With each new year comes new hopes and aspirations. Now that 2004 is underway, let’s hope the words to Joni Mitchell’s song, "The Circle Game," come true for each of us in personal and wonderful ways: "There’ll be new dreams, maybe better dreams and plenty…"

ArtsPartners certainly has plenty of big dreams for this year. One of our biggest dreams is that the arts community plays an increasingly integral role in the success of Peoria NEXT. We know that if Peoria NEXT is to become a reality and if our community is to attract innovative doctors and scientists to work in our much-talked-about bio/med tech area, then our arts community must lead the charge.

The arts must lead the charge in bringing scientists and doctors to live and work here, you may ask?

Yes, that certainly seems to be the case. In doing research for his best-selling book, The Rise Of The Creative Class, author Richard Florida discovered the best and brightest employees want to live and work in cities where arts and cultural activities thrive. The message of his book is concise: "As the arts go, so does the entire community."

The best and brightest members of this "creative class," as Florida calls them, are very clear about what they want in the communities in which they choose to live and work. Simply, they want an active nightlife. They want many options regarding their recreational activities and outlets. Further, they want to live in a city where there’s a vibrant downtown, a downtown that has a happening arts scene. They want their downtown to have good food, good music, and live entertainment. This creative class also values the opportunity to live among and mix with local artisans and craftsmen who add their own personality and flair to a cultural downtown climate.

The fact that our area already boasts a wide array of cultural and arts activities downtown is commendable. In many ways, it’s obvious that our community is already poised to bring the best and brightest members of "the creative class" to live and work here.

But it can’t hurt to find out what other successful cities are doing to build a rich and vibrant cultural scene in their communities, too. Because it’s true that nothing succeeds like success, it’s certainly to our advantage to learn ways in which we can emulate other successful, economically thriving cities like Columbus, Seattle, Austin, and Indianapolis.

That’s why ArtsPartners is emphasizing how important it is to have strong representation from our arts community at the upcoming 2004 Discovery Forum, "A Celebration of Creativity," scheduled from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., February 6, at the Peoria Civic Center. Florida will serve as keynote speaker at this event and will discuss how our arts community can play a key role in the area’s economic development.

While Florida will serve as the headliner at this Discovery Forum, other noted guest speakers include Peggy Van Pelt, member of the Imagineering Institute at Disney and author of the book, Designing Disney-Imagineering And The Art of the Show. A representative from the National Endowment for the Arts and Italian pianist Antonio Pompa-Baldi will give presentations, too. All presenters, whether speaking from an arts or technological background, will focus on the key role creativity will play in moving our community forward so Peoria NEXT becomes the success we’re all dreaming it will be.

ArtsPartners is encouraging the attendance of individual artists, arts educators, arts enthusiasts, and members of arts organizations to join with the technical and medical community in discovering just how creative we can collectively be in designing the community we’d like to see-a place where artists work and thrive right along with our brilliant doctors and scientists. To drive Florida’s point home: As all creative types work and thrive here, it’s a sure bet our entire economy will thrive.

We all have a chance to make Peoria NEXT come true beginning right now, so let’s hope for a large turnout at our upcoming Discovery Forum February 6. Cost for the day’s events is $15. To register, call 671-8440. AA!