Nestled between Cakes on Walnut and The Blind Pig in downtown Champaign, you'll find Figure One gallery. 116 N. Walnut Street, to be precise. It is open Tuesday through Thursday from 11 a.m.-7 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 1-9 p.m.

The space is a gallery populated and managed by University of Illinois art staff and students. The most recent gallery installation, titled Timeshare, ended June 20th. Although that particular installation has come and gone, the standard for exhibits and interaction between artists and art lovers at Figure One will continue.

Below, Megan Diddie

Figure One curates and displays visual and auditory work by artists from U of I, yes. That is special in and of itself. However, Figure One takes it a step further.

At some point in each exhibit's run, the artist comes to the gallery and formally talks about his or her work. This provides you and me (the aforementioned art lovers) a unique opportunity to get inside the artists' heads.

Below, Bill Berger

Below, Evin Dubois

Getting inside of an artist's head is powerful. For one thing, you get to hear about the process and the perspective of each artist, and how those two elements helped to shape the work. You find out what led to photographs of The Outsiders with Mickey Mouse hands, for instance. (See above.) And not only do you get to hear about what the artist was thinking, but you also get to hear how other people interpreted the work, invariably leading to a discussion going back and forth about what the Mickey Mouse hands represent. The conversation about a piece of work builds as people make connections between when the movie was released, who sponsored its filming, and what the culture of America was like during both the time of filming and when the film was meant to take place.

Below, Jess Kiel-Wornson

You get all of this, and more, by taking an hour out of your Tuesday or Saturday or whenever they schedule a given event. You appreciate the work more, and you think about your own artistic process. After the formal discussion, you then get to corner the artists and ask them even more questions — questions you would never have had unless you had heard the previous discussion. All of a sudden, you are thinking in ways you wouldn't have — and possibly couldn't have — prior to the event.

This is about more than Mickey Mouse hands. This, my friends, is powerful. And it is awesome that we have this available to us. I highly recommend that you take a chance, the next time the lights are on in Figure One. Go hear about an artist talk, see some great art, meet some new people, and expand your mind.