on a billboard and then experience how people reacted was quite overwhelming,” she explains. “ArtPop made people think differently about fiber art. The further repurposing at Methodist College garnered as much positive attention as the initial award.”

Dana BaldwinWhile artists enter ArtPop Peoria for a wide variety of reasons, many entries come from those looking to market themselves more effectively. One of this year’s winning artists, Chloe McEldowney has exhibited across the country and holds a BFA with a concentration on painting and printmaking. “ArtPop has provided me with the marketing and exhibition freedom to truly connect with Peoria residents and visitors,” she observes. “I am so excited to see the work of local artists scattered across the landscape, reflecting the prosperous artistic community that grows here.”

Alex Tsigolaroff had considered entering the contest before—but when he learned the Maxam Building would feature the People’s Choice Award winner, he jumped at the opportunity… and won. “There is a simple reality to any profession, and art is no exception. Artists need to make money,” he explains. “Like all business, you must advertise to gain familiarity with the consumer.”

Tsigolaroff, a graphic designer, says that being an ArtPop Peoria artist has given him hope professionally. “Recognition is a funny thing,” he notes. “Too much and you get lazy… too little and a smarter man would take the hint that he may be in the wrong business. But the right amount can be turned into motivation. With a little gumption, I may just be able to create beautiful things for a living.”

Investment in Community
In order to bring this opportunity to area artists, it requires a community that values and invests in the arts. The Maxam Building has championed this concept, featuring local art both on the outside of the building and throughout its indoor spaces. Fadi B. Rustom, president of the Maxam Building Condominium Association, says they are excited about their new partnership. “Promoting artwork publicly provides an aesthetic improvement, but more importantly it shows the growth of our community,” he explains. “ArtPop is a wonderful way to share our enthusiasm for our community.”

Jenn Gordon, ArtsPartners executive director, says that ArtPop Peoria helps fulfill the organization’s mission to build awareness and strengthen the arts for the cultural and economic enrichment of the community. “ArtPop is an incredible program because it connects the community directly to local artists and their work,” she notes. “ArtPop reminds the public of the thriving arts scene we enjoy in Peoria, and it educates them about the incredible artists who choose to make their living right here.”

To learn more about ArtPop Peoria and its artists, visit artspartners.net/artpop. For more information about ArtPop, a 501(c)3 organization, visit artpopstreetgallery.com. a&s

Mae Gilliland Wright, PhD, is chairperson of the ArtPop Peoria Advisory Board and vice president of the ArtsPartners of Central Illinois Board of Directors.

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