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Column

Curing separation anxiety through art

Princeton has taken some much needed steps toward revitalizing itself, and several of its assets and challenges have been identified as an energized identity is sought.

While reading the Community Vision Workshop booklet, one of the challenges listed is that Princeton is struggling with a lack of unity and continuity on Main Street. Princeton is a small city needing to work together, yet the two separate shopping districts are seen to be in competition.

The stretch of residential separation between the districts is seen as an obstacle to overcome in regards to unification. However, I don’t think it’s much of a separation, and I’d like to propose a solution for which several pieces are already in place. It would unify the districts, help with the city’s identity issues and also make use of many of our current assets.

To start, the “residential separation” isn’t as residential as it appears. Dairy Queen, Pizza Hut and Ace Hardware are just south of the north end district, and they see a lot of traffic. Beyond that and continuing south, there are many businesses located in what were once residential homes, and I think that’s what makes it look like a longer stretch than it actually is.

Granted, some of them may not be the touristy, weekend shopper type of retail locations Main Street loves, but they’re still valued businesses, and I think they could be an important component of this idea.

I’m not sure why or how the north end became known as “The Art District,” but while I think it currently serves to separate the two ends, I do think it’s pointing the city in the right direction. My idea is to build upon “The Art District” and unify Main Street through three connected areas while also providing an additional tourist draw.

If the north end is “The Art District,” the south could be called “The Art Zone.” The new zone could easily carry the weight of this new designation as it already offers more than the north end and all it would take is for the city to designate it as such.

“The Art Zone” would feature Festival 56, Shakespeare in the Park, Art in the Park, The Prairie Arts Center, Community Band concerts, Main Street Dance Academy, The Apollo, The Makery and any of the other businesses with an artistic offering.

The important piece of the puzzle, the piece serving to connect both ends is what could be called “The Art Walk.” Looking at what Peoria has done with their “Sculpture Walk,” I think Princeton could do something similar. With an Art District, an Art Zone and an Art Walk, the city could call itself something along the lines of “A City of the Arts.”

“The Art Walk” would take the most time to complete, but Princeton is already close to being two-thirds of the way through this project with what it’s already had in place for some time. Businesses located on the “residential” stretch of Main Street may be able to help with unification by agreeing to host or even help sponsor a piece of art.

Through a series of sponsors, Peoria rotates their sculptures on a yearly basis and also has some permanent pieces. Perhaps Princeton could temporarily host the pieces leaving Peoria or even offer them a permanent home if possible. If nothing else, Peoria shows what’s capable and offers guidance, ideas and direction.

It wouldn’t take too many pieces of sculpture to make the walk between the north and south ends of Main Street an appealing attraction and to quickly become an important addition to the city. It may also help resolve another recognized challenge listed in the workshop booklet, the under utilization of local artisans.

While I don’t think it’s necessarily there as a piece of significant art, I do think the dinosaur skeleton on that stretch of Main Street does sort of show how it would be fun to have art featured through that area and how sculptures could quickly become part of the community.

This idea would draw people through the entire length of Main Street and could also be used to help attract people out toward the library to see their sculpture, as well as the city’s pollinator garden and the nearby River Road kiosk.

Yes, this will take some work, time and money, but as I pointed out, most of this plan is already in place, and it would resolve the city’s separation anxiety while also providing another solid and proven tourist draw.

BCR Staff Writer Dave Cook can be reached at dcook@bcrnews.com.

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