Smile Politely

Creativity flourishes at the Boneyard Arts Festival

For its fourteenth year, the Boneyard Arts Festival has drawn out hundreds of local amateur and professional artists, musicians, performers, and poets. The Boneyard is a multi-venue event that promotes the arts of Champaign County through the efforts of 40 North | 88 West, the Champaign City Arts Council. From Thursday April 7th to Sunday April 10th, artists will display, perform, share, and speak at over 90 venues across Champaign, Urbana, and other participating communities in the county.

I sat down with Executive Director Kelly White and Programs & Events Coordinator Amanda Baker of 40 North to find out more about the Boneyard Arts Festival. We also talked about what to expect this year, the new website, and how this year’s signature image was chosen.


Smile Politely: What is the biggest change this year to the Boneyard Arts Festival?

Kelly White: The big change for this year, which Amanda has been working on tirelessly for a couple of weeks now, is that we created a brand new website for just the Boneyards Arts Festival. We’ve never done that before. We had a page, or a few pages, dedicated to the festival on our website, but now we actually have and it’s interactive.

The old website didn’t have the energy that we wanted, that the festival really has with so many different components and types of artists. The website will continue to evolve. It’s what Boneyard has done for fourteen years. The mission has stayed the same, but we have evolved and changed over time.

SP: That’s fantastic! I was looking at last year’s site and you had over 90 venues with multiple artists for each venue. And then you were county-wide. Have you guys always been county-wide?

White: No, not initially. It started in Champaign with 13 venues and then it went to Champaign-Urbana, but our mission is Champaign County. Some of the outlying communities have really embraced the idea of Boneyard and kinda make their own mini Boneyards in their towns. The communities are trying very hard to expose artists by hanging them in their shops or in their museums like the Museum of the Grand Prairie in Mahomet. They really embrace the festival’s mission of creativity, collaboration, and inclusivity.  

SP: How hard is it to pair the right artist with the right venue?

White: That comes down to committee members. Each district has a committee so Champaign has a committee, Urbana has a committee, campus has a committee. The committees get to know the venues. Then we have a Facebook group for the artists to post their images and share their information for the venues to see. Some venues have a lot of space. Some don’t have any wall space so they prefer a performer. Some people like it to be themed or somehow related to, their business.

All of those different components come into play – working with the different venues, having the artists provide us with some sort of information about that their work is like. So, it’s a lot of juggling all of those different components and trying to find the right fit.

Amanda Baker: Yeah, we really love it when artists and venues, sort of, find each other, and we’re not the middleman for that kind of thing. We’re really the ground level organization that promotes Boneyard Arts Festival, and our committees do very important work with pairing up venues and artists. But when they find each other, that’s when, really, the romantic happens because they work together and they figure out things.

White: And then sometimes those relationships last…

SP: I was going to ask that.

White: And you’ll see them year after year, they pair up all of the time and that’s their artist. They kind of almost make that connection where they are their signature artist in a way. And then we do have an event in February called the Boneyard Mingle. We invite venues and we invite artists. It’s where the artists can meet and collaborate  because what has become popular in the past few years are those pop-up venues. Like this year, Mike Hossier who owns the building where Le Shoppe was on University Avenue that just recently closed. He has this open venue, and so, he came to the Boneyard Mingle. He asked if there were any artists that wanted to work together and put stuff in that space. And they do. There are probably 9 to 10 artists that have gotten together as a group, and they are going to do a pop up exhibition called Gallery 110 in there.

SP: That’s a great idea because the space is a wonderful, old school department store that is basically one long room and with really high walls.

Baker: And a whole space transformed, too.

White: Yeah, it’s good for the property owner then, too, since it gets people into the space. With C.V. Lloyde, for instance… This is the second year that we’re using that space. This year we have some installation artists (current MFA candidate Cory Imig and local artist Jenna Richards) and they are going to transform the space into “Temporary Proportions.” The festival just livens the space up.  Boneyard brings vibrancy back into the building. Even if it’s just for a weekend, it’s really nice to see.

SP: Do you have any idea of how many artists and how many venues you guys have this year?

White: It’s close to 100 venues?

Baker: About. Very close. If not, we’re already at 100 venues.

White: Yeah, between 90 and 100 for venues. For artists, it’s like… we have hundreds. We usually have hundreds of artists.

