Lost & Found in the Arts
by Sara Browning

Peoria’s newest art group is helping creatives polish their skills and showcase their talents, ushering a taste of big city life into central Illinois.

A girl with wheat-colored hair in a wispy white gown idles barefoot in a charred cemetery. Not far away, a woman tosses a glance behind her as she prances in an open field. In a corner, a seasoned farmer smoking a pipe stares impassively into a camera. These are just a few of the people who have been seen at ci|creative—not persons, per se, but personalities captured on film and displayed for the public on gallery walls.

Art itself.

A new arts group designed to cultivate resources, opportunities, connections and education to boost the creative community within the Heart of Illinois, ci|creative provides artists of all kinds with occasions to show off their talent, network with professionals, upgrade their skills and strengthen their love for creation. Now, dancers, writers, musicians, sculptors and jewelry makers who “wanna be a part of it” don’t have to hop aboard a plane to the city that doesn’t sleep or hail a cab to Chicago’s famed art guilds. From dance lessons to crayon classes to theatrical performances, ci|creative brings the big city home, encouraging artists to cut the rug, stray outside the lines and most importantly, be themselves!

From Dream to Reality
“Art is what moves us,” ci|creative founder Amy Lambert told a group of 40 writers, filmmakers, craftspeople and painters who gathered in the company studio during a monthly meeting in November. “A song, a dance, a piece of sculpture can stir emotions within us and cause us to look at things in a new way and feel things we’ve never felt before. That’s the beauty and the power of art.”

Lambert’s dream to found ci|creative derived from a need to cultivate the arts in Peoria by attracting and retaining local artists in the city and enabling them to succeed. Last April, her dream became a reality with the formation of ci|creative. “You can develop a lot of inertia just by linking together different groups of creative people,” she says. “Many creatives see other communities as offering more opportunities. Central Illinois needed an ability for artists and designers to connect right here, and ci|creative allows all different types of creators to have the opportunities they crave without leaving our area.”

Locating artists in search of a creative outlet wasn’t a challenge. On May 16, 2009, the company membership stood at 100. Today, ci|creative boasts 504 members. “They found us,” says Lambert. “We launched completely online on Facebook before we launched at a location. The web provided us with a way to link people together. Central Illinois is definitely an arts playground.”

ci|creative began with a membership meeting held at Venue Art Gallery in Washington, Illinois. In June, the organization landed a storefront at The Shoppes at Grand Prairie Mall in Peoria where it presently houses ci|creative (space), a gallery, creative respite/studio and classroom. “The Shoppes at Grand Prairie believe in our mission,” Lambert explains. “They believe in the importance of the arts in central Illinois. And it wasn’t long before people began to recognize the talent and potential of having a space where anything they dream up can happen. Artists came to us when they saw we had something critical and meaningful to offer.”
Breaking Down Barriers
Promoting space, flexibility and accessibility for artists is essential to jumpstarting the creative juices. Co-founder Job Abraria says ci|creative facilitates easy access to everything needed for artists to perform at their best. “We want our creatives to work in a free environment and not feel like they’re restricted by any barriers,” he says. “Our main goal is to encourage accessibility and opportunity. Whatever they need, we’ll help find it.”

The goal has been well achieved. ci|creative opens doors of opportunity for individuals to network with professionals in their field. From engineers to landscape architects, writers and poets, individuals are given tips on how best to market themselves in today’s economy. “We’ve had photographers that we’ve helped get into the stock photography business,” says Lambert. “It doesn’t matter if you are a professional or an amateur in your craft. We give everyone the same opportunity to display their photographs or paintings on the gallery wall, read and share their writings, or showcase their handmade jewelry. It’s important that creatives get their artwork in the public eye.”

In order to promote accessibility, Lambert claims she would like ci|creative to become “a sort of Goodwill for arts parts.” ci|creative’s Resource Center, which she expects will be up and running by February, will “re-home” such things as computers, art supplies, scrapbooks and paints. “We all have art and craft supplies wasting away in cabinets,” she says. “We want to get those into the hands of people who will use them for good.”

Cultivating Connections
ci|creative prides itself on helping artists bring their ideas to life. “We’ve had people walk through our doors and say: ‘This is my idea. How do I make it happen?’” says Lambert. “Or someone may call and say: ‘I want to sell jewelry, and I want to do it in this way.’ If we can’t meet their specific need, we always direct them toward people who can.”

“We point them in the right direction,” adds Abraria. “It’s all part of connecting creatives together.”

The art group also reaches out to help promote local community organizations, such as Three Sisters Park Folk Art School, Peoria Ballet, Heartland Festival Orchestra and ArcLight Theatre Productions. ArcLight is a small theatre out of Illini Bluffs High School that ci|creative partnered with for “An Evening at the Improv.” “We hosted an improv night similar to Whose Line Is It Anyway?” says Abraria. “We’ve also helped cast local movie productions by holding the filmmaker’s auditions at ci|creative (space).”

