Arts contribute to unique culture of Champaign-Urbana

There’s much more growing in the Champaign-Urbana area than just corn — walk around downtown Champaign or take a trip across the Quad to the Spurlock Museum to see that the arts are thriving too. This is a community with numerous outlets for the arts, and you can quite literally see them everywhere you go.

Consider The Art Theater Co-op, the nation’s first cooperatively owned art movie theater in the nation, which has served the Champaign area since 1913 despite rapid modernizations in the film industry. Today, it’s one of the few places where, no matter what’s playing, you’ll see a good film. There’s also the historic Virginia Theatre, operating since the 1920s and host of Ebertfest, Roger Ebert’s annual film festival. Community art culled by 40 North, the Champaign County Art Council, lines the inside of Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District buses.

The arts don’t just have a presence: They have a history both here and in many facets of the community. And in an age where STEM-related programs are being pushed to the forefront often at the detriment of the arts, it can be a nice reminder of how the arts truly shape the unique culture of C-U.

Think about the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, a hub for attracting prestigious shows and musicians, both local and national. Head to downtown Champaign or the Canopy Club to listen to the community’s rich, local music scene. Take a trip to Edison Middle School where students, through making designs on donated skateboard decks in cooperation with 40 North, are learning how to express themselves creatively and explore their identities through art.

The artistic life in Champaign-Urbana is important. It can be easy to take these artistic establishments and programs for granted, not realizing how many opportunities they provide. Chances are you wouldn’t seek out an independent or foreign film if it weren’t for the presence of the Art Theater. Or you may never have been exposed to world cultures and heritage had it not been for a class tour to the Spurlock Museum. Maybe some students at Edison Middle School were apathetic about art until they had the opportunity to create art themselves.

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    These community art projects and initiatives do more than open the door for opportunities — they unite the community. Art is made for people, by people. And that’s what unites a community and forces them to support each other’s works: the fact that everyone has the ability to create art.

    Sustaining a vivacious community of art is expensive, and it’s often associated with a culture of privilege. And while most of the public art places are in more prominent districts — such as downtown and on campus — they don’t have to be. Art is for everyone, especially in this community.