Igniting the Senses

Sensory Ignite’s volunteer planning committee, led by Brandon Mooberry (left), is comprised of numerous local agencies.

Ignite Peoria, an initiative of ArtsPartners of Central Illinois, has become a fixture of Peoria’s arts community over the last six years. Home of the Midwest Makerfest, Ignite is a creative extravaganza of art, music, science and robotics, featuring exhibit booths, live performances and hands-on workshops. The excitement is palpable at every turn, but with so much to see and do, the many activities have the potential to overwhelm individuals with sensory sensitivities. Enter Sensory Ignite, headed up by local musician Brandon Mooberry, which will run in conjunction with the main event—but in a separate area for those with sensitivities to loud noises, bright lights and big crowds. Read the rest here.

Born to Shoot

A local photographer found her passion at an early age, following in her mother’s footsteps.

100 Years… 100 Roses, featuring Newell’s great-great aunt Albertine, earned high honors in the 2015 PPA International Photographic competition.

Even before she was born, Christie Newell was destined to become a photographer. Forty years ago, her mother, Barb   Primm, started a photography business in the basement of their family home, eventually moving into an old Victorian in Bartonville and calling it Sonshine Studio. As a child, Newell accompanied her mother on photo shoots, soaking up the trade and loving it.  

She started working in the studio in high school, learning both the business and creative sides, and eventually shooting sessions with Primm. By the time she graduated, she was ready to pursue photography full-time. “My mom taught me the nuts and bolts, and after high school she sent me to conventions to learn more about the craft,” Newell explains.

She also pursued professional certifications through the Professional Photographers of America (PPA), a go-to resource for the industry with some 30,000 members. A Certified Professional Photographer, Newell holds a Master of Photography degree and a Craftsman degree from the organization. She serves on the American Society of Photographers Board of Directors and the International Photographic Competition Committee, in addition to teaching workshops and speaking at photography conventions. Read the rest of the article here.

Pinnacle of Her Craft

A Peoria woman is one of just eight people in Illinois to have attained Master Knitter status.

This sweater was the final project in the Master Knitting certification process, representing several knitting techniques. Young keeps her “tools of the trade,” at right, organized by category.

Knitting requires sharp thinking, deft motor skills, and lots of time to develop and master a range of different techniques. As a lifelong knitter, Diedre Young of Peoria knows this firsthand and finds the craft beneficial to her well-being as a whole. Each day she carves out time to knit—“regardless of what else may be going on”—typically an hour in the morning before work, and occasionally after. She even takes her knitting on the road so she has a token to remember her travels. It has a “calming effect,” she explains, which belies the lengths she went to in order to become certified as a Master Knitter through The Knitting Guild Association (TKGA). Read the rest of the article here.

Visual Jazz

It’s really no wonder that photographer Natalie Jackson O’Neal’s favorite subjects are musicians. “I grew up in a home constantly pulsating with many genres of musical rhythms,” she recalls. “Jazz has always been my favorite.”

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that two of her favorite people are well-known musicians—her father Preston Jackson plays jazz guitar, and husband Dexter O’Neal is a singer, guitarist and leader of the Funk Yard. But Natalie really honed her photographic chops as staff photographer for Good News magazine in Atlanta, where she was a regular at jazz clubs. Eventually, many of the musicians she photographed asked her to shoot their gig posters and CD covers.

Jazz vocalist René Marie made a particularly indelible impact on her, Natalie explains. “She was so soulful and strong, energetic and beautiful. She was a treat to shoot because she always gave so much to her audience—and you always captured something new and exciting.”

Natalie’s photographic jazz series, entitled “Straight, No Chaser,” is a visual soundtrack to the Thelonious Monk tune of the same name—“a nod to its fluidity and extreme unpredictability.” Each piece in the series is named after a different jazz number. Read the rest of the article here.

Capturing Moments in Time

Monarch by photographer Jim Burnham

Any photographer will tell you that getting the perfect image is the result of being in the right place at the right time. Jim Burnham is no different, admitting that serendipity plays a major role in some of his best photographs.

