If you were present when the Pleistocene Epoch came to an end and the last continental glacier retreated to the North Pole leaving behind the minerals that make our soil the farmland it is today, you would be excused for thinking that the dot on the map we call Champaign-Urbana was destined to be a culturally devoid swath of corn field. You would be excused for thinking this, but you would also be wrong, because for some reason, the culture gods blessed us with a tier one research institution that has, in turn, attracted a creative class who not only support things like IDEA Stores and art galleries, but also enhance their neighborhoods with weird-ass architecture yard sculptures. Hell, we are even home to some awesome McMansions, which are art too, you know. So here's to you, (loosely interpreted) C-U art scene. You make us not suck. Oh yeah, and here's to you, McMansions, here's to you.
Best tombstone - Tree Sculpture "Paro" at Mount Hope Cemetery
Best gallery in a local community college - Parkland Art Gallery
What is the first place that comes to mind when you think about a good venue to view art in Champaign-Urbana? Probably Krannert Art Museum. Possibly the Cinema Gallery or Indi Go. All of which are good choices, but the gallery that stands out to me is Parkland Art Gallery. Given its size, and its status as a community college gallery, that might be surprising. I admit it once surprised me for those very reasons.
My first visit to the Parkland Art Gallery was actually by mistake. I was looking for the library, but I took a wrong turn through those high maze halls and found myself facing a small, light-infused sanctuary instead. It is a bright, welcoming space that stands out in contrast to the rather dim, drab corridors and classrooms that surround it. But far more important than the space itself, I found that the quality of work displayed lends the gallery a life of its own.
Every year the gallery hosts seven group and solo exhibits representing a wide range of media by diverse and talented artists. After several years in C-U, I have yet to be disappointed. A recent favorite was Rod Northcutt’s: A Natural History of Fabrication. Through hand-carved wooden sculptures, exquisite drawings, paintings and audio recordings he displayed a humorous and thought-provoking vision of our world if objects were created by animals such as woodpeckers, beavers and termites. In that version of the world, the animals form unions and take revenge on humans. I was impressed by the subtlety with which he insinuated larger human issues such as social unrest, environmental concerns and political divides.
Another favorite is the annual faculty and staff exhibit, which is (IMHO) easily on par with the quality of work displayed at the larger U of I faculty exhibit. Parkland’s gallery is not quite as grand as Krannert Art Museum, or as conveniently located as Indi Go or Cinema gallery, but it is well worth navigating the sprawling parking lots and incongruous floor plan to be rewarded with excellent art.
Best new technology - LetterMpress
Soon enough you'll be able to purchase a virtual letterpress for your iPad. The LetterMpress, by John Bonadies, is one of the first applications of its kind. Letterpress designs, taken from actual wood type sets scanned in by hand, translate into authentic-looking letters and functionality in the application. Prints can even be created at your fingertips. The future is here, folks.
Best recycled/found art supply store - The I.D.E.A. Store
Everyone knows that one person’s trash is another person’s treasure. And I would bet that a large percentage of the "other people" are artists of one sort or another. I have long since faced the fact that my personal brand of “artist” has as much to do with being a pack rat as it does with having something to express (such as the tedious psychological events and factors that turned me into a pack rat in the first place).
Does that sound familiar? Do you find yourself scavenging thrift stores, garage sales and your best friends’ donation piles for potentially useful garbage? Do you love/need a bargain? Do you want to save the world badly enough that you would sacrifice the convenience of being able to see your own floor and walls so that nothing ends up in a landfill? I know you do. And that is why you will LOVE the IDEA store.
They have taken the work out of sorting through other people’s discards by presenting them in organized, irresistably bountiful bins for a very very reasonable fee. Please do not think I am being sarcastic or insincere. I am honestly inspired by this store and the ideas and motivation behind it. The people who run the store are trying to keep things out of landfills and all of their profits benefit the Champaign Urbana Schools Foundation. And artists, crafters, and others can reap the benefits of having a large selection of inexpensive, raw materials to choose from.
