Bringing urban art to the C-U community

Looming over the side of I-74, with a Popeyes and Days Inn across the street, stands Allen Creamean’s billboard, “Gritting Teeth.” Creamean’s image of gritted teeth with red lips and a green nose was created initially with just acrylic markers.

While the gritted smile will only stay in this location for some time, Creamean’s art will continue to move throughout Champaign with the 40 North Sky Gallery Billboard Competition. Creamean was one of six winners and will also be a part of 40 North’s annual Boneyard Arts Festival.

“One of the best things about this is that there’s a very open mind when it comes to art here (in the community). Everybody is really interested and open to everybody else’s art, and there’s such a vast array,” Creamean said. “There’s a big music scene, art scene, there’s a lot of different views on things, and they all come together very well.”

Beginning Thursday on the University’s campus, the Boneyard Arts Festival is an annual event put on by 40 North, the Champaign County Arts Council. For four days, art will be showcased in various businesses and venues across Champaign County as part of the festival.

Another feature of the festival is a two-day event titled, “Super Mega Awesome Big Fun Art Show,” presented by The Common Mind creative collective, where art similar to Creamean’s will be featured. It will debut Friday at the Fluid Events Center in Champaign, which is the largest venue to be offered at the festival since its inception 13 years ago.

In previous years, there have been “pop-up” galleries, where art is displayed but not usually associated with exhibitions. The galleries possessed an element of surprise and interactive experience, which is essentially what Super Mega Awesome Big Fun Art Show is: a very large pop-up gallery, according to Matt Harsh, creator of The Common Mind, a collective of people that hopes to introduce urban art to the C-U community.

“The Common Mind was an idea we just liked. … It’s come to represent me, as the common man, too. I really think that our art shows are making art accessible to people that normally wouldn’t go to art shows. I think that this show is especially that, because of the bands and where it’s at. We’re taking a warehouse, throwing bands in there and making a gallery.”

The art show consists of over 50 displaying artists; booths of art vendors, art for purchase, live art, music, installations, all of which are being featured in a three-room, 30,000 square-foot gallery and exhibit space.

While the art show is the largest art venue of Boneyard, the timing and planning behind the event rings true to the “pop-up” effect it encompasses.

Originally, there had been a different event planned at the Fluid Event Center for this weekend, leaving Harsh battling with the idea of partaking in Boneyard altogether.

But two months prior to the weekend, the event center’s schedule opened up, leaving The Common Mind in a scramble to make its vision of a massive pop-up gallery a reality.

“We had to ask ourselves, ‘How do we take our formula and expand it into this space?’” Harsh said. “It wasn’t until a month out that we really got an idea of what we were going to do with the space, and it took a while to sort that out, but once it came together, it made sense.”

Jeff Grant, member of the 40 North Board and owner of the Fluid Event Center, was one of the components to making that vision a success.

“For me, art is a huge component of what builds our community. To be able to put together an event like this, I think it’s going to be super awesome,” Grant said. “There’s not a place like this in Champaign, so for us, it was trying to bring in things that folks in Champaign didn’t even realize we were missing.”

A facility of this nature allows the art show to be what it is, bringing in several components to be experienced all at once: live music, live graffiti, hanging art, massive sculptures, jewelry and hula hoops for sale all in the same building.

“These sculptures (that will be featured in the show), our venue is probably the only venue in all of Boneyard that even lends itself to be capable of handling something like,” Grant said.

Due to the statue of the sculptures, this venue allows artists to be featured in a show where they might not always be able to display their work — something that Creamean said he thinks Boneyard does best.

“In all honesty, I think that (Boneyard) brings acceptance,” Creamean said. “With art and creativity, you’re putting your heart and soul into whatever you’re making. You’re putting whatever you are at your most vulnerable form. At least that’s what I do. To put that out there and have it appreciated by a vast array of people, it’s a good feeling. I think that Boneyard presents a lot of acceptance.”

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