“It’s the connections that matter,” adds Lambert. “Even if our gallery goes away, it’s the connections that will last and ultimately make a difference.”

The Learning Curve
ci|creative not only believes in the importance of making connections, it also provides doorways to knowledge that make those connections count. The art group hosts several different types of educational classes at the gallery and throughout the area to help its members broaden their horizons. Beginning this year, the organization will launch a weekly Art & Soul Creativity Series.

Helping creatives make their skills lucrative is a major focus of ci|creative. Beginning in January, the Art of Creativity Speaker Series will help creatives glean expertise on launching their own careers. Subject matter experts will shed light on topics ranging from business establishment and organization to marketing and financial recordkeeping. The organization has also hosted speakers discussing how to utilize online resources, such as the online marketplace, to market and sell their work.

A class entitled “Introduction to Crayons” caters to those who believe they have no creative abilities. “In kindergarten, we were allowed to color, and then somewhere along the line our crayons were taken away and replaced with protractors and rulers,” says Lambert. “This class is all about ‘taking our crayons back’ and reawakening our creativity.”

Art classes can be set up for a small fee in approximately two weeks for any individual who calls to request teaching on a given subject. Classes may consist of a small group or may take place as an individual session. “We usually have an artist we can set you up with,” says Abraria, “or we may refer you to a subject professional. For example, if you request a class on acrylic painting, we may set you up at the Peoria Art Guild.”

Much in Store
This year holds much in store for ci|creative. In addition to focussing on opportunity development, the group will hold several artisan markets, including a special bridal jewelry show and a valentine art show. “The valentine art show will offer any local person the opportunity to display an affectionate tribute in the gallery,” says Lambert.

ci|creative also plans to continue assisting a diversity of local talent. In December, the group hosted a CD party for a local rapper. “We want to empower as many different types of people as possible,” notes Abraria. “We have a heavy focus on welcoming different ethnic groups. It is one of our goals to bring in as much diversity as we can.” On January 16th, ci|creative will hold a gallery opening called “Kismet” showcasing PK Bhosale, a painter and architect, and Morgan Elser, a sculptress.

Visit for a calendar of upcoming events.

A Mixed Membership
ci|creative comes alive through its ability to touch others and supply them with the means to do what they love most. Amy Furgiuele is a jewelry designer whose passion has been energized under the guidance of ci|creative staff. Her handmade jewelry, including glass bead necklaces and woven sterling silver, has been displayed at ci|creative’s monthly artisan shows.

“I take long threads of sterling silver wire and weave crystals and vintage pieces together to make complex but delicate cuffs and collars,” says Furgiuele. “Everything is truly handmade, and with most of my things, no two pieces are ever alike.”

Furgiuele began showing her work at artisan markets a few months ago, which she claims are becoming a vital resource to fill in the gap when art shows are down. “I think it’s great that ci|creative has taken the initiative to help artists thrive in Peoria and that the group is sensitive to the needs of the community. I’ve enjoyed having the opportunity to use other people’s knowledge to better my business.”

Jan Ebling, a member of the Illinois Artisans Program, shares Furgiuele’s love for jewelry and has been crafting earrings, broaches and various other pieces since 1991. In addition to displaying her work in downtown Chicago, she has been involved with ci|creative since June, showcasing her jewelry in artisan shows once a month.

“My jewelry is unique in that I make it from desert glass and stained glass,” she says. “I used to go out to San Diego and comb the beaches for sea glass—the real stuff! Now, I go to the stained glass store on Spring Street, and they have parts and pieces of stained glass that other artists don’t use. I buy different colors and textures and hand-cut and file it to create different looks and feels. I enjoy it immensely!”

Jewelry designers aren’t the only artists who have found a home with ci|creative. Megan Dunniway, who joined the organization in July as the group’s gallery director, found her niche with the company almost by accident. “I entered an art show ci|creative had a few months ago, and Amy said: ‘Hey, do you want to be our gallery director?’ I’m really excited to be a part of the team.”

Dunniway, who graduated with a studio art degree from Southern Illinois University, now has her hands full locating and speaking with artists, getting the word out regarding group shows and events, and helping Lambert oversee all art gallery activities. “I really value the connections the group gives me, and I enjoy being able to help other beginning artists like myself through the process of making themselves known. In turn, all the experience is helping me learn a lot, which is great!”

A growing membership is not the only facet that causes ci|creative to thrive in the River City and surrounding area. Art itself fuels the group’s motivation. “Our motivation is found in the desire to simply create,” says Lambert. “We want to create the best community possible for everyone who touches it!” a&s

For more information on ci|creative, email, call the office at (309) 321-0033 or log on to Membership is free, and visitors are welcome to attend monthly meetings the second Thursday of each month for presentations by local artists, as well as opportunities to meet creatives with similar interests.

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