For 40 years, Peoria area residents interested in learning about all aspects of the arts-from photography to music to architecture-have depended on the Fine Arts Society of Peoria to fill their calendar with lectures about these diverse mediums. "Established in 1962, the Society provides an annual series of programs devoted to exploration of the arts," said Fine Arts Society of Peoria President Carol Morrisey. "By featuring distinguished speakers who are experts in their respective disciplines, the Fine Arts Society has made a substantial contribution to the cultural life of central Illinois for more than four decades."

The Fine Arts Society sponsors seven one-hour cultural programs each season, she said. "Our season runs from October through April, and the programs are given on the second Thursday of the month in the Lakeview Museum auditorium. Coffee and light refreshments are served at 9:30 a.m., and the program begins promptly at 10 a.m. Generally, our programs are lecture/slide presentation combinations. However, there are exceptions to the rule, one being Lily Afshar’s upcoming classical guitar performance."

This program, which opens the 2004-2005 season, is entitled "Goya’s ’Los Caprichos’ with Guitar Accompaniment" and is a good example of the Society’s diverse programming. "On October 14, Dr. Afshar will perform several pieces inspired by Francisco Goya’s fantastical series of 18th century etchings and written by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, one of the 20th century’s most prolific composers. She’ll also show slides of Goya’s works and comment on the origins of both the enigmatic etchings and the monumental music," Morrisey said.

Other lectures on the schedule this season include: British art history lecturer Brian Cairns, "Chalk and Cheese: Reynolds and Gainsborough," November 11; Dr. Judith Mann from the St. Louis Art Museum, "The Glorious Paintings of Federico Barocci: 16th Century Master of Urbino," December 9; wildlife art expert Dr. David Wagner, "The Story of American Wildlife Art," January 13, 2005; Bradley University Theatre Arts Professor and avid Sherlockian James Ludwig, "Sherlock Holmes and His Victorian Cohorts," February 10, 2005; James Houghton, "A Midwestern Gem: The Muskegon Museum of Art," March 10, 2005; and author and Springville (Utah) Museum of Art Director Vern Swanson, "Russian and American Art After 1950," April 14, 2005.

Morrisey said most years the Society also plans a bus trip to one or more art-related sites. "On September 30, our destination will be Bishop Hill."

Ideas for the Fine Arts Society’s programs and events come from its members and its 15-member board, Morrisey said. "Sometimes we contact an individual lecturer directly and let him or her suggest a theme. Other times, we begin with a certain topic and then look for a qualified person to address it. For example, someone might request a program about William Blake, the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, or Chinese porcelain. To find specific speakers, we turn to the Internet and to other resources-including friends and acquaintances at various universities and museums-as well as those with connections in the art world."

Afshar, a highly sought-after musician, was recommended by Society member Roger Cunningham, who had heard her perform at Bradley University, in Springfield, and with the Peoria Symphony. "Her inclusion on the Fine Arts Society schedule for 2004-2005 actually gives us the opportunity to spotlight the accomplishments of three artists-a talented musician, a renowned composer, and an extraordinary painter-in a single program," Morrisey said.

Lecturers who are especially well received are asked back, she said. "This was the case with Dr. Esther Sparks, who last season appeared for the seventh time; Brian Cairns from England, who will address the Fine Arts Society this year for the fifth time; and the ever-popular Dr. Elliot Engel, who’s been to Peoria on four previous occasions and who will kick off our 2005-2006 lecture series."

Another avenue for eliciting lecture ideas is through paying close attention to upcoming exhibits at Lakeview and at other venues in central Illinois, Chicago, and St. Louis. "It’s always interesting to propose a program that will give us background information on an exhibit we’ll actually have the chance to see," she said. "Examples of this are the Wagner lecture, which is co-sponsored by Lakeview Museum and is in conjunction with the exhibit ’Art and the Animal,’ scheduled for January 7 to April 3 at Lakeview; the Ludwig lecture, which is a prelude to the Lakeview Museum exhibit ’Sherlock Holmes and The Clocktower Mystery,’ set for April 16 to August 14; and the Swanson lecture, which is first in a series of activities connected with the August 27 to November 7 Lakeview Museum exhibit entitled ’Russian Impressionist Paintings.’"

Lastly, Morrisey said the Society makes a special effort each season to feature a speaker from the Peoria area-from Lakeview, the artistic community, or a nearby college or university. "But there’s no set formula for determining the subjects in a given season. We strive for balance and variety, and we try not to over-emphasize any one art form, approach, or period."

All of their preparation seems to be working. "Since it’s survived for more than four decades, the Fine Arts Society obviously fills a need, and it continues to attract both an annual membership of approximately 300 persons and a substantial number of single-program attendees from the general public," she said.

Becoming a member of the Fine Arts Society is easy, Morrisey said. "Everyone who was a member last year automatically receives a brochure and application form for the new season. Others who wish to be placed on our mailing list should contact membership chair Barbara Shirk at 694-2460. It’s also possible to join the Fine Arts Society at Lakeview Museum auditorium on program days. The price of a single membership for the seven lectures is $25, while a family membership covering two people costs $40. Non-members pay $5 per lecture."

The best part about her Fine Arts Society duties is meeting and spending time with other people who love the arts as much as she does, she said. "All of my fellow board members are enthusiastic and dedicated, and it truly is a privilege to work with and learn from them. The most challenging aspect of serving on the Fine Arts Society board-and, in particular, on the program committee-is finding just the right mix of programs. We want to provide our members with a broad spectrum of topics and to combine the traditional with the avant-garde. We hope our lectures are informative, enjoyable, and thought provoking. In the end, they should help our members-and other attendees as well-better understand, evaluate, and appreciate the arts." AA!