Baker: Usually we have 300-400 artists. And it’s so hard to keep track of that kind of thing because they do so many different things and sometimes we don’t even know. Sometimes it’s up to the artists and the venues because that’s up to them to tell us. And y’know, there are artists in multiple venues so how do you like really track all of that?

White: The Giertz Gallery at Parkland College is doing a preview of their student show so there are probably like 70-something students. Then there is like a reading group of 13 people that is reading at the library. I don’t think we’ve ever sat down and added every single person up since it’s just… It’s always in the 300-400 range.

Baker: Then we have a community art thing where people are invited to participate. There are just so many…

SP: So, the festival is four days long, correct?

White: Right. We see Thursday as a kick-off day. We’ll have a special kick-off party at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts and their Uncorked. Then across the street at the Spurlock Museum, they’ll have a special performance by the Kenny Endo Ensemble just for Boneyard. All of the campus venues focus on Thursday, but it is the slowest day because we try to get things going and because it’s campus. It’s Mom’s Weekend as well.

SP: Smart pairing.


White: Yes, it has worked out really well for us. Then Friday and Saturday is focused more on the Champaign-Urbana areas. Sunday is the “Out and About” (where every community in the county participates). People can have things the whole weekend though.

SP: How did you come to the choice of choosing Charles Wisseman’s piece Bones and Things as the 2016 Boneyard Signature piece?

White: We do a call and any artist living or working in Champaign county can submit up to 3 images. Then we sit down with a jury and we look through them all. Then we discuss it. The signature image has to be pretty flexible in its usage because it’s used in a web banner to a giant billboard. So, the image really has to work in a lot of different scales and still be able to capture the feeling of the original artwork. We get it down to, like, 2 or 3 and then we really hash it out. It just happened to be a charming coincidence that some of the stuff in those cross sections by Wisseman are actual real bones. And that’s how it’s worked for every single year.

SP: And the jury is made up of committee members from around the area?

White: Oh, different artists. Graphic designers. We always have the past Boneyard signature artist. Actually, we have several different juries for the festival that we have to put together for each year. We have the ACE Awards jury and MTD and others We always have these juries do a lot and so we try to have different people throughout the years.

So, picking the Boneyard Signature image is a critical decision. Wisseman’s artwork is all about analyzing. It’s is all about looking through a microscope because he is always thinking of layers. Because when he had to study tissue as a pathologist at Carle Hospital, he was always thinking about the layers of the human body. It’s just amazing how artistic it looks, but it’s all coming from his history of pathology, medicine, and science.

For the rest of the interview, we went on to talk about: Wisseman’s workshop, the largest venue (Fluid Event Center’s The Common Mind Experience), the most unconventional venue (Sam Logan’s The Basement Gallery), the occasionally awkward open artist home studio (and accidentally walking into bedrooms), the youngest participants (elementary school aged), the oldest participants (70-somethings), and how no submission is rejected (and how there is some really unusual stuff sometimes). We also talked about how there was almost an “adults only” exhibition of 2 to 3 artists looking to express themselves in a more adult fashion. “It didn’t come together this year,” White said. “But I think, in the future there will probably be one.”

Something new that did come together is 40 North having their own gallery called 40 Point 1. The gallery will display a special juried exhibition of artworks titled After the Ground. 40 Point 1 is located inside the Champaign Telephone Company at 1300 S. Neil St. in Champaign.

For me, the one event that I am looking forward to attending is the CU Potters’ Club open studio. They plan on having live demonstrations of wheel throwing and handbuilding on Saturday Apr. 9th. Members will be present to answer questions, and the club will have a sale. Plus I’m a sucker for handcrafted coffee mugs. I may also try to swing by the Skins n’ Tins Drum Shop to see sculptures made out of motorcycle parts and catch some live jazz at the Iron Post.

The 14th Annual Boneyard Arts Festival takes place from Thursday, April 7th to Sun. April 10th. Visit the Boneyard Arts Festival website for a full schedule of participants, venues, events, and times.

All images via the Boneyard Arts Festival website, with the permission of the organizers. 

About Sarah Keim…

Sarah Keim is a contributing writer for Smile Politely’s Arts section. She’s a bit of recluse on social media, but you might bump into her out in the wilds of C-U. Frequent sightings occur at comic book shops, goat farms, and the movie theater.

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