The Illinois Arts Council, along with teachers and artists from around the state, celebrated the completion of the second year of the Illinois Mississippi River Valley Project with a festival weekend August 15 through 17 in Galena, Illinois.

The project, also known as IMRVP, is meant to identify and showcase the arts, artists, and culture of the Illinois Mississippi River Valley and received funding from the National Endowment for the Arts Challenge America program.

The Challenge America program is designed to focus attention and resources on artists and arts organizations in rural and underserved areas in the U.S. "We felt the western part of Illinois not only fit the rural category, but is definitely underserved," said project director Susan Eleuterio. "So we decided to focus this project on the artists, art organizations, community organizations, schools, and communities of the Illinois Mississippi River Valley in western Illinois."

The IMRVP is the first program to explore the relationship between the river and the history of those who live along it through folk and contemporary art forms. It is helping to pass the artistic heritage of these border counties from one generation to the next.

Eleuterio summarized the festival as "a weekend of professional development for artists and teachers - doing workshops in everything from storytelling, working with clay, singing, and songwriting, as well as development for artists in marketing, fundraising, and working in schools." In keeping with the spirit of the project, all of this took place while cruising the Mississippi River on the Spirit of Dubuque riverboat. Quad Cities representatives at the festival included Quad City Arts' Judi Holdorf and representatives of DavenportOne.

The festival began Friday evening with a welcome and comments on displaying passion for the arts by board chairperson Shirley Madigan at a reception in Galena's Spring Street Gallery. A lively performance by Quad Cities Ballet Folklorico reinforced the character of the project.

On Saturday, IMRVP artists Eugene Baldwin, Curt Carter, Tom Connelley, Richard Mammel, and the Quad Cities' Shellie Moore Guy presented workshops for teachers, demonstrating interactive activities that can be duplicated in the classroom. Professional artists and arts administrators Kate Kuper, Rose Parisi, and Nancy Steinmeyer presented workshops for artists, providing information about working in schools, obtaining funding, and designing marketing materials.

The Saturday festivities were capped off by an evening cruise performance for more than 250 people by musicians, storytellers, and writers from the Illinois Mississippi River Valley. It was made perfectly clear to the audience that, at the young age of 90, jazz saxophonist Franz Jackson still knows how to close a show.

Sunday was reserved for an evaluation, with artists and teachers pairing up to generate ideas on what they would like to happen with the IMRVP. The Illinois Arts Council has learned it will receive additional Challenge America funding for the program, and with the input from the festival and other sources, it will develop the project's future course.

During the first year of the IMRVP, a field survey was conducted by Chris Vallillo, a singer-songwriter and community scholar from Macomb. Vallillo identified more than 150 Illinois writers, storytellers, musicians, dancers, and visual artists who have been influenced by the Mississippi River. Some of the artists then served as artists-in-residence and performers at schools and community organizations up and down the river valley, from Galena to Cairo. In Carbondale, the IMRVP matched artists with the local school district and the Touch of Nature Environmental Center of Southern Illinois University for an arts-and-ecology residency. In Quincy, John Wood Community College hosted storytelling workshops on the topic of "Ghost of the Mississippi River."

The second year of the project continued residencies and performances, but added the development of a curriculum guide for teachers, slated to be released this fall and called "The Arts & Culture of the Illinois Mississippi River Valley: A Guide For Teachers." Part of the Illinois Arts Council's Web site will be devoted to the curriculum guide and will provide information about the artists who were identified in the project who are available to schools and organizations interested in having them perform or present their art.

"This has been a focused push to bring more arts scholars into that underserved section of the state," Vallillo said. "As an artist, it is hopefully going to create some new opportunities for artists and a greater awareness through the schools, and hopefully that will snowball and create a much more vibrant arts community."

The Quad Cities is one of the communities that has benefited from this project. In March 2002, Challenge America funding through the Illinois Arts Council supported the Jazz & Blues Restoration Project, a series of workshops and public performances that brought legendary local jazz musicians Bill Bell and Jackson and historian Donald Meade back to the Quad Cities to teach and pass on their knowledge to youngsters and the community. Along with storyteller Shellie Moore Guy and several local jazz artists, the musicians conducted workshops at local schools and performed free concerts at Quad City Arts and Black Hawk College, which collectively reached 900 people.

For more information about Illinois Arts Council programs, visit (

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