His photograph “8 Seconds,” for instance, was a reaction to an unexpected change of scenery. He and some friends from the Peoria Camera Club had gathered one evening on the East Peoria riverfront to capture the supermoon behind the Peoria skyline. Not entirely satisfied with his shots, Burnham noticed something more dynamic was about to happen as the moon moved south. Grabbing his equipment, he raced to position himself up on Fondulac Drive overlooking I-74.

“Once up there, I had no more than five minutes to set up and take some extreme telephoto shots of the moon as it set over Bartonville, with the ADM plant and city lights in the foreground. It turned out to be the best of the bunch.” Read the rest of the article here.

The Olympics of Disc Golf

Greater Peoria has become a national mecca for disc golf.

Disc golf has become increasingly popular over the last two decades, with courses popping up all over the region. Nate Heinold, director of the Discraft Ledgestone Insurance Open and a board member of the Professional Disc Golf Association (PDGA), has been playing for nearly two decades and has competed in four World Championships. “Disc golf appeals to all demographics,” he explains. “Most disc golf courses are in public parks, so there is no charge, and you can play a full round on some courses in under an hour, if you are by yourself. And walking around a park for 18 holes is great exercise.”

With a dozen 18-hole courses within 25 miles of the city (and another 11 nine-hole courses), Greater Peoria has become a national mecca for disc golf. Thanks to Heinold’s work building up the Discraft Ledgestone Insurance Open over the past eight years, he won the bid to host the 2019 PDGA Professional Disc Golf World Championships.

Central Illinois is the perfect setting for this premier event—“the Olympics of disc golf,” says Heinold, who expects to host 300 players from all over the world. And they won’t simply show up the day before the tournament, he adds. “They will travel here in the months leading up to the event to practice the courses and get their reps in. Some players will be in Peoria 10 days before [it] even starts,” he says, noting the positive impact on the local economy. “We are even planning events at Dozer Park and several other local establishments in conjunction with the event.”

The 2019 PDGA Pro Disc Golf World Championships will take place August 13-17, 2019 at courses in Eureka, Morton and Pekin—with players competing for a record-breaking $130,000+ purse. For more information and a full schedule of events, visit discgolfproworlds.com.

This article was originally published here.

Just Can’t Escape It!

Three local businesses offer exciting, new entertainment options for thrill seekers.

Across the nation, there’s been a boom in escape rooms as people seek out unique, interactive entertainment that challenges their problem-solving abilities. Escape rooms originated from video games in which players had to solve mysteries and interact with other players within a “location” to move to the next level. In 2007, a Japanese company took this concept further by creating the first live escape room, in which participants were locked in a room for an hour and had to solve a series of problems in order to escape.

The idea quickly took root, with escape rooms popping up across Asia and Europe. The first escape room in the United States opened in Seattle in 2013. Today, there are more than 2,800 escape rooms across the country.

Creating a fun, challenging experience is the name of the game. Why just sit and watch a show when you can be part of the act… and prove you’re the smartest person in the room (assuming you solve the puzzle)? It’s also an affordable way to have fun with friends—generally under $30 per person. Here in the Peoria area, three local couples have opened successful escape room businesses in the past two years, with hundreds of customers experiencing the thrill each week.

Escape Afficionados
On a weekend getaway to Indianapolis several years ago, Michelle and Steve Rouland stumbled upon an escape room and decided to have a go at it. “We had such a blast finding objects and solving the room’s puzzles,” Michelle recalls, “we immediately booked with another escape room company for the next day.” They were hooked. Read the rest here.

Youth Sports: Behind the Numbers

Youth sports teams flock to compete at world-class facilities on both sides of the river.

As the Greater Peoria area has become a top destination for competitive youth sports, the old phrase “playing in Peoria” is more apropos than ever. From softball, baseball and basketball to volleyball, soccer, cross-country and beyond, these games and tournaments attract huge numbers to the region—and with them comes a sizeable economic impact. With so many different events and venues, here’s a quick rundown of what plays where.

