Nearly every day, someone from the community asks me the same question: "I’ve heard about ArtsPartners. But what exactly is it?"

Still a relatively new organization, ArtsPartners was established in May 1999 as a 501(c)3, not-for-profit Illinois corporation. Its objectives were "to nurture, promote and serve the creative and cultural arts in the Central Illinois area by the incorporation of cultural and creative development into the school curricula and by providing a supportive infrastructure that will assist arts organizations and programs with the business of their art."

In the organization’s earliest materials, a mission statement aspires to a noble vision, stating that, "The arts must be valued in people’s daily lives and acknowledged as a catalytic force in the community’s economic, educational and physical growth, believing that the creative and cultural development is essential to community and individual well-being."

Looking back on these statements, it’s obvious the mission for ArtsPartners has been both visionary and prophetic. Years before author Richard Florida came along to write his book, The Rise of the Creative Class, the founders of ArtsPartners already knew that as the arts go, so does the entire community. The founders already knew the arts don’t just enhance a local economy. The arts actually drive it. While Florida may have known in the new millenium to write about the connection between the arts and big business, the originators of ArtsPartners made this connection in the old one.

Now, four years later, ArtsPartners, like any business, is experiencing inevitable growth and change. As ArtsPartners plans for its future, enter arts marketing consultant Joanne Bernstein, who’s reviewed the organization’s goals and objectives. If limited human and financial resources weren’t an issue, she explained, certainly ArtsPartners could do more to help support and nurture individual artists in our community. We could also be spending more time in schools developing arts curricula for children because we know the arts promote self-esteem, self-respect, and self-discipline.

But because we don’t have unlimited staff or resources, it was recommended that ArtsPartners not try "to boil the ocean." After several discussions, it was concluded that until ArtsPartners grows in both staff and funding, our primary focus will be twofold: to promote the not-for-profit arts organizations of the Peoria region and to find ways to increase the vitality of arts and culture in the area. In so doing, ArtsPartners will be promoting the arts as vital to the Peoria area economy and promoting the Peoria area as rich and vital in the arts.

We hope to realize this mission by developing and implementing community-wide arts marketing activities; by facilitating collaborations among the arts organizations; by creating and nurturing partnerships with the business community, media, local agencies, and educational institutions; and by offering professional development seminars to the arts community.

Although we’ve spent much time crafting this mission statement, in the end, ArtsPartners still aspires to one simple goal: We want to draw all of the arts together and draw all of the community to the arts. Why? Because we know the arts touch the heart, fire the imagination, and bring us together as a community. AA!