If there’s one thing more exciting than hearing a group of city leaders talk about the prospect of developing an arts and cultural district downtown, it’s hearing a group of city leaders talk about an arts district among members of the arts community itself.

That’s just what happened during a recent Heart of Peoria Commission meeting at the WTVP studios, where more than 100 individuals from the business and arts community schemed and dreamed of ways to revitalize downtown Peoria.

One after another, members of the arts community addressed their hopes that an arts or cultural district soon becomes a reality. And when it’s named, make sure the arts organizations already downtown are included in this district, they suggested.

In her comments, Margaret Swain of Opera Illinois was as passionate about taking advantage of downtown activities as she is about the operas her company produces. “It isn’t so much that you need to continue to study what other communities have done to build up their downtown areas, what you need to do is come downtown, attend an exhibit, see a show, get a bite to eat at Kelleher’s, take in a performance on the CEFCU stage. It’s all here. It just needs to be better attended. Attend these events!” she told the group.

Chet Tomczyk of WTVP 47 had another good idea. Until all plans for implementing the downtown revitalization are complete, let the business and arts community work better right now to promote art events and exhibits occurring along the riverfront.

Phil Weinberg, the brains and vision behind WTVP’s inception more than 35 years ago, suggested our community planners immediately involve the transit system in the city’s revitalization plans. “We’ve got to change the cultural climate,” Weinberg said.

To make the arts accessible to all, he said the transit system will need to run throughout the downtown arts district every hour on the hour and make stops at the downtown library, the Peoria Art Guild, the Contemporary Art Center, and WTVP, to name a few.

Members of the newly formed Bohemian Art Society, a group of artists that works together to enhance the arts and develop future artists, suggested that in addition to offering a wide array of visual arts along the riverfront, ensure local musicians are included in all plans so the feel and flair the Peoria downtown arts scene creates is cosmopolitan.

Throughout the discussion, ArtsPartners’ stance was that we’ll continue to serve our role as a community catalyst by engaging the arts community as a willing partner throughout the entire planning process. Just as we did for this past meeting, we’ll encourage as many members of the arts community as possible to attend future breakout sessions as we all work toward the goal of making an arts and cultural district a reality.

One point at the meeting couldn’t be stressed enough: downtown Peoria must involve more of an arts feel and flavor to ensure its economic success. Along with better sidewalks, better bike trails, more green spaces, more shaded areas, additional benches on which to sit to enjoy the river view, better shopping, and more places to eat, the Peoria arts community sent a unified message to our city leaders: “To get feet on the streets, use the arts as a place to start.” AA!