Reviving The Arts on Sheridan

by Sara Browning

A new space is drawing attention to local artists and helping them find a place in the community.

When Steve Rouland and Jon Walker decided to transform the 22,000-square-foot Sunbeam Bakery Building into an art studio, they envisioned more than a simple showcase for creative work. The refurbished warehouse building, now known as Studios on Sheridan, not only provides an area for artists to display their unique talents, but is also a haven for them to sketch, draw, paint, sculpt and more in their own private studios. The new space opened early this year at the corner of Main and Sheridan.

“We purchased the space with the idea of reviving it for local artists,” says Rouland, “but we want to make it much more than that. We recognize that artists need to be comfortable to be productive. What we are doing here is creating an environment where artists can be content to work in their own space and feel like a part of the community.”

Rouland, a commercial realtor, and Walker, a commercial property manager and antique dealer, also hope the showcase will serve as a boon to the businesses that occupy the same building. Rouland owns Excel Recycled Office Furniture, which opened in January, and Walker and his wife, Angie, own Urban Artifacts, an antique store selling vintage items and art from the 1920s to 1980s. Urban Artifacts will open this summer, along with Red Bear Roasting Co., a coffee roasting business located in the back of Walker’s shop and run by his 17-year-old son, Nathan.

“It’s a great neighborhood that caters to artists,” says Walker. “The city has become more interested in marketing the downtown area, including Renaissance Park and the West Main Street corridor. When visitors come to town, they are always looking for interesting things to do. Everything works together.”

The two met in 1988 at the former Illinois Antique Center, which Walker helped run, and a shared passion for art has bolstered their partnership for over two decades. Both men currently own the first floor of 305 Water Street, where the Contemporary Art Center is housed. “The CAC really exposed us to the art community,” says Walker, adding that after a series of jobs outside the creative sector, Studios on Sheridan has helped him “get close to art again.”

Doing Something Different
Rouland and Walker’s powerhouse partnership has created a positive stir among local artists, including Steve Boyd, the first to come on board. “These guys never do anything halfway,” he says. “From the moment I walked into the building, I could tell things were happening quickly development-wise. Every day, I see something new happening.”

Part of what’s new, he says, is the men’s philosophy. “They let artists be artists. This is the only studio I’ve ever been where you can talk to the owners… They’re more than willing to bend over backwards to make something happen for the artist.”

Boyd met Rouland and Walker at an art show last November. “We started talking about the new studio, and things just kind of snowballed,” he says. “When I came down and saw the new space, my first thought was: ‘Oh, my gosh, Peoria just grew up.’”

He welcomes the lack of restrictions Studios on Sheridan places on artists. “This studio is literally designed for the artist. I’ve been in places where I’ve been told I couldn’t do this or that, or where security has been tight. Here, I have free access to come and go from the building 24/7. It’s a very safe neighborhood. There are no restrictions. Here, the artist can grow.”

Walker says he and Rouland have always been very open-minded to change. “We evolve as needed to accommodate the artist. It’s all about the artists and what they need.”

Private studios run between $200 and $600 per month depending on size, which varies from 180 to 650 square feet. The space currently houses seven local artists, with space for about 15 or more. A private courtyard beckons those looking for a place to mingle on a summer night or an outdoor space for inspiration. Artists can also eat, drink and fraternize in the studio’s gathering place. “We are relatively unique because we have the gathering place, the courtyard, our businesses and the gallery all in one location,” says Rouland. “It was our vision to really give artists a sense of belonging.”

A Home for Local Talent
That’s the vision that compelled Boyd to find a home for his talent at Studios on Sheridan. “These men—in the time I’ve known them—have not only had a vision, but they’ve seen things and put them into process. They’ve taken the bare bones of this place and made it grow. A lot of people don’t have that capacity. I was very impressed.”

Boyd says he does “everything large-scale,” including acrylic paintings and colored pencil work. “My subjects are done in colored pencil,” he says, adding that he is currently working on a series of blues artists. “Sometimes I’ll wake up in the middle of the night with an image in my head. My paintings are images from my dreams.”

His love of art has been a lifelong passion. “I can still remember the moment I stood up in my parents’ living room when I was five years old, held up two paintings, and proudly announced I was going to be an artist.”

  • For more information on Studios on Sheridan, look them up on Facebook.
  • To learn more about Excel Recycled Office Furniture, call Steve Rouland at (309) 251-0340 or visit excelrecycledoffice.com
  • For info on Urban Artifacts, call Jon Walker at (309) 657-9238, look them up on Facebook or visit urbanartifactspeoria.com.

“Steve knows a lot of artists in the area,” says Rouland, “and he’s very talented. It’s great to have him with us.” But attracting local talent doesn’t happen without turning the old into the new.

Once drab and dingy, Studios on Sheridan now resounds with color and creative flare. Since the building was purchased, modifications have included painting, landscaping and replacement of the electrical service and sprinkler systems to comply with safety codes. New walls went up, and doors and windows were added. “It’s important for the artists to work with as much natural light as possible,” says Walker.

Rouland and Walker welcome artists of all stripes to Studios on Sheridan, from painters, photographers and sculptors to ceramics, woodworking and glass artists. “We’re open to just about anything,” says Walker. “Abstract art, 2D and 3D artwork. We’re always open for more.”

“We look for talented individuals,” adds Rouland, “but we also look for good neighbors…people who are easy to get along with, people we know, or people who may have connections with other artists in the community. Relationships are important.”

A Community Renaissance
From its inception, the community has embraced Studios on Sheridan. “There’s been a lot of genuine interest from the start,” says Rouland. “Everyone’s been fabulous.” Walker says news of the studio has spread largely by word of mouth and Facebook. “Everyone is really excited about the project.”

The studio is a stop on First Fridays, the monthly forum organized by the Central Illinois Artists Organization (CIAO) and now encompassing 10 locations, in which artists invite the public into their studios. “We have art openings every first Friday of the month where local artists can come and reach out to members of the community,” says Rouland. “We’re all about being involved and raising art awareness in Peoria.”

“The neighbors are thrilled that we’re doing something here,” adds Walker. “Our art openings and vision for future outdoor art festivals will bring back the feeling some of these older neighborhoods in town used to have.”

Undoubtedly, the new space has already exerted a dramatic impact on artisans and residents alike. For Boyd, his involvement has been rather dramatic: “a rebirthing and rekindling of my interest in art. A rebirthing of my soul.” a&s

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