Last time I was there they had large amounts of: test tubes, sea shells, rubber stoppers, paper clips, poster board, mat board (in various sizes), spools, reels, bits of metal, clock parts, cardboard tubes, packing materials, ribbons, cards, used acrylic paints, pieces of dolls, scraps of fabric and papers, old maps, clothing patterns, and so much more that I can’t remember. Whether you’re into found art sculpture, collages, or you just need some inexpensive mat board, it’s worth considering this place next time you are on an art supply shopping binge.
Best McMansion - Hall of Odin in Asgard
Feast your eyes on the softly arched gables. Behold the pefectly aligned wainscoting. Drink in the marbled colonnade where we sacrifice our enemies for the mirth of the gods. And this is no brick facade with alkene-derivative sides and rear. Nay, we are kiln masters who fire inexhaustible bricks by hand at the foot of Mt. Doom and place them with great care all about the circumference.
Oh and we're so far out here, the goddamn bus never comes by and you can see all the way to Denver.
The hammer of the gods
will drive our ships to new lands
to fight the horde
singing and crying
I am coming.
Best Subdivision for Bizarro Architecture - Yankee Ridge
Far from what may or may not be Norse paradise, lies a little known land where experimentation in drugs and architecture was welcomed and celebrated. People wave at you like lunatics and homes have ambition. I'd like to live there. Wouldn't you?
Best Yard Sculpture
Ok, so this is more of a celebration of eccentricity than a purely artistic assessment. I’ve just always appreciated that the people living at this house, close to Mayfair Park, were willing to flout convention and spice up what is an otherwise staid, conservative neighborhood, by putting this red behemoth in their front yard.
The rich. You know why they're so odd? Because they can afford to be.
Most generous local dance artist: Deanna Doty
Deanna Doty founded both the Champaign Ballet Academy and the Champaign-Urbana Ballet (C-U Ballet) in 1998 and has been enriching the local dance scene ever since. As the director of the Academy, Doty has provided C-U residents with professional quality ballet training; as the artistic director of the C-U Ballet, Doty has given these dancers many opportunities to perform, in addition to bringing high caliber ballet productions to the local population.
Independent dance teacher Donna Warwick had nothing but good things to say about Doty’s impact on the local dance community.
“Deanna Doty is so dedicated to her art; that that is what she focuses on all the time,” Warwick said. “I cannot say enough words in praise about her. She is a huge talent, and she has transformed the lives of many students, including my daughter, Alexandra.”
Photo by Dan Merlo
Best young children’s dance instructor: Donna Warwick
Donna Warwick has taught children’s arts programs in Central Illinois since 1994. In a combination of her 20+ years of dance experience and her certification in elementary education, Warwick created the Artsfusion program for early childhood education; Artsfusion combines music, movement and art appreciation to create a creativity-filled forum for storytelling. Warwick teaches once a week at University Primary School, in addition to teaching classes at the Champaign Ballet Academy and at Amara Yoga & Arts. Warwick is also a co-founder of the Champaign Urbana Ballet and has served on the Board of Directors since the company’s birth in 1998.
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Department of Dance Professor Sara Hook said that her children love “Miss Donna.”
“Children and parents think ‘Miss Donna’ is magic,” Hook said. “She is consistently nurturing and stimulating. Her methods empower children to value and engage their imaginations and her influence on students is long-lasting.”
But this dance teacher’s community impact does not stop in the professional sphere; Warwick has also volunteered her skills for leading movement experiences and for creating fairy tale themed parties to be auctioned for various arts related fundraising projects for organizations including 40North and Champaign Urbana Ballet, and for various local disaster relief initiatives. Warwick also founded the Tickets for Kids Program, which offers free tickets to ballet performances to area under-privileged kids, out of the Champaign Urbana Ballet.
Warwick explained that her motivation in everything she does is “the children.”
“[Teaching dance to children] is so meaningful to me,” Warwick said. “Even if there is not a lot of money in it — and there’s not — there is still this feeling of complete reward… Every time I leave, I go away learning something. The children touch my heart and I touch theirs. It’s love.”
Photo by Kirsten Pauli