Urbana Art Expo gives local artists platform to showcase talents


By Megan Bradley, Staff writer

Flying above the Champaign-Urbana area in a plane, Kelly Hieronymus is able to see beauty in the aerial views and patterns of farmlands. She then turns that beauty into aerial paintings, wooden paintings and jewelry.

Hieronymus is one of 17 local artists who will have booths at the Urbana Art Expo this Sunday at the Urbana Civic Center, located at 108 E. Water St. in Urbana. The expo is in its third year and has previously been met with success.

This is Hieronymus’s first time doing the art expo, which gives artists who participate a chance to interact with the community.

The art expo is put on by the Urbana Public Arts Program in partnership with 40 North, the Champaign County Art Council. Local nonprofit 40 North hosts multiple other programs around the area, all in promotion of art in the community.

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“Our arts community is growing hugely — leaps and bounds. People are really trying to take us seriously across the board and business and citizens and just everyone in between; children are getting involved too,” Hieronymus said. “So that’s why I participate in things, not just to sell my work, but also to be part of the community.”

Rachel Lauren Storm, public arts coordinator for Urbana, said the art expo is the big fall event for the Urbana Public Arts Program; however, there are other events, such as exhibitions and local grants.

“The (Urbana) Public Arts Program is fairly unique to have attached to a government in a mid-sized town of this nature,” Storm said. “What’s exciting about it is that it really came from people who championed to have a public arts program to be infused with the services that city government provides and to ensure that we have a town that really thrives on art.”

Pat Samman, chair of the public arts commission, came up with the original idea to do the art expo and is still involved in planning the event.

Samman said the general mission of the program is to get all citizens involved in art, which is something the art expo helps accomplish.

The process of selecting artists for the show involves a jury. They first do a blind vote on submissions from artists who want to be part of the expo. The process ensures there is a variety of art themes and mediums present and that artists have an equal chance of getting exposure.

This was also part of the reason Samman came up with the idea of having an art expo.

“We saw it as a good way for new artists who haven’t sold their work before to get good experience where we could kind of give them some guidance and tell them a little bit about how you sell it and just nuts and bolts,” Samman said.

Storm said the expo will feature some artists who have been part of all three expos and some, like Hieronymus, who will take part for the first time this year.

The past art expos have only been a one-day event; however, next year is the Public Arts Program’s 10-year anniversary. In 2018, the program plans on celebrating by hosting a two-day expo.

Sunday’s event will also have the Bow-Dacious String Band performing, food trucks during lunch, coffee in the morning and complimentary wine provided.

“We try to make it an experience where people feel that they can hang out, network and stuff for a while too,” Storm said.

One of the things that differentiate an art expo from an event such as an art market is artists can bring their full range of work to showcase.

“The really exciting thing about going to an expo like this is that you do get to talk to the artists. You can ask them about their techniques or their inspirations or whatever you want to talk to them about,” Samman said.

The expo is a valuable way, Samman said, for anybody who is unfamiliar with the local art scene to find out about it and what is going on with it.

Many of the artists at the expo are also commissioned to work. If an attendee likes a particular artist and is interested in customized work, they can directly work with them on a custom order.  

“I think art is a language that we can all speak, and it can often communicate the internal,” Storm said. “I feel like it’s able to kind of communicate in ways that other things can’t, and in that way it’s really transformative and community-based.”

The art expo, and art programs in general, connect people to each other — to art and to artists. They also, in some cases, help economically.

For all these reasons, Storm said the art expo and other programs put on by the Public Arts Program and 40 North are important in spreading art around the community and making Urbana a place that is focused and aware of beautiful art in everyday life.

“I don’t know if I’d want to live in a world that didn’t have art in it,” Storm said. “From the movies and TV and the things that we watch, music we listen to, fashion we wear. Everything that we do is art. Without that self-expression where would we be?”

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