Yvonne Boose

Arts and Culture Reporter

Yvonne covers artistic, cultural, and spiritual expressions in the COVID-19 era. This could include how members of community cultural groups are finding creative and innovative ways to enrich their personal lives through these expressions individually and within the context of their larger communities. Boose is a recent graduate of the Illinois Media School and returns to journalism after a career in the corporate world.

Yvonne Boose

A longstanding Rockford arts center is having a moving sale this week. Until recently, Mendelssohn Performing Arts Center used three locations: the Emerson building, First Presbyterian Church and Starr Center.

The center has decided to condense all operations to the Starr Center. Last year, the Emerson House was put up for sale. An offer was recently made. Mendelssohn is now looking to sell the First Presbyterian Church building, which it had used for concerts and office space. 

Yvonne Boose

The Winnebago County Fair was canceled due to COVID-19. This included the County Fair's Queen pageant. Instead, an ambassador was appointed Tuesday evening.  

Joie Vittetow volunteered at the Rockford Park District’s Youth Police Academy this week. This is one of many events that she will attend during her time as ambassador.

“And this weekend, I’m hoping to go the Burpee Museum event for ‘Girls in Science.’ Where they’re going to be demonstrating insects and stuff,” she shares. “Other than that, I’ll be definitely doing parades if they’re not canceled.” 

Provided by Karen Fullett-Christensen

Welcome to Poetically Yours, where you'll hear the voices of Illinois poets as they share their words about the world around them. This week, features Aurora's Poet Laureate, Karen Fullett-Christensen. Her poems include, "No Longer Virgins" and "We Are All in Chains."

No Longer Virgins

We have bitten the apple

we have pulled back the curtain

we are no longer virgins

so, what do we do?

Once the forest is breached

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Most performance stages across the country are empty due to COVID-19. But this doesn’t mean playwrights have to stop writing. A northern Illinois theater is giving these artists a medium to showcase their work.  

The Kane Repertory Theatre in St. Charles started a project in May called the New Play Lab.  

Provided by Christopher Sims

Welcome to Poetically Yours, where you'll hear the voices of Illinois poets as they share their words about the world around them. This week features  Christopher Sims of Rockford. This poem is called, "Minneapolis Is Burning."

Minneapolis Is Burning

Minneapolis is burning.

For justice, we Black

people are yearning.

The hate here in the US,

we're confronting,

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Some people use their creativity to express how they feel about the world around them. Two northern Illinois musicians are doing just that.

Aurora hip-hop artist Brandy Gilliam, also known as K.I.K. and rock musician Shawnzie Gade are making a timely album. They are asking other local artists to take part. Gilliam explained the vision.

Yvonne Boose

The pandemic is still here but some people seem a little more comfortable with socializing. A monthly gathering in Aurora took place Friday after being totally virtual since April.  

A smaller than usual crowd showed up in downtown Aurora for First Fridays. People wore masks and greeted each other with fist bumps and elbow taps.  

Artist - Barbara Lundeen

“Restore Illinois” Phase 4 plan is giving people the opportunity to enjoy their pastimes. A northern Illinois art center is answering the call by continuing one of its annual exhibits.

This is the third year for the Absolutely Abstract Art Exhibition at the Next Picture Show community fine arts center in Dixon.

Michael Glenn is the executive director of the center. He said there are all sorts of media on display. One includes alcohol ink, which he calls a throwback. 

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The Freeport Masonic Temple is looking to renovate its nearly century-old building but it needs assistance.

Bill Leser is the chairperson of the fundraising committee for the temple. He said last year’s winter was not kind to the building, specifically, the top.

“We've actually got five roofs here. The worst one is the auditorium, which has to be fixed now," he explained. "So that's scheduled to be repaired by Labor Day.”

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Some religious groups are LGBTQ-affirming. But this hasn’t always been the case. A few individuals remember a different time.   

LGBTQ-affirming churches do not consider homosexuality a sin.

Frank Langholf is the pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Rockford. He identifies as straight.

He said he began to question his thoughts about accepting the gay community into churches after his own life changed.

Yvonne Boose

Some northern Illinois residents felt a sense of normalcy as they enjoyed live music at the park. A city band continued its 166th season with a few changes.

The sun was starting to set in Hopkins Park as the DeKalb Municipal Band filled the air with sweet melodies Tuesday evening.

Kirk Lundbeck is the conductor of the band. He said as soon as Illinois went into Phase 4, he started working hard to put the season together.

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Cities across the country have used murals to enhance the look of their neighborhoods. Monday, Rockford unveiled a community mural at SecondFirst Church located at 318 N. Church Street.  

Tia Richardson is a community mural artist from Milwaukee. She worked with the church and Jeremiah Development to raise $30,000 for the mural.

Yvonne Boose

Lots of outdoor concerts normally happen during summertime. COVID-19 hampered some of those plans. But the beat went on for one northern Illinois city.

On a pleasant summer night, people sat in small groups within Woodstock’s town square. They listened to "I Ain’t Afraid of No Ghost!"-themed music performed by the Woodstock City Band as part of its 136th Season.  

Daniel Campbell is the managing director of the Woodstock Opera House. He said there were thoughts about canceling the series.

Connie Kuntz

People are still buying houses during the pandemic. But what happens when the demand is greater than the supply? You get a seller’s market. This June marked the biggest year-over-year housing inventory drop in Rockford’s history.  

