A Publication of WTVP

The Peoria Art Guild’s Fine Art Fair has become a highly anticipated annual event on the riverfront. For this 43rd edition, the fair has both experienced hands guiding it and a source of fresh perspective: Kim Armstrong and Cathi Hawkinson, volunteer co-chairs; and Liza Decoteau, Peoria Art Guild’s interim executive director and Fine Art Fair coordinator.

Armstrong and Hawkinson are lending their efforts for the sixth year, while Decoteau is new to the fair, as well as the Art Guild. “I joined the Guild earlier this year, first as a volunteer, and ultimately as the Fine Art Fair Staff Coordinator. Kim and Cathi have been involved as volunteers with The Peoria Art Guild for more than 25 years, cumulatively,” she said.

This year, the Fine Art Fair takes place from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., September 24 and 25. Rated as one of the Top 100 art fairs in the country by Art Fair SourceBook and 38th on the prestigious Harris List of top fine art and craft fairs, the Fine Art Fair is the largest family and community event on Peoria’s riverfront. Anticipated attendance is 40,000 people. “The Fine Art Fair has become more than just a great opportunity to purchase quality art; it’s a major community and regional event,” Armstrong said. “Providing exceptional fine art, great jazz, and art activities for the kids on a scenic riverfront makes Peoria a ‘must see’ destination the last full weekend in September.”

Decoteau said 150 fine art fair artists from 29 states and Canada are expected. “They’ll exhibit and sell works of art in jewelry, painting, photography, ceramics, wood, glass, mixed media, metal, and fiber. More than half of the exhibiting artists this year will be new to the Fine Art Fair. All artwork is original and has been created by the exhibiting artist; this is an incredible opportunity to enjoy and purchase artwork from artists from all over North America.”

As always, deciding which artists to include in the fair is a difficult assignment. “This year approximately 750 artists applied to the Fine Art Fair; this was the largest number of applications we’ve ever had,” Decoteau said. “In April, a panel of seven art professionals and two collectors judged the nearly 4,000 slides. Through an extensive rating process, 119 artists were invited to exhibit at the fair, along with 31 artists who were invited to attend as past award winners.”

She said the Art Guild has made a conscience decision not to grow the fair with more artists. “We’ll always have around 150 participating artists. For the caliber of artists we have participating in our fair, they need to have good sales. Adding more artists would dilute the total sales of the artists, and we want them to want to come back each year.”

The fair’s poster image is eagerly awaited each year, and this year’s winning artist was Michael McKee of Wheaton. “He was chosen as the poster artist for 2005 by the Fine Art Fair committee in early March,” Decoteau said. “They felt his work was not only beautiful, but represented the fair as a whole. The artwork, ‘Flowers of the Sun,’ reminded us of the fall weekend of the fair and the beauty of the Midwest. Michael participated in the 2004 Fine Art Fair for the first time and was very well received. He commented that it was not only one of his best fairs of the season, but that the community obviously supports the arts in a big way in Peoria.”

McKee’s original pastel painting will be featured on the poster, T-shirts, and all other promotional materials for the fair.

Emphasizing the fair’s family-friendly atmosphere, the Kids Art Festival once again will be open. “It’s grown to become its own destination within the Fine Art Fair,” Hawkinson said. “Last year, more than 2,000 art projects were completed, which focused on art education-related projects. This year, the Kids Art Festival theme is ‘Art Exploration,’ which features seven make-and-take projects showing art from around the world.”

She said projects include Mexican Huichol yarn art, African tribal masks, Grecian mosaic pictures, Asian decorative boxes, Native North American clay totems, European stained glass-like windows, and American painted T-shirt. A nominal fee will be charged for most projects. Additional free activities include a community mural, bubble fun, and face painting, with all proceeds benefiting art education programs at the Guild.

The Art Fair also promotes the performing arts with free hourly jazz and gospel performances on the music stage. “All performers are local and are among the best in central Illinois,” Armstrong said. “Performances will include Central Illinois Jazz Orchestra, Bradley University Jazz Ensemble, and St. Paul Baptist Church, just to name a few.”

To kick off the Fine Art Fair, the Art Guild hosts the 4th Annual Preview Party from 7 to 10 p.m., September 23, at The Peoria Art Guild, Decoteau said. “This wine and hors d’oeuvres event showcases an exhibit of premiere works from many of the Fine Art Fair artists, with proceeds benefiting the Art Guild’s Mentor Apprentice Program. This also provides an opportunity for art lovers to see and purchase the artwork before the fair opens Saturday morning. The participating artists are on hand that night and are eager to discuss their work. Tickets cost $75.”

The Fine Art Fair’s designation as one of the top 100 such events in the country was a matter of perseverance, and Decoteau credited Armstrong and Hawkinson’s efforts. “Kim and Cathi traveled across the country to the top fairs, meeting artists and promoting Peoria as a place they should consider on their circuit. Many of the artists had never heard of Peoria, let alone knew that we had a fine art fair. The last several years of successful fairs have truly put Peoria on the art fair map. More than 25 percent of the applying artists this year had never applied to the fair before. The community support for these artists has been incredible. Our next goal is to have the Fine Art Fair rated in the top 25 fairs in all of the United States; there are more than 10,000 fairs across the country, and the top 600 are ranked. For our fair to be ranked 82 and 38 by the two rating services is an accomplishment we’re incredibly proud of.”

Armstrong said the biggest challenge with coordinating the fair is to remember that there are many audiences to serve. “To get great artists, we need great crowds. To get great crowds, we need great artists. It’s a chicken and egg problem. With the incredible artists over the last few years, we continue to bring more and more people to the riverfront to enjoy their work. Many travel from all over just to attend our fair.”

Hawkinson said the admiration of fair attendees helps attract quality artists. “Artists constantly tell us they’re impressed by the fairgoers and their appreciation of their work and creativity. While everyone may not always like all of the artwork displayed, they’re always interested and friendly to the artists. This is a great compliment to Peoria. It proves that we have an audience that will support fine art in many forms. The Guild is grateful for the support.”

While some people may stay away from the fair in the mistaken belief that the featured art is beyond their means, Decoteau encouraged everyone to take a look. “While the Fine Art Fair is rated as one of the top fairs in the country, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t something for everyone and every budget. The artists represent a range of styles of artwork and also a wide range of prices. Visitors will find everything from functional artwork, clay bowls, glasses, picture frames, scarves, and photographs—all under $50. For the ‘collector,’ artists offer glass vases, indoor and outdoor sculptures, original oil paintings, and prints at a variety of price points. Even if you’ve never bought a piece of original artwork before, make this the year you start.”

While growth in number of artists isn’t a goal of the Art Guild, Decoteau said their biggest goal is to continue to grow the audience, both locally and regionally. “With generous support from the PACVB, we’ve continued to promote and advertise our fair outside of the immediate tri-county area. The more outside visitors we can draw to our fair, the more people we can expose to our great city. When people come in for the weekend of the fair, they stay in our hotels, eat in our restaurants, and enjoy one of the best things Peoria has to offer—the riverfront.”

Admission is $5 for the entire weekend; admission for students 16 and under is free. The admission ticket is also good for $5 off at The Peoria Art Guild tent on purchases of $20 or more or it may be applied toward Art Guild classes, membership, or the purchase of $20 or more in the Gallery Store through December 24. For more information, call 637-2787. AA!

Photos of art from top:
Fine Art Fair Poster: Michael McKee, pastel
Randi Chervitz, jewelry
Michael Frasca, ceramics
Melissa Dominiak, painting
Todd Lundeen, photography
Thomas Wargin, sculpture