Peoria Fine Arts Fair celebrates 50 years

Staff Writer
Woodford Times
Plenty of art will be on display Saturday and Sunday in Peoria for the Fine Art Fair. (Submitted photo)

Is it any wonder how an event so widely attended has navigated its way through 50 years of success.

You would be hard pressed to find an event that has triumphed with such a golden marking in the Central Illinois area.

Yet throughout decades of psychedelics, Soul Train, Warhol, Lichtenstein, through hair bands, graffiti art, and hipsters, our community has continued to embrace the evolution of contemporary arts and one of the top known fine art showings in the Midwest – The Peoria Art Guild’s Fine Art Fair.

Let us take a trip back through the last 50 years to see what has made this event come to see its monumental mark in Peoria history.

Who would have thought, back in 1962, that our generation would be so privileged to partake in an endeavor started by two people?

Certainly not Marianne and Bill Bibo, pioneers of the Fine Art Fair. These two arts activists took a gamble on bringing an art fair to the Peoria area, and it certainly paid off. In an era when arts and music festivals were beginning a trend on the west coast, most people in Central Illinois had yet to experience a full-fledged art fair.

Little did anyone know this era for the arts in our community was only years from exploding.

The original location for the very first Fine Art Fair of Peoria was the Junction City Boardwalk. At that time, 27 artists were invited to participate in the event.

“It was uncertain how our community would respond to such an event, and if this fair would allow for successive years,” said Shelly Marlott, Fine Art Fair Coordinator.

The outpouring of support from the community and surrounding areas showed Marianne and Bill that this area was progressive and ready to embrace bringing the arts to new levels.

By the second Fine Art Fair, art showings almost doubled to 54 exhibitors and community attendance grew as well.

The Peoria Fine Art Fair was catching momentum, and by the fifth Fine Art Fair popularity of the event was booming.

The 1960’s into the 1970’s was an era for modern art and abstractionism. Artists were seeing new ways of creating the world around them on canvas while experimenting with the fundamental functions of art. This too threaded through the fine art fair community.

Artist’s work became more surreal, and collector’s tastes teetered with the trends.

The overall experience for art fair attendees was a memorizing display of colors, characters and creations that often times took viewers into another world for moments at a time.

“Momentum for the fair was building steam and taking the Midwest by storm,” said Shelly, whose mother was actively engaged in the arts community at that time.

The art fair movement found no time to slow down in the 1980’s either. Even during times when the economy appeared to be shaky, Peoria still embraced the arts culture and all it had come to be.

“I remember walking around the Junction City Boardwalk. The artists were approachable and always having fun. Their work was vibrant and visually appealing. The whole experience paralleled what my mother did at home, and it was fun to watch her engage with fellow artists. It was a special time in Peoria for the community and more importantly for the artists,” said Shelly.

By the 1990’s, the Peoria Fine Art Fair was so famed, it was time to make a big leap towards expansion. In 1995, the Peoria Art Guild’s Fine Art Fair had found its way to the Peoria Riverfront –filling almost three acres of river frontage. From the bridge to the landing, the Fine Art Fair housed over 120 artists and almost 15,000 attendees.

The Fine Art Fair’s draw pulled travelers from surrounding cities and states. Word soon began to spread about this Midwest fest and the quality in artists that participated.

Kim Armstrong and Cathi Hawkinson where the two integral co-chairs in the wheel of change – both in moving the fair to the Peoria Riverfront location, and also in bringing the Fine Art Fair to compete on a national level. In fact, their immense efforts for over a decade pushed the Fine Art Fair into a new time of prosperity.

By 2005, the Fine Art Fair was published in the prestigious rankings of art fair rating sources.

The Fine Art Fair was ranked 38 of 120 on the Harris List of best fine art and craft shows in the country.

It was ranked 10th best in the North Central Region, and fourth best fair in Illinois – outranking shows in Chicago and St. Louis areas.

The Fine Art Fair was also listed in the Top 100 national art shows by the Art Fair Sourcebook.

“The Art Fair Sourcebook is a well-known national arts show rating source in the county. It is an honor to be listed within these rankings,” said Shelly.

So, how does a non-profit organization like the Peoria Art Guild pull off such a historic event?

“Lots of hard work and dedication goes into this event,” said Shelly. “Everyone who has ever been involved has poured their heart into making our Fine Art Fair THE art event to attend each year. We are all deeply passionate about the arts and seeing to its survival for years to come.”

The Fine Art Fair is currently headed by 30 committee members, overseen by Peoria Art Guild staff and board members, and run by over 400 volunteers. The artists are selected from a blind jury panel of people with varying backgrounds in the arts.

The jury graciously gives up one weekend a year to individually rank each artist’s submission.

This year over 600 artists submitted work for the panel and each juror had to independently rank his or her choices top to bottom. After individual results are compiled, the top ranked artists are invited to show their contemporary craftsmanship at the fair.

The participating artists are an assembly of local and traveling artists from all over the country.

This is just one facet of the many dynamics put into running the event.

The Fine Art Fair as a whole takes a full year of planning to come full circle, and costs tens of thousands of dollars to run.

“We have an endearing spirit in Peoria. Our benevolent community strongly supports non-profit organizations such as the Peoria Art Guild and what we do for the arts. With our sponsorship contributions, we are able to bring the Fine Art Fair to our community for all to enjoy,” said Beth Reusch, Director at Peoria Art Guild.

In addition to the sponsors, artists, staff and committee members laborious hours, the Fine Art Fair’s success is also due to the people who attend and support this event each year.

“In recent years, we’ve had over 40,000 attendees and host 150 contemporary artists,” said Shelly. “The Peoria Art Guild helps boost modern artists in our community and assists in continuing to stimulate growth in the arts.”

The Peoria Art Guild’s Fine Art Fair is always hosted the last weekend in September – this year being Sept. 29-30.

The 50th Annual Fine Art Fair will be a token experience for all who participate.

For more information, visit:

— Submitted by Brynn Kanikula

THREE EVENT HIGHLIGHTS 1. The Peoria Art Guild is pleased to present the 50th Annual Fine Art Fair. One of the oldest juried art fairs in the country, the Peoria Art Guild Fine Art Fair brings the eclectic artwork of 150 national artists to the Peoria Riverfront Saturday and Sunday. With 40,000 in attendance, the fair presents Peoria with a rare opportunity to meet and interact with nationally recognized artists. The Peoria Art Guild Fine Art Fair is Central Illinois’ premiere artistic and cultural event on the Riverfront. 2. A special area within the Fair just for kids - featuring activities like: a design your own tote bag, folk art, origami, bean mosaics, 3D faces and face painting! It is $5 per child but includes all activities. WEEK TV is co-sponsoring the “Kids R Artists 2” contest, with daily award winners announced on WEEK TV. Daily award winners will be displayed at the Kid’s Art Festival. A grand prize winner will receive a special gift basket and their artwork will be prominently displayed at the fair. Sponsored by American Water. 3. Guests can paint an individual tile to recreate the Fine Art Fair poster image. It’s a free and ever-changing community art project produced by anyone who wants to let their inner-artist free. Join the hundreds of people who contribute their own personal touch to this fun, hands-on art activity, and watch as the Community Mural comes together piece by piece over the Fine Art Fair weekend. Sponsored by Proctor Hospital. About the event WHEN 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday WHERE Peoria Riverfront, located in downtown Peoria, with the main entrance under the Gateway Building, 200 NE Water St., Peoria, IL, 61614. TICKETS Adults $5/day, $7/weekend, 5 for $20 (packaged DAILY discount). Kids under 12 free.

50th Annual Fine Art Fair this weekend in Peoria