Conor Brown is the CEO of Rockford Area Realtors. He said there were a number of factors contributing to this housing shortage. COVID-19 was one of them.

Sarah Holmes

This year we witnessed numerous protests across the country. But protesting isn’t new to America. A northern Illinois music library showcases different protest readings and music from the past through an online exhibit.

Sarah Holmes is the music catalog librarian and the interim music librarian at Northern Illinois University. She said the library wanted to do an online exhibit since, because of the state shutdown, there wasn’t anyone in the building.

Mona Buss

Many artists have had to put their shows on hold due to COVID-19. A Lincoln presenter found himself in the same boat until he had a conversation with a musician friend.  

George Buss has presented himself as Lincoln for the past 30 years. He became a full-time Lincoln presenter after he retired from teaching. He said his interest in Lincoln was piqued as he read a history book in seventh grade. It mentioned the City of Freeport.

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An Aurora-based nonprofit with a mission to cultivate community through the arts had to leave the space that housed its bookstore and community center two years ago. The group is now looking to purchase a new building but needs help to do so.

Yvonne Boose

You may not see many young people spending time at coffee shops. A Black business owner wants to change this by making his shop an art resource for more Brown and Black youth in DeKalb.

Jeff Foster is an artist and the owner of Common Grounds Coffee. This shop opened in 2016.

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An Illinois coalition that advocates changing the state from a flat to a progressive income tax is highlighting public support for an amendment on the November ballot that would do just that.

July 15th is the deadline for filing this year’s income taxes. The Vote Yes for Fair Tax group is using this week to remind people of the upcoming Fair Tax amendment.  This includes voters from Rockford, DeKalb, Peoria, Springfield, Chicago and Metro East.

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Lots of art is exhibited in downtown Rockford. But most times, there is a cost associated with this. Donor support is allowing the continuation of a certain public display.

The Rockford Sculpture Walk is normally presented for two years.  

Kristen Paul is the director of destination development for the Rockford Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.

She said the 13 sculptures were due to come down in June but the pandemic spoiled that plan.

Photo provided by George Buss

Creativity is not taking a back seat to COVID-19. Some performances are happening with the use of the technology. An Illinois history group is joining in on the fun.

The Looking for Lincoln Heritage Coalition will virtually host: “Lincoln, The Great Communicator.”

Sarah Watson is the executive director of Looking for Lincoln and the Abraham Lincoln National Heritage Area. She said seven shows will take place live. Partner communities will host them on their Facebook pages.

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COVID-19 has changed the landscape of the world. Not only does it threaten our health, it’s removed things we may have taken for granted. One is attending large gatherings. A northern Illinois county fair is the latest to feel the blow.

The 2020 Sandwich Fair has been canceled. This is the first time that’s happened since its inception in 1888. It's normally held Wednesday through Friday after Labor Day. 

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Conversations about racism have spiked since the killing of George Floyd. Some people have shown interest in learning about different cultures. A northern Illinois educator said there’s a simple way for people to do this.

Melanie Koss is an associate professor in the department of curriculum and instruction at Northern Illinois University. She teaches young adult and children’s literature.

New Genres

We are officially in Phase 4 of the Restore Illinois Plan. This means summer programs can return but COVID-19 safety precautions must be taken. Some programs were canceled before this new phase. Two northern Illinois communities came up with alternate options.

The Rockford Area Arts Council, New Genres Arts Space and United Way of Rock River partnered to create New Ways. This summer art program is for children ages 11 to 15. The focus is on new media. This includes animation, video editing and audio art.  

Rockford Art Museum

Phase 4 of the Restore Illinois plan is now in place. Some businesses are preparing for the public’s return. A northern Illinois museum is one of them.

The Rockford Art Museum is opening its doors again on Monday, July 6.

Carrie Johnson is the executive director and curator of the museum. She said the staff started to plan for this about a month ago.

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A lot of summer programs are not taking place due to COVID-19. Some children depend on lunches from these programs. A northern Illinois church is making sure meals are still being provided this summer.

  

Vicki Boone is the summer lunch coordinator for First United Methodist Church in DeKalb. She said for the past eight summers children came to the church to eat. This year they’re grabbing lunch at the park. 

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Some people may ask the question, “Are race relations changing in America?” Others aren’t just thinking about it. They’re taking action. An Aurora artist is helping to lead this change in her city.

Jen Evans is Aurora’s director of public art. She’s held this title since October 2017. Before that she worked as the interim executive director at Water Street Studios in Batavia. She also taught college art classes for about nine years and worked as a refugee health coordinator for DuPage County.

Karen Fullett-Christensen

We all know that money doesn’t grow on trees. But what about poems? Aurora’s poet laureate is giving that illusion to those who pass by her home.

Karen Fullett-Christensen has a "Poet Tree" in her yard.

She said she read an article in the Illinois State Poetry Society newsletter that highlighted an Evanston woman with a Poet Tree.

Rockford Area Arts Council

Corporations like Netflix, Amazon and HBO have all taken a stand against racism. Some northern Illinois arts organizations are doing the same. This comes after countless protests against racism in America. 

The Rockford Area Arts Council released a statement June 5 saying that they are standing in solidarity with Black and Brown communities.

Mary McNamara Bernsten is the executive director of the Arts Council. She said it's important to speak out.

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Last month a coalition of Rockford nonprofits and one small business announced micro-grants for Winnebago County artists. The first recipients were announced June 23.

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