The arts take center stage in an outdoor celebration of spring held amidst the blossoming lilacs and redbuds on the Eureka College campus. The second annual eureka! Lilac Festival and Fine Arts Faire takes place May 1, the traditional date for sharing floral posies with friends and neighbors. Art lovers, history buffs, gardening fans, and families with young children will find activities planned to inspire, entertain, and inform.

The centerpiece of this spring festival is a juried fine art exhibition and sale. At last year’s premiere, 28 artists from four states were selected from the entries. A diverse array of visual art forms were represented including pottery, painting, printmaking, photography, sculpture, fused glass, fiber arts, and jewelry. Artists will open their booths at 10 a.m. and will remain open until 4 p.m., with several providing demonstrations of their artistic skills.

The campus of Eureka College provides a wonderful setting for the fine arts fair, which has been listed with the Illinois Arts Council and has garnered mention in travel and tourism publications and state tourism databases. The college, established in 1855, includes fascinating historic architecture and a variety of gardens featuring beautiful spring plantings. Architecture and history tours take place at 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m., with garden tours at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Notable among the gardens is the Lilac Arboretum, the locale of the blossom that inspired the idea for the festival.

Gardening and history intertwine in the tapestry that forms the backdrop for the fine arts fair. The lilac plant is a favorite species of Eureka College alumni. More than a century ago, graduates from the college began a tradition of sending lilac varieties back to the campus from abroad. These lilac starts provided for expansion of the arboretum, and at one time, the arboretum boasted nearly 100 varieties of lilac. Over time, however, the arboretum experienced a decline. Recent interest in reviving this natural treasure has been fueled by community organizers and the generous support of donor funds earmarked for the restoration of the arboretum.

With the collaboration and vision of several community organizations, the eureka! Lilac Festival and Fine Arts Faire was created to bring a rich cultural experience to the community and to generate funds to support the revitalization efforts of Eureka College’s century-old lilac arboretum. In keeping with this goal, new lilac varieties are planted each spring at the arboretum. A lilac horticultural demonstration will take place at the site, and visitors to the fair can buy lilac starts for their home gardens throughout the day at the Lilac Arboretum.

Tours of the campus gardens will be guided by Master Gardeners trained through the University of Illinois Wood-ford County Extension Program. In addition to the Lilac Arboretum, the gardens on campus include a Japanese-style garden, a butterfly garden, and a variety of spring plantings. Of special interest to history buffs, as well as gardeners, is the Ronald Reagan Peace Garden, built to celebrate President Reagan’s role in ending the Cold War. The garden contains a bronze bust of Ronald Reagan sculpted by Peoria artist Lonnie Stewart, as well as a section from the Berlin Wall.

Bringing a community art festival to life is a creative masterwork in itself. After several years of discussion, the eureka! Lilac Festival and Fine Arts Faire actually came into being as a result of a rejection notice. Several community groups had joined together to collaborate on a grant proposal to provide funding for developing historical and cultural community programming. When the news arrived that no funding would be available for the programming, the planning group took stock of the strengths already existing in the community and launched an outdoor "Art in the Park" event at Lake Eureka as a pilot project. This event, which featured local art and music and focused on a celebration of poetry, inspired community planners to move forward in launching a larger outdoor spring festival.

The festival steering committee consists of representatives from the City of Eureka, Eureka College, Eureka Public Library, Eureka Business Association, University of Illinois Woodford County Extension, Maple Lawn Retirement Community, and citizen volunteers. Advocates for the arts, gardening, local history, family activities, and community development all contributed to the planning process. All of these threads were woven together to create the eureka! Lilac Festival and Fine Arts Faire.

The festival planning process gave life not only to an aging lilac arboretum, but also to a defunct fine arts organization called The Walnut Grove Fine Arts Association. A review of the organization’s scrapbooks reveals a vital local arts group that had been well supported in earlier years. The organization held annual visual art, theatrical, and musical events and provided an inspiring model for what’s possible in the arts when communities mobilize their local talent. The Walnut Grove Fine Arts Association has now been re-established in Eureka, and the Lilac Festival and Fine Arts Faire will provide a source of fundraising for the organization, as well as a delightful cultural event for the community.

Slated for the newfound organization during 2004 are workshops in art and writing, gallery field trips, a film series, a discussion group co-sponsored by Eureka College, and a regular newsletter publicizing arts opportunities in town and in surrounding communities.

A primary responsibility of the Walnut Grove Fine Arts Association is the planning and enhancement of the spring festival. Steering committee members attend fine art fairs across the state, gathering contact information for artists to add to the roster of talent invited to the fair. Building relationships with quality artists is essential for building credibility for the art fair. This includes musicians, poets, and dancers, as well as visual artists. In addition, making the arts accessible through demonstrations and hands-on activities for families is a top priority for fair planners.

This year’s festivities begin at 7 p.m., April 30, with the Artist’s Reception open to the public. The reception takes place in the Terrill Room at Eureka College’s Cerf Center. This is an opportunity to mingle with the artists and preview their work.

In celebration of spring, the events begin at 10 a.m. May 1 with a Maypole Dance performed by students from Congerville Grade School. The Maypole tradition has been chronicled at Eureka College dating from the early 1900s, and many local residents can still recall their own childhood participation. Visit the Children’s Tent to take part in hands-on art activities, which begin at 10:30 a.m. Attendees can listen to announcements throughout the day for special entertainment and magic shows for kids.

The food and entertainment will be plentiful all day. The Roundstone Buskers, a Celtic/folk band, perform from 10:30 to 1:30, and Nancy West and The Colleagues belt out big band music from 2 to 4 p.m. A pancake and sausage breakfast is served starting at 7 a.m., and pork chop sandwiches will be available from lunchtime to close.

The eureka! Lilac Festival and Fine Arts Faire is another quality addition to the many arts celebrations central Illinois has to offer. For more information, call 467-6123 or visit www.eurekalilacs.com. AA!