Premier Attractions
Greater Peoria offers a pair of world-class facilities that play host to major youth sports events: the Louisville Slugger Sports Complex (LSSC) in north Peoria and Eastside Centre in East Peoria. Both complexes offer indoor and outdoor facilities to accommodate year-round play and practices.

With 10 outdoor diamonds and one of the largest domed facilities in the Midwest, the LSSC hosts major regional tournaments like the USSSA Illinois State Softball & Baseball Championships, Great Lakes National Championships, Premier Girls Fastpitch Mid-West Regionals, Brad Wallin Memorial Tournament and Missouri Valley Conference Softball Championship. It is the “only facility in the nation associated with Louisville Slugger, the premier brand in diamond sports,” adds Rick Gaa, LSSC vice president. He estimates the venue will attract nearly 250,000 people this year, encompassing competitive volleyball tournaments as well as baseball and softball. Read the rest here.

Freeze Frame: Capturing Moments in Time

An artist’s lifelike portrayals take on new meaning via time and motion.

Connie Andrews’ portraits and sculptures often transcend time, telling a story within a story. “The passage of time is a theme I like to explore,” she explains. “I look for ways to tell a story of a few seconds, or even decades, in the context of a confined space—the way a person changes over the decades, or the movement of hands over a piece of work.”

With that in mind, she never takes a project at face value. Getting to the essence of her subject requires time and reflection, and it’s at the heart of her work. “If I were to just take a photograph and paint it as I see it, that would be pretty easy,” she notes. “To make it really touching and meaningful… I add to it and make it a piece of art.”

Layers of Meaning
A woman once came to Andrews shortly after her wedding, asking her to paint a portrait. She brought along a few photos—all striking, professional shots. “One of her favorites was of her and her husband dancing, with him spinning her around. It was really beautiful—I couldn’t improve on the photography,” Andrews explains. Using the photos for reference, she combined several shots to create “A Whirl of Their Own,” layering the couple’s movements to illustrate a range of motions—the bride and groom at different angles, her dress swirling around the scene. Read the rest here.

Raising the Barn

The Village of Goodfield welcomes the Conklin Players back to the Barn.

If you had told Mary Simon two years ago that the Barn would be rebuilt and booking future performances, she wouldn’t have believed you. The director of the Conklin Players was sure that her turn in local theater was up. The Barn II in Goodfield, the theater troupe’s longtime home, had closed in the summer of 2015 after irreparable wind damage rendered the building unsafe. Undeterred, Simon moved her operations to Five Points Washington, where the troupe performed until the end of 2017.

“I was giving everything we made at Five Points to the troupe to try to keep them solvent,” she recalls. “And then I couldn’t afford to do it anymore. I had cashed out my insurance policies. I borrowed against things. My credit card debt was huge… I was tapped out.” But just two weeks after Simon gave up, Abby Reel walked into her life and proposed a plan that turned everything around.

A Storied History
A native of nearby Congerville, Abby Reel essentially grew up with The Barn’s cast of colorful characters as a backdrop. Her parents, Les and Carolyn Reel, were huge supporters of the theater—attending performances regularly, becoming friends with Simon and founder Chaunce Conklin, and encouraging their daughter to join—which she did as a teenager, working there before heading off to college.

Fast forward nearly 20 years, and Reel is now owner of the Barn III, still under construction. The new venue is set to open in February with support from its community, a massive fundraising effort, and a sizable loan from Morton Community Bank. You know what they say about it taking a village. Well, it took that and more.

Although Abby Reel and Mary Simon act as partners, Simon is quick to point out that Reel is the boss—“It’s her nickel,” she explains. No doubt there’s a mutual affection and respect between the two. Several times during our conversation, Simon leaned close to Reel, patted her hand and mentioned how grateful she is to her for saving the Barn—not only for herself but for her beloved troupe, who were displaced when the last incarnation went out of business.

“We make decisions together, collaborate [and] compromise,” Reel notes. “And I think it’s really interesting how similar we are… in terms of how we think about taking care of people.” In fact, before embarking on their partnership, Reel, a licensed therapist, asked Simon to take a personality test. She had an inkling that they shared a lot of common traits and wanted to know how they would work together. Read the rest here.