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The Arts and Rural Illinois

Jane Carlson/Forgottonia Photography

More than two dozen people gathered on a foggy January evening in downtown Rushville. Some drove from Mount Sterling, Macomb, and even as far away as Carthage to talk about the arts and rural communities.

“The focus was to get people together from rural areas to talk about the impact of the arts in their community and the potential benefits that they might see from stuff that they’ve actually experienced or would like to see happen in their communities,” said Jason Ackman, who organized the gathering.  Ackman is a sculptor who teaches high school art in Rushville, and he’s Vice President of the Board of Directors for The Hub Arts and Cultural Center.

Ackman said challenges facing the arts in rural areas include the distance between communities and the smaller pool of people to serve as resources.  But he believes the challenges can be overcome.

Credit Rich Egger
People from around western Illinois gathered to talk about the arts in rural areas.

“I think rural areas are rich and full and thriving with art-related types of activities and people who are willing to do them. The key, I feel, is connecting them,” Ackman said. He also thinks geography is not a limiting factor in producing high quality art.

Ackman said he gained some insights during the roughly 90 minute discussion and he hoped others left feeling the same way.  He also hoped attendees will continue the conversation in their communities.

“There has got to be a commitment to keeping the dialogue open. So if we really want to see cultural place-making, events taking place in our communities -- the arts being supported and thriving -- we have to pursue them,” he said.

A grant from Illinois Humanities paid for the meeting as part of the “Illinois Speaks” series.  Communities in the state can apply for money from the group, which wants to encourage conversations about issues of local or regional importance, such as public education and water quality.  Ackman received the grant after choosing the arts-related topic and applying for the money.

The Hub Arts & Cultural Center

The meeting was held at The Hub Arts and Cultural Center, 210 North Congress Street, just off Rushville's downtown square.

An anonymous donor gave the Center’s Board of Directors $120,000, which allowed the not-for-profit group to purchase the building in October.

“We are grateful to anonymous donors in this community,” said Ackman, pointing out anonymous donations also helped pay for the new public library, the new aquatic center, the new gazebo in Central Park, and upgrades to the movie theater.

Credit Rich Egger
Jason Ackman and Erin Eveland at the building that now serves as The Hub Arts and Cultural Center, which is in the early stages of being renovated.

“Our hope is when we think about the donation that we received, that we do not take it lightly.  We do not want to squander the money.  We want to be resourceful and do right by the donor. Hopefully they – wherever they are, whoever they are – see what’s happening within this community, they can look at that and be grateful that they gave. And we’re grateful that they did.”

In addition to paying for the purchase of the Hub’s building, the donation will also help cover the cost of renovations to turn it into a hub of creativity.

“Our overall goal is to really get the community engaged in the arts,” said Erin Eveland, President of the Hub’s Board of Directors, adding that the arts includes the visual arts, music, theater, and writing.

Eveland said the group envisions an open floor plan for the building with space for an art gallery and programming, plus a library and reading area near the gas fireplace. 

“This wasn’t just something we jumped into,” Eveland said, pointing out the group conducted a needs assessment survey before it considered buying a building.  “We were met with an astounding response.  It’s been something we thought just we (the Hub board members) wanted and it turns out a lot of other people wanted it too.”

Ackman concurred, and said the center is not limited to a select group of people – the board wants to make the arts available to everyone in Rushville and nearby communities.

“There will be some paid events but we want to host free ones as well. We don’t want to put a pocketbook in the way of people being involved in the arts,” Ackman said.

He also said the group would like to collaborate with other organizations to offer programs and events.

Rich is TSPR's News Director.