The Town of Normal is planning to begin negotiations with a nonprofit foundation to move the visual arts center the foundation supports from temporary headquarters on the Illinois State University campus to a new home in Uptown Normal.
The Illinois Art Station Foundation, whose mission is to provide “all children, youth, and their families with transformative learning through hands-on experiences in the visual arts,” responded to the Town’s recent request seeking a tenant for the unfinished ground floor of the College Avenue Parking Deck. The proposal would use private funds to complete the project estimated to cost between $1.5 million and $2 million.
“We believe the site and location will enable IAS to fully realize its mission, vision and commitments,” said Laura Berk, Distinguished Professor of Psychology emerita at Illinois State. Berk provided the vision and the gift to the College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Fine Arts that led to the founding of the Illinois Art Station in 2016. She was inspired by similar programs at the Children’s Museum of the Arts in New York and the Bronzeville Children’s Museum on Chicago’s South Side. She has since established the Illinois Art Station Foundation, a nonprofit that supports the Illinois Art Station and has led the search for a permanent home.
IAS began its first year of arts education programs and community outreach in 2018 with two full-time staff working with a mobile art station/vehicle and using temporary space in Williams Hall. It has partnered with local groups and libraries to conduct free arts workshops mainly for underserved populations, including at local libraries, the Boys and Girls Club, and the Western Avenue Community Center. Last summer, IAS led an effort to paint a mural along the Constitution Trail underpass below Washington Street in Bloomington.
“IAS has been looking at Uptown Normal as a viable option for its permanent home because of its proximity to campus and because the Town has created a distinct atmosphere with several Cultural Arts anchors,” explained Isra El-beshir, IAS Director. “From the Children’s Discovery Museum and the Normal Theater to the Town’s many ongoing collaborations such as the Sugar Creek Arts Festival and University Galleries, Uptown is a great place for IAS to contribute and grow.”
The Town of Normal reviewed and selected the proposal from IAS which includes a plan for private funding for the design and construction of the completed space. The 12,000 square foot area has been used for construction storage during Uptown projects and needs improvements such as a roof, windows, doors, and connection to water and sewer.
“We are excited to see what Dr. Berk and the Illinois Art Station will bring to Uptown Normal,” said Mayor Chris Koos. “They have already shown a collaborative spirit that benefits the larger community, and this kind of diverse economic development is what the Uptown plan called for. We look forward to seeing how it will complement existing and future projects.”
According to the proposal, the Illinois Art Station would complete construction by March 2020.
Mayor Koos, the Town Council and staff will be available to speak to this proposed addition to the vibrancy of Uptown Normal after the 3/18/2019 Town Council meeting set for 7 PM this evening. The meeting will be preceded by a Liquor Commission hearing at 6:45 PM.
Photo: Illinois Art Station’s Communication Specialist Cassie McNeill and Teaching Artist Luke Lowers with Illinois Art Station’s Mobile Art Center in front of the proposed future location of IAS.