I’ve lived in Elgin for over 15 years and have a working history with Elgin arts organizations that goes back over 23 years. I can attest that not much has changed in a quarter of a century. Groups and artists come and go, leaving what has always been a small, typical community arts base. Pretty much what you’d expect to find in most communities this size, anywhere in America.
Imagine my amusement while watching a broadcast of a city council meeting, as a speaker made a statement to the council that went something like this:
Elgin has the best, vibrant, world-class arts community outside of Chicago and possible New York. Everyone knows our reputation.
I’m paraphrasing but you get the idea.
I laughed out loud.
I don’t want to belittle the talent and creativity or the blood, sweat and tears of Elgin artists. I just want to draw attention to some of the misperceptions of what the arts community really is, in relation to other communities. It’s wonderful to be proud of your community– and it’s a totally different thing to be completely unrealistic.
I’d say Naperville has an up and coming arts scene… Oak Park’s art scene is pretty impressive…. but Elgin?
Maybe there’s just something I’m missing here.
Where is the ART in Elgin?
If I live here and I don’t know about it– That’s a problem. If I look for it and still can’t find it– That’s a bigger problem.
Visibility I looked at the city calendar. If I go by what’s listed, there isn’t much happening in Elgin for the next six months.
Elgin Art Showcase Calendar & Special Events– Lists no art related events for at least the first six months of 2015. This calendar is an offshoot of the main city calendar. There is a link on the Art Showcase main page to upcoming performances which only includes a prayer breakfast in January.
City of Elgin Calendar– Includes Holidays, Board and Committee Meetings and ‘all’ city- wide events; Aside from the Winter Blues Bash at Hemmens this weekend, the calendar only lists Elgin Symphony Orchestra performances on it’s calendar. Coincidentally, the ESO owes the city hundreds of thousands of dollars in loans on top of ongoing city backed financial support.
The Hemmens calendar and Art Showcase calendar are (perhaps unfortunately), a subset of the city calendar.
Downtown Neighborhood Association – No events are listed on the DNA calendar for the first six months of 2015 except : (pre-populated) First Friday Improv at Hemmens (listed every month). Their website shows past events but is not promoting any upcoming events in 2015.
With no luck finding art on the city sponsored sites and as someone that doesn’t subscribe to a printed newspaper any more (Does anyone?) –I turned to the only other place I knew to look…
Google Anyone? Google searches aren’t terribly revealing either. I searched live entertainment in Elgin and live entertainment in Elgin, IL and only a few bar bands popped up. I did learn that several Elgin eating establishments offer occasional musical entertainment. Art in Elgin, IL brings up a couple links to gallery/performance spaces but mostly martial arts studio links. Top searches for Fine arts in elgin il bring up Westminster Christian School first, the Art Center at Elgin Community College (ECC), Larkin High School, and lots of links to groups in St. Charles and Naperville.
A search for music in Elgin IL lists mostly repeated bar links, music lessons and finally, halfway down the second page the Elgin Symphony Orchestra. Searching for theatre in Elgin IL ( and theater) is a little more successful: Elgin Theatre Company, Children’s Theatre of Elgin, Janus Theatre (site not updated since June 2014), ECC, Side Street Studio Arts, and the Marcus Cinema movie theater come up before many links to other communities outside of Elgin.
Now here’s probably the most important: I searched art in Chicago suburbs, art in Chicago Northwest suburbs, theatre (theater) in Chicago suburbs, music in Chicago suburbs, dance in Chicago suburbs, things to do in Chicago northwest suburbs…. going 5 pages deep on each search, only one Elgin-related link came up and only in one of the searches.
This is distressing because Elgin needs to bring in people from other communities for economical success.
Facebook or Twitter? I follow a number of organizations, city pages and Twitter feeds and the use of social media by Elgin arts groups is pretty unsuccessful. Of those that use it, none seem to be aggressively targeting audiences, if at all.
Appearance is Everything. I searched for and checked out the websites of a number of Elgin groups and most of the websites are pretty unappealing.Some aren’t even up to date. Many look like no effort was put into them and do a poor job of marketing their art.
The best looking website belongs to Side Street Studio Arts. It’s visual, informative and features an up to date listing of events.
There are a ton of events listed on the Art Center at Elgin Community College link– but it still takes some navigating to find, the pages are not visually appealing. The descriptions of the events are minimal and not very enticing as well.
Snail Mail? We get a periodic newsletter, from the City of Elgin, sent to all residents. They do a good job of publicizing their seasonal festivals in it– but not other arts events. We also get a postcard publicizing upcoming events from one group. That’s about it for snail mail.
City Representation? The Elgin Cultural Arts Commission exists primarily as an advisory committee. They accept applications for artist and organizational grants and make their recommendations.
One of their purposes states:
Provide a vehicle for publicizing all arts related events of various organizations as well as community, state or national events related to the arts, and provide a strong public relations program for communicating the commission’s goals and their impact on community life.
In my research, I cannot find any evidence that they are having any success in this very important area. I can’t even find a list of arts organizations in Elgin. Shouldn’t that be a priority?
According to their last publicly available meeting minutes, from last November (2014); they are looking at creating a stand alone website, separate from the city’s where they could provide more information and links. This would definitely be beneficial. Especially if it gave them control over content.
So WHAT’S the SOLUTION? First, I don’t mean to sound like I’m solely blaming the city for the lack of visibility. BUT– This is a symptom of a major problem in Elgin. The downtown area is dead. Yes, new businesses have opened… and many have also quickly closed. Not enough is being done to revitalize the downtown area. Token efforts are made like the River Walk redevelopment and the huge financial investment the city made in the Elgin Artspace Lofts — but without any big picture, comprehensive plan– stand alone efforts are not going to bring back a prosperous downtown.
One park, business, or space is not a community. The city should really look at building a niche market and focus on nurturing businesses and spaces with open public access. Investing in one thing without a comprehensive plan for the community is not going to make a difference.
I state this, because the arts community, if visible, can have a huge economic impact on the city. There are a few restaurants in the downtown area but all don’t keep regular hours. At five o’clock, most of downtown– shuts down. It leaves a dark, seemingly unsafe neighborhood.
If someone comes to an event downtown, they might also eat in a restaurant. They might shop in a store. These places have to exist, first. Second, people need to know they exist. Third, patrons need to feel safe in the neighborhood. Without all three of these conditions, the downtown will continue to flounder.
I don’t mean to limit the focus on downtown. It’s just that it’s supposed to be the hub of activity. There are arts opportunities all over the city– at least so I’m told. I might know for sure if I could find them.
I just looked at a Courier News article, online titled, Five Things To Do Around Elgin Jan. 16-22 and not one them listed, is in Elgin.
So tell me–
WHERE IS THE ART?