Art Squared, a new gallery and artist workspace in Peoria Heights, is run by a mother-daughter team fulfilling their own dreams and hopefully, those of the Peoria community as well. “We chose to open our business to serve the community. We believe Peoria to be an area rich with talent and creativity, and Art Squared was created to showcase that talent,” owner/artist Myra Branch said.

Art Squared, which opened in September 2002, currently offers original artwork for sale from more than 30 local artists. “We carry a variety of work created from different mediums—woodworking to traditional watercolor and everything in between. We offer individual ceramic lessons, a beadwork class, and portrait drawing, and we hope to offer more classes in the future,” said artist and co-coordinator Kinsey Branch. 

The facility also offers a studio space in which artists can work with fellow artists, she said. “Artists often find working alone daunting. They can benefit greatly from the support of others who share the same dreams. As creative people, we’re meant to encourage and support each other’s growth, as well as learn from each other’s insights.”

The Branches both know about the life of an artist. Myra earned a bachelor of science degree at ISU in art education. “My first teaching position was in the rural schools surrounding Pontiac; I taught art to every grade level in all seven schools,” she said.

She then moved into a traditional classroom, team teaching first grade before earning a master of arts degree in teaching and leadership from St. Xavier College in Chicago. “I retired in 2001 after teaching for 30 years to pursue my interest in the arts,” she said.

Myra passed her artistic tendencies on to Kinsey, who graduated from Millikin University in Decatur with a bachelor of fine art degree, with emphasis in drawing, painting, and ceramics. “While living in Decatur, I worked for a local commercial gallery, Nova Gallery of Fine Art,” she said. “At Nova, I learned about maintaining artist relations, customer relations, and the intricacies involved in gallery operations.”

Kinsey relocated to Houston, where she continued her work in the art field, working extensively in the field of fine art framing and conservation. “I recently moved back to the Peoria area to realize a shared vision to create a community of artists, where artists function as both students and teachers,” she said.

Art Squared is the culmination of the duo’s vision—helping area artists fulfill their dreams through a consignment arrangement. “We encourage artists, of all types, to bring in either their original work or pictures of their work. We then decide if the work will fit in with the overall feeling we’re trying to create in the gallery—one of fun and excitement. We like to take between three and four pieces from each artist to show their range of ability and interest; we want to fill the gallery with a variety of mediums and techniques. The artist then fills out a contract with an inventory of the selected work,” Myra said.

The consignment style seems to be working for Art Squared. “At the moment, the majority of our business is from art buyers. We do have several artists who rent studios, and we’re hoping to increase that number,” Kinsey said.

Myra said the best part about owning Art Squared is being able to make a contribution to the artist community in Peoria. “We enjoy helping artists display and sell their work, as well as functioning as a place to come and share with other artists. We encourage artists to use Art Squared as a place for meetings and art-related activities. As artists, we must find those who believe in us—and those in whom we believe—and work together as guides and as company.”

The most challenging part, they agree, has been the unexpected negativity they’ve encountered. “Most people are thrilled to see a new gallery opening, but a few others tell us about the difficulties with our chosen field or about the closing of a similar business. We understand there will be challenges with the business, but we’re ready to face them as a learning experience that ultimately will lead us to success. With the community’s support and encouragement, we’re confident we can overcome obstacles.”

Kinsey said the business’ location on Prospect Road in Peoria Heights is ideal. “The shops on this street cater to the arts, and renovations to Tower Park and Prospect that are in progress will create a quaint shopping experience. In the future, we plan to promote and sponsor culturally rich activities that will attract people to shop and sightsee.”

Art Squared’s first event is in June—an art experience in Tower Park. “Area artists will display their work, as well as work on the premises. Kinsey is acting as event coordinator, working with several area artists to make the event a success,” Myra said.
Myra said she hopes events such as the art experience will draw the public into the arts more fully. Our main goal in creating Art Squared is to provide the support needed for reinvented, emerging artists to focus on lifelong learning and creative growth. A public awareness and appreciation of art would result from the creation of the artistic community. An individual enrolled in one of our classes—who otherwise isn’t involved in art—may discover his or her hidden talent. We plan to host painters, sculptors, weavers, jewelers, glass blowers, musicians, and more. This project focuses on encouragement and support for the creative segment of our community, as well as improving the quality of people’s lives.

“Our beliefs are best stated by ArtsPartners: ‘…creative and cultural development is essential to community and individual well-being. The arts must be valued in people’s daily lives and acknowledged as a catalytic force in the community’s economy, educational, and physical growth.’ Pockets of support exist all across the United States. Peoria has creative potential,” she said. AA!