A brightly painted, eye-catching van has been making appearances throughout Bloomington-Normal. Emblazoned with the words “Illinois Art Station” and an Illinois State University seal, it provides transportation for the Illinois Art Station, a brand new interdisciplinary arts space and educational resource that is committed to fostering creative thinking and expression in the visual arts.
Its mission is to provide all children, youth, and their families with transformative learning through hands-on experiences in the visual arts. Its personnel are equally committed to their role in supporting the academic mission of Illinois State University by providing students and faculty with opportunities to pursue learning, scholarship, and civic engagement through the visual arts.
Over the course of her impressive career, Distinguished Professor Emerita of Psychology Laura Berk has conducted groundbreaking research documenting the importance of play in a child’s development. Over time, she came to feel that art is also an important component in the process of learning to express one’s self and to value and appreciate the creations of others.
This led her to suggest and support the establishment of the Illinois Art Station. “My goals are to capitalize on the unique power of the visual arts to reach and inspire our children and youth in all their diversity and to deepen their understanding of themselves, their community, and their wider world,” Berk said.
Professor of Psychology and Associate Dean Marla Reese-Weber embraced the responsibility of coordinating efforts to secure office space, hire staff, and articulate the project’s mission. An interdisciplinary committee representing several colleges was created. In particular, the College of Fine Arts has played a significant role in making the Illinois Art Station a reality. Serving as director of the Illinois Art Station is Isra El-beshir. She holds an M.A. in cultural anthropology from Wayne State University.
“I am blessed to have been chosen to lead efforts in establishing and opening our exciting interdisciplinary art space supported by the visual arts, social justice, and scholarship,” El-beshir said. “We hope to become a celebrated community anchor and a leader in visual arts education.”
Prior to joining the ISU staff, El-beshir served as the curator of education and public programming at the Arab American National Museum, a division of the Smithsonian, in Dearborn, Michigan.
Peggy Finnegan-Boyes recently joined the Illinois State staff as the curator of education for the Illinois Art Station. She received her M.S. in art education from Illinois State University in 2008 and was a visual arts teacher at Thomas Metcalf School for eight years.
“I am excited to be back at ISU planning innovative artmaking experiences for youth and teens in our community,” Finnegan-Boyes said. “I am thankful that we have been welcomed by so many different groups of people through our partnerships with community organizations, and I am eager to continue creating positive relationships among our youth, teens, and teaching artists this year.”
Finnegan-Boyes returned to her alma mater after a stint as a visual art teacher at the Academic Excellence for the Scholar, Athlete, and Artist (AESA) Prep Academy in Austin, Texas.
In July the Illinois Art Station collaborated with the City of Bloomington Citizens’ Beautification Committee to host a community youth mural project. Over the course of three days, 12 junior high and high school students worked alongside teaching artist and ISU MFA graduate Jeremy Langston to paint a mural along the length of the Constitution Trail underpass below Washington Street in Bloomington.
“Our goal was to mobilize and empower community youth in meaningful ways and inspire them to approach public spaces as art incubators,” El-beshir said.
The project provided youth with an opportunity to learn basic skills in mural painting and visual representations while exploring issues of the community.
“It’s wonderful to see how the Illinois Art Station has brought together young people from across the community to creatively express themselves,” said Professor of English and Associate Dean Sally Parry, who attended the unveiling of the mural on July 14.
Currently, the Illinois Art Station is housed in temporary offices in Williams Hall. Work is underway to find a permanent space that can accommodate a wide range of projects and activities.
“I am excited to witness the development and implementation of such a creative and innovative project that invests in children and families. I look forward to the future growth of the Illinois Art Station and all of the good work that enriches our students’ learning experience and faculty scholarship opportunity while also enriching our community,” Professor of Social Work and Interim Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Diane Zosky said.