Throughout November, WNIJ is reporting on the state of the Rockford arts scene. The city has plenty of long-standing arts organizations. But there are also plenty of individual artists trying to carve out a place for themselves.
When you walk into Roni Golan’s State Street art gallery, there’s a sense of both optimism and frustration in the air. And of course, it’s hard not to notice the many colors and shapes oozing from the paintings that line the walls. Some of them are from other local artists. And there are many done by Golan himself.
“I do moralistic. I do abstract. It depends what I feel like doing,” Golan said.
This is the fourth gallery Golan has opened in Rockford since he and his family moved here in the mid-1990’s. He says he knows he’s not going to make much money at this new location, but he keeps forging ahead anyway.
“It’s probably the hardest place in the United States to run an art gallery. And I see it as a mission of mine to educate people the importance of art to our community,” Golan said.
Golan says there are plenty of good artists in Rockford. But he feels not enough people in the community are in tune with what they are doing. That’s something he hopes will change.
“We’re not asking for free money. But we are asking for more awareness. Come to openings. Be involved,” Golan said.
In an attempt to create more awareness, Golan recently teamed up with the Rockford Area Arts Council, which gave him a grant to host an art teachers’ exhibit.
Council president Anne O’Keefe says her organization tries to work with individual artists as much as possible. But to make greater strides in getting these artists grants, she says they need to attract more corporate support. And right now, it’s a challenge, given how hard Rockford was hit by the recent recession.
“The corporations are giving to the necessities, food and shelter, we understand how important that it is. But the arts fall to the bottom of the list,” O’Keefe said.
O’Keefe says they are trying to build stronger relationships with the corporations by doing things that go beyond asking for money.
“Can you lend us an executive? Can you lend us a marketing person? Can you help us with a public relations plan?” O’Keefe said.
And O’Keefe says they’re doing what other organizations have done to survive these difficult times: collaboration. That includes working with groups they never thought they would join forces with, like the Rockford Housing Authority. That partnership aims to promote undiscovered talent in the city’s Ellis Heights neighborhood.
And while the Arts Council tries to build up more financial support for individual artists, it’s also trying to do more cross promotion.
“We can help promote their opening. We can get people there. And I think that’s something that energizes them,” O’Keefe said.
O’Keefe says that’s something the council has tried to do more of, especially since that can’t always help these artists out with money.
And they’re trying harder to keep an eye on emerging talent, like spoken word artist Christopher Sims.
That was an sample of Sims’ work, courtesy of Mosaic Global Performance.
Sims is a nationally recognized poetry slam champion and has been named a hero by the audio-sharing website, SoundCloud. Sims has teamed up with the council for various projects. He has also spearheaded a number of open-mics in the Rockford-area.
People like O’Keefe say embracing and supporting this type of work not only helps the artists, but will help Rockford become a more attractive and stable community.