The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

    Lincoln Building provides home for aspiring artists

    Jesse Beyler stands at the top of a narrow purple staircase. Using her hands as leverage, Beyler straddles her legs over the blue handrails and slides down the railings at a harrowing 60-degree angle to the first floor.

    Her studio, two levels and tiny, sits perched atop the Lincoln Building. Looking out of the two functioning windows of the art-strewn room, she can see Champaign County stretch out for miles.

    Beyler is one of around 15 artists that inhabit the Lincoln Building in downtown Champaign, 44 E. Main St., a hub of the city’s emerging art presence.

    Like most of the other artists in the building, she only moved in within the last five years.

    A combination of cheap rent and a shortage of studio spaces in Champaign has led to a boom of studios opening up in the century-old building that, for most of its existence, housed professionals and businessmen.

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    Beyler said just the knowledge that other artists are working in the building encourages her.

    “Even if we don’t see each other, which we do occasionally, it’s the feeling of ‘Oh, I’m not crazy, there are other people doing this,’” she said.

    Robert Chapman fell in love with the Lincoln Building on his first visit to a Christmas show held there in 2009.

    “(When) I got up to the fourth floor and was walking down a hallway, and the sun was streaming in during the afternoon, it was like I was in love with the building,” he said.

    Chapman, who maintains gallery space with three other artists, said that his favorite feature of the Lincoln Building is the tall, early to mid-20th century windows that remind him of the paintings of Edward Hopper.

    Chapman said that it is important for an artist to maintain a private space to work on art.

    “A lot of (artists) don’t have a place at home where they can be messy or junky. … I think the building allows them to do that,” he said.

    Beth Darling, who shares studio space with Chapman, has become something of an unofficial realtor for potential studio spaces in the building. As older tenants began moving out, the building manager asked her to bring more artists in. However, Darling said that the dearth of gallery space has made it difficult for full-time artists to thrive in Champaign.

    “There just isn’t enough commercial gallery space, and maybe it’s the economy overall,” Darling said. “I know a handful of people who do support themselves from their art, and the recent economy of the last three years has made their lives miserable.”

    Darling and Chapman both spoke of harnessing the growing community of artists in the Lincoln Building to combat this problem. Chapman suggested that the artists could create a cooperative gallery, or put on monthly open studios for the public. Chapman said these kinds of measures could help redefine Champaign as more than just a “backwater” to the Chicago art scene.

    Kelly White, the programs and marketing manager for 40 North, said the Lincoln Building represents the vibrant center of the arts in Champaign.

    “It’s kind of where art lives, and it lives there all the time,” White said.

    White acknowledged that gallery space is probably a local artist’s greatest need. In fact, White herself ran the Verde gallery before it closed. She said she hoped artist cooperation and the success of local art festivals would spur the creation of more spaces for artists to show their work.

    Today, 40 North fills that need, operating as the arts, culture and entertainment council for Champaign County.

    Marci Dodds, Champaign City Council member, District 4, said gallery space needs to be fostered on its own and such problems are best confronted by the community of artists themselves. Dodds also pointed to cooperative galleries, such as the one in Urbana, as a possible solution for the artists here in Champaign.

    Dodds said the presence of art in Champaign also helps the University.

    “Especially for this town, having an arts presence helps the U of I recruit and retain people who would normally not necessarily come out to the University of Illinois to teach or learn,” Dodds said.

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