All Susan Edwards wanted 12 years ago was a little shop in her backyard where she could teach basket weaving.
Meanwhile, her husband, Jim, was trying to figure out what to do with the huge ballroom of the former Elks building at the corner of Somonauk and Elm streets in Sycamore. Jim is a co-owner of the building.
“Finally one day he told me, ‘Go over there, clean that room out, get some of your friends, and start teaching classes,’" Susan Edwards recalled. “He didn’t think I would actually do it, but I did.”
A dozen years later, Susan Edwards is still in the old Elks building as executive director of the Art Attack, an art school and gallery.
In 2008, Edwards began an art walk in which local artists open their homes and studios to the general public, both to sell their work and to show the public how they work. The fifth annual walk, scheduled for Oct. 6, will include 21 locations around DeKalb County.
Edwards sat down with me to talk about art.
Shaw Media: What can people expect when they attend the Art Walk?
Susan Edwards: There are brochures that tell all the venues. There are 21 venues and over 70 artists participating. The brochures are at any of the chambers of commerce, at Mason Properties in DeKalb, at Glass Gardens or Art Attack in Sycamore, at the YMCA in DeKalb, and they will be spread throughout the community. Most places will be easy to find. The only one that might be difficult is the Art Annex behind Small’s furniture store. Most people pull in there and say, “Where is it? Where is it?” even though I have put four signs with arrows and balloons on them. That is one that’s fun to see because the graduate art students are in there. You can spend hours in there.
Tell me about this year’s art walk.
This year is our fifth annual event. I’m really excited this year because we have gotten (Northern Illinois University) to get behind it. They are actually a sponsor of the event. They will open both of their art museums, and they will have people at the museums actually doing stuff.
That’s what the art walk is all about. It’s about people going into artist studios and seeing them actually creating and getting an idea of how hard it is to create or to throw that bowl. The people get to pick the artist’s brain and then they have an idea why they did it that way. Then they have an idea why (the artist) went that way so then when they buy this art, then they have a story behind it. It’s not just a piece of art on a wall or on a table. When friends come over, they can say, “The artist was doing this and this is how they were doing it, and this is why they were doing it.” The “why” an artist does something is probably 90 percent of the art itself. When I paint, it takes me hours to figure out why and what I am painting. I can paint a painting in about two hours, but it probably took me 16 to figure out where I was going. That is an aspect (of art) that people really need to understand. That’s one of the goals of the art walk. The other thing is that most people don’t realize what fine art we have in this community. They keep saying, “Oh, but we’re a rural community,” but they don’t realize that we have 26 museum-quality artists in DeKalb County alone.
Twenty-one venues is a lot to see in a day. Can people pick and choose which sites to visit, or is the tour structured?
Venues are numbered and we put those numbers on a map so people can find them, and there will be signs in front of the venues so you know where you are. It is designed for you not to be able to go to all of them. I want to leave people hungry to see more next year.
In the five years of the art walk, have you seen any trends?
It’s definitely bigger, both in terms of how many artists are participating, and it’s also growing in terms of how far away we pull people. Last year we had people from Chicago come. This year I’m quite sure we will have people from all over northern Illinois coming.
Is there a charge for the art walk?
We worked really hard to make this free (this year). It is a fundraiser for the Art Attack, but this year we worked hard to get sponsors so we could offer it free to the public. What I really need people to do is attend it. If they only go to one place, that will help. If I go back to my sponsors and say, “We had 100 people last year but I only had 120 come in this year,” that’s not going to go over well. …It’s not out of the realm of possibility that we should have 1,000 people. I’m praying that we run out of brochures because that’s how many we printed, 1,000.
Will art be available for purchase at all 21 locations?
I tell everybody that if it’s there, it’s for sale. That’s kind of the point – people need to be thinking about Christmas and birthdays and all kinds of things, and supporting the arts through their pocketbook.
What is Art Attack? Is it a gallery, a learning facility or something else?
The biggest one is that it’s a school of art. We teach art classes for ages 2 through adult. Most people don’t realize we have so many adult classes, and think that it’s just for kids. We have some fine art teachers who teach here. Professors of universities teach here. …We have some pretty stellar resumes teaching here.
We do bring in some NIU students and local artists from the community to come in and teach. A lot of times, they are doing as much learning as the students sitting at the table. That’s what I am all about. I want to empower everybody, the teachers and the learners. We also started, in 2008, to have an art studio for local artists. We had several studios in the area, but you had to be somebody to get into them. I wanted to have an art studio for those of us who weren’t necessarily in the “in” crowd. The funny thing is, we have everything from $5 pottery to $5,000 paintings.
What is Art Attack’s role in the community?
First and foremost, without Art Attack, we would not have a creative outlet for a lot of kids to come and be creative. We do have excellent art in the schools in Sycamore, but not necessarily in some of the outlying areas of DeKalb County. But still, there are some children where once a week is just not enough, so that would be a sorely missed thing. …Most importantly, the community would not have a place to come to enjoy art. There is no other place in Sycamore, and there’s no other place in DeKalb County that has classes year-around, seven days a week.
If you go
What: Art Walk
When: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Oct. 6
Where: 21 venues around DeKalb County. A list of venues can be found at the DeKalb and Sycamore chambers of commerce, Mason Properties in DeKalb, Kishwaukee Family YMCA, Glass Gardens in Sycamore and the Art Attack in Sycamore.
Information: www.sycamoreartattack.org or 815-899-9440