Last September, every executive and mayor of DuPage County’s 39 municipalities signed a sweeping declaration. The month of October would be known as Arts DuPage Month, a county-wide celebration of the vibrant local arts community.
It was much needed and long overdue—and made possible through a sponsorship by Arts DuPage, an initiative of the DuPage Foundation, DuPage County’s largest grant-making organization.
“In 2014 and 2015, we conducted a number of studies and surveys and found that small arts organizations might be well known in their local community but not more broadly in the county,” says Debbie Venezia, director of Arts DuPage, which was created by the foundation in 2016 to support local artists and arts organizations, many of whom didn’t have the resources to effectively promote or build an audience for their work. “We also found that larger arts organizations were operating in silos, and that they had no connections to each other or to smaller organizations.”
Funded by the JCS Fund of the DuPage Foundation, Arts DuPage launched a website (artsdupage.org) in February 2017 to serve as a portal for artists and arts organizations to connect with each other and the public.
“We currently have more than 340 artists and organizations posting about their events and activities,” Venezia explains. “It’s very user-friendly. Artists can post their portfolios, theaters can post about auditions, and organizations can post about their events.”
Artsdupage.org is also a useful resource for the public. DuPage residents or those traveling from out-of-town can find up-to-date information on events they might want to attend, such as gallery openings, theater productions, or museum exhibits. It even matches artists for commission work.
“If you’re a member of the community and want a portrait done, you can post a classified ad on the site to find an artist or photographer, and it’s all free,” says Venezia.
It’s all designed with the goal of demonstrating the value of the arts and artists to the broader community.
“Ultimately, I like things that are fun and beautiful. They enliven us and make us human,” Venezia says. “The arts are also such an important economic driver. If we make the arts one of DuPage’s strongest assets, then we’re building a stronger community, bringing in more tourism, and more families moving into the area. The rising tide lifts all boats.”
Venezia praises the caliber of talent and venues in the region, such as the Drury Lane Theater in Oakbrook Terrace, and the quality of production at some of the smaller theaters. She notes the Frida Kahlo exhibit coming to the Cleve Carney Museum of Art at the College of DuPage’s McAninch Arts Center in Glen Ellyn next summer after stops in Budapest and Milan.
“Big venues and small venues run on passion and we’re the connector,” Venezia says. “One of the things we like to do is host sessions and workshops so bonds can be developed.”
The mission as connector carries through to Arts DuPage Month, which kicks off in venues and communities throughout the county on October 1.
Arts DuPage Month is built on the same principle as Restaurant Week or Theater Week. Arts organizations participate by offering some sort of incentive, such as a discount, to new or already planned events or productions.
Drury Lane Theater, for instance, is offering $20 off tickets to its production of The Color Purple during October. North Central College Fine and Performing Arts in Naperville is providing discounts to the Herb Alpert concert on October 19 at Wentz Concert Hall, and the Paramount Theater in Aurora is offering discounts on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays to its productions of Newsies.
This year, a number of events have been added specifically for Arts DuPage Month. Downers Grove is hosting a “Connect the Dots” arts walk on October 5 along storefronts in downtown. The walk will culminate in a gallery reception sponsored by the Art Department, a local collective of artists that promotes the importance of art in the community.
“The walk will be great for local businesses and gives people a chance to support local merchants and learn about art,” says Venezia. “It’s a call to action that gets the community experiencing things it otherwise wouldn’t.”