Art attracts new customers to downtown East Peoria

By Joe Bennett

June 16, 2013 Updated Jun 17, 2013 at 11:49 AM CDT

EAST PEORIA, Ill. -- The city of East Peoria collaborated with artists to promote the Levee District with the first Art on the Promenade art fair.

An interactive medium, personalized projects, and a silent auction were enough to draw more than an estimated 5,000 art enthusiasts to the Levee District over the weekend.

"The city is very excited and very anxious to show people how beautifully developed it is,” says Art on the Promenade coordinator Jennifer Lee. “It's beautifully landscaped, a meandering path,
beautiful retail shops, restaurants, and this art fair is bringing folks out who have never been over here before."

According to artist Benjamin Watkins, ceramics is especially gaining interest as functional work.

Watkins and fellow ceramic artist Jacob Grant offered "Make, Bake, and Take," which was a popular draw, allowing patrons to finish a pottery piece while at the art fair.

Watkins believes local art is picking up as more people recognize how much it enhances everyday life.

"The economy is definitely improving,” Watkins says. “And the more artists educate the public on what they're doing, the more they want to be involved and the more they want to purchase art."

More than 50 vendors sold art at the fair, and those we spoke with say it was a successful weekend for Promenade in the Park, even with poor weather conditions Saturday night.

"I think it's pretty cool for the city to do it actually,” says Ed Fischer.

He came up from St. Louis to support his wife, who is one of the vendors.

While Fischer was in town, he was one of many to purchase a piece from an artist in the area.

"I got a Father's Day gift since I wasn't there, so I thought I'd get him something while we were here."

Original art was also available at the fair's silent auction, which will help fund multiple East Peoria non-profits.

"The largest one is going to be the East Peoria Farmers' Market,” Lee says. “It's new, bringing fresh produce to folks all over Central Illinois, and it's fabulous, starting next week."

That too will take place in the Levee District as East Peoria continues to lure patrons through community events, only one of which is Art on the Promenade, already slated to return next year.