Art Spaces: Un-Shuttered And Re-Imagined

Over the past year, arts venues have worked hard to renovate and improve their physical spaces.

by Jenn Gordon, ArtsPartners of Central Illinois
The public will be able to enjoy a host of programming this summer at the Betty Jayne Brimmer Center for the Performing Arts. Photo by Jeffery Noble
The public will be able to enjoy a host of programming this summer at the Betty Jayne Brimmer Center for the Performing Arts. Photo by Jeffery Noble

We’ve heard the words “shuttered venues” a lot this last year. The phrase can inaccurately paint in our minds an image of stagnation, inactivity, and even a sense of foreboding for our beloved local cultural institutions. In reality, the pandemic has led to a uniquely productive and imaginative time for many art spaces—and the teams that run them.

Not only have they risen to the challenge of producing high-quality digital experiences, they’ve used the time to improve, renovate and prepare their physical spaces for the safe, in-person return of patrons. As venues begin to open back up, you may be surprised to see just how much work has taken place behind those “shuttered” doors.

The Scottish Rite & The Betty Jayne

The public can expect to see many significant improvements at the Scottish Rite Theatre when it opens its doors in the near-future. “The pandemic actually provided us the opportunity to continue with major renovation phases that were originally scheduled for late 2021 or 2022,” says Jenny Parkhurst, executive director of performing arts for the KDB Group. “Recognizing the gift of extra time, we expanded our renovation to include additional HVAC work, stained glass repair and public restroom renovations. We added an accessible restroom on the main level, as well as vertical and incline lifts to accommodate our guests.”

While the Scottish Rite Theatre, affectionately known as “The Scotty,” is still in the final stages of its renovation, the venue is actively booking events, performances, touring music companies and theatrical productions for the second half of 2021 and into 2022. Parkhurst believes that the time and care they’ve taken to renovate the historic building while implementing state-of-the-art equipment and modern amenities will attract performers and patrons for generations to come.

Meanwhile, the public will be able to enjoy a host of summer programming at the Betty Jayne Brimmer Center for the Performing Arts in Peoria Heights. “We are looking forward to opening the Nanawall again this summer at The Betty Jayne for band open mic nights, musical theatre open mic nights, paint nights, comedy entertainment, live music featuring local bands, and of course, our Summer Jazz Series on Thursday nights,” Parkhurst says.

The Scottish Rite Theatre and The Betty Jayne are operated by the KDB Group. For more information, visit kdbgroup.org.

Left: The Peoria Riverfront Museum successfully re-opened its doors in early March, heralding the safe return of local art spaces in our community. Right: Wheels O' Time Museum enhanced its Dunlap campus during the pandemic by erecting a brand-new exhibition building.
Left: The Peoria Riverfront Museum successfully re-opened its doors in early March, heralding the safe return of local art spaces in our community. Right: Wheels O' Time Museum enhanced its Dunlap campus during the pandemic by erecting a brand-new exhibition building.

Wheels O’ Time Museum

The popular Wheels O’ Time Museum in Dunlap will feature several noticeable upgrades and additions upon its reopening to the public. “We are very proud of what we have done during this time,” says Laura Evancho, executive director. “We completed a successful capital campaign just before COVID hit, and during the months of the pandemic we enhanced our campus by erecting a beautiful new exhibition building that will be ready for the public to see when we re-open on May 1, 2021.”

The new building includes vintage Caterpillar machines, a military display that includes a Korean War-era “Grasshopper” airplane, and a 1931 Ahrens Fox fire truck, along with Christmas, textile and Peoria historical exhibits. In addition, the building features a multimedia room that can function as both a gathering space as well as a space for special exhibits.

“We also tore down an old storage building and built a new, smaller one in character with the museum,” Evancho adds. “Our grounds also have seen enhancements, with several additions to the Industrial Art Courtyard.” Along with all of the capital improvements, Wheels O’ Time has curated a special photographic exhibition entitled “A Dose of Hope in a Pandemic,” including photos submitted by the community that portray their personal experiences during the past year.

Reflecting upon the silver linings of the extended closure, Evancho concludes: “The pandemic gave us time to regroup, rethink and become creative in ways we didn’t imagine before. As a result, we’ve modified access to most of our hands-on and interactive exhibits and installed motion sensors and pedals to activate them. If there is a positive outcome of this hiatus, it is that we were able to move on with major renovations and restorations that would have taken much longer under normal circumstances.”

Wheels O’ Time Museum is open May through October, Wednesday through Sunday, noon to 5pm. For more information, visit wheelsotime.org.

Peoria Riverfront Museum

Throughout the pandemic, the Peoria Riverfront Museum and its staff approached the changing nature of COVID as a series of challenges and opportunities, as opposed to hurdles and barriers. They successfully re-opened their doors in early March, heralding the first signs of the safe return of local art spaces in our community.

“Thanks to the generosity of our donors and supporters… we took the opportunity to update our galleries, install new exhibitions that highlight our collection, and recognize the gift of Preston Jackson’s ‘Bronzeville to Harlem,’” states Kate Schureman, COO and VP of administration. “We are still working on how to make our hands-on, interactive gallery COVID-compliant—but that is a challenge that is being faced across the museum field.”

In addition to the beautiful gallery updates and installations, the jaw-dropping world traveling exhibit “T. Rex: The Ultimate Predator” will open on May 29, providing the public with one more reason to come out and enjoy all the museum has to offer. “All in all, we are incredibly excited that we can once again have visitors, and serve the community,” Schureman says.

The Peoria Riverfront Museum is open Wednesday through Saturday, 10am to 5pm, and Sunday, noon to 5pm. Learn more at peoriariverfrontmuseum.org.

Left: While the Scottish Rite Theatre is still in the final stages of its renovation, the venue is actively booking events and performances for the second half of 2021 and into 2022. Right: Dr. Peggy West leads a printmaking class at the Peoria Art Guild.
Left: While the Scottish Rite Theatre is still in the final stages of its renovation, the venue is actively booking events and performances. Right: Dr. Peggy West leads a printmaking class at the Peoria Art Guild.

Peoria Art Guild

The Peoria Art Guild is now open to the public, hosting First Fridays with an exhibiting artist each month and offering a diverse selection of art classes for all ages under current COVID -19 safety recommendations. “COVID -19 reinforced that we have a strong team at the Peoria Art Guild,” explains executive director Shannon Cox. “We all adjusted to the mitigations that were recommended by the CDC, but at the same time we kept a steady foot forward with our eyes on the horizon. We stayed strong and made it through one of the hardest years in our history.”

When things slowed down last year, the Guild took the opportunity to expand its program offerings, Cox explains. “With the guidance of local artist Dr. Peggy West, we held a fundraiser to purchase an original Vandercook press and opened a new printmaking studio. We now offer letterpress and printmaking classes to the community.”

The new Print Room offers orientations, workshops, open studios and project residencies in letterpress, block and relief printing techniques. In 2021, the Guild hopes to expand further into etching and screen printing.

Meanwhile, Cox remains optimistic about hosting an in-person Fine Art Fair later this fall. “We miss our faithful artists and arts patrons, and we can't wait to see them on the Riverfront again soon!”

A full list of classes, workshops and current exhibits is available at peoriaartguild.org. PM

Jenn Gordon is executive director of ArtsPartners of Central Illinois, whose mission is to build awareness and strengthen the arts for the cultural and economic enrichment of central Illinois. Learn more at artspartners.net.

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