It was only about three weeks ago that we profiled Urbana’s Jill Miller as a key catalyst in the Central Illinois arts community — and yet, our reality has been so utterly transformed since then that the idea of people gathering to celebrate and buy art already seems like a memory from a past life.
But not surprisingly, Miller and company are already plotting a way forward in the COVID-19 era.
Because they are creative people who tend to have fittingly colorful personalities, artists can often come off as whimsical entities. But the fact is that artists are self-contained small businesses selling their personal brands as well as their work, and as the sudden shutdown of public life kiboshed all the fairs and shows scheduled for the spring art season, they saw one of their main sources of income evaporate.
At the same time, the creative community was “quickly learning that our small-business friends throughout the area are suddenly operating — or not being able to operate at all — in crisis mode,” says Miller. “Until the spread of the virus is contained, all small businesses are in a world of hurt together.”
And so was born CU pARTners, and initiative that works by pairing a Champaign-Urbana small business with a local artist in a “pARTnership” that aims to generate immediate income for both parties.
The content offered by each set of pARTners varies, and each team is coming up with its own operating plan — payment, pick-up and delivery options, and so on.
The common link is that each pARTner contributes something of value to the collaboration. Businesses may offer a gift card or certificate, logo-bearing T-shirts or tchotchkes such as bags or mugs, or any other regular inventory item. For their part, artists supply a limited-edition, exclusive work of art — anything from a numbered print or photograph to textiles, ceramics or even a series of original art.
The pARTnership that kicked off the initiative linked Miller’s Hooey Batiks and Art Coop, an art-supply store in Urbana’s Lincoln Square Mall. Only 20 packages — a Hooey Batiks-design T-shirt featuring the Art Coop duck logo plus an Art Coop gift certificate — were initially available, and they’ve been going fast.
Another pARTnership in the works pairs downtown Champaign’s Furniture Lounge and Lara Orr’s Same Street Textiles, which created this limited edition screen print.
And The Idea Store, also located in Lincoln Square Mall, pARTnered with Melissa Mitchell of ACME Elfworks to offer a mounted, hangable 8 x 10 inch photo of the colorful zippers in their zipper bin, plus a store gift certificate.
And there’s much more on the way. Businesses that have already signed up for the initiative include 25 O’Clock Brewing Co., Circles Boutique, Furniture Lounge, Hopscotch Bakery, the Idea Store, Itty Bitty Bike Shop, Backyard Beauty, Live Action Games and Jane Addams Bookshop, while participating artists include Lisa Connery of Crass Stitching, EKAH of Steampunk Grub, Sierra Murphy Art, Carol Farnum, Eric Cain of Flatland Tatoo, Lara Orr and Lydia Puddicombe.
And in keeping with the collaborative spirit of the initiative, EKAH, Farnum and Mitchell have pitched in with their writing, organizational and promotional skills; EKAH also worked with University of Illinois graphic design Ralph Roether on the CU pARTners logo.