Art Fair History
A Bit of History
A local art fair was first envisioned by well-known Peorian Adelaide Cooley, who attended the Chicago's Gold Coast Fair in the early 1960's and felt Peoria could benefit from something similar. Supposedly, the idea did not meet overwhelming approval. Fortunately, the art fair saviors were Bob and Marianne Bibo of Bibo Gallery fame. Marianne had been an active member of the Peoria Art Guild and was the perfect person to champion an outdoor art event in 1962. The Bibos' first effort showcased 27 artists along the Junction City Boardwalk and was so well received that 54 artists were featured the following year. The art fair eventually grew to 120 artists and the Bibos went on to manage the art fair for 11 years. Another well-known Peoria name, Sheryl Cohen, took over the fair and brought it to another level, bringing quality art from artists from all over the country. She is credited with putting Peoria on the fine art fair map.
The Move That Mattered
Fast forward to 1998 when the Peoria Art Guild took the bold steps of moving the art fair to the Peoria Riverfront. To say that the decision to move the fair to the riverfront was one of resistance is an understatement. Remember, the Gateway Building had just been built and there were few to no organized weekend activities. Even though Peoria had a picture-perfect riverfront as a backdrop, few in city leadership spent time cultivating or supporting special events at that time. With a visiosn, the Peoria Art Guild and the new Fine Art Fair coordinators, John and Jeff Heintzman, took the challenge to draw more people to the developing riverfront. In 2000, Kim Armstrong and Cathi Hawkinson agreed to co-chair the fair, a partnership that lasted 10 years. Hawkinson single-handedly attended fairs all over the country to persuade artists to apply to the Peoria show. Not an easy task, especially when some artists would say, "Where's Peoria?" After the 2017 Cathi Hawkinson hung up her Fine Art Fair hat after more than 14 years of Directing the Fair. In 2018 Shannon Cox & Kim Sanders took over the role of directing the Fair. They are very excited to be a part of this 56 year Peoria tradition!
As one of the oldest fine art fairs in the country, the Peoria Art Guild Fine Art Fair draws an anticipated attendance of 8,000. It's nationally recognized for its organization, volunteers, event marketing, and unlike most fairs, for putting artists' needs at the top of the priority list. When an art fair is located in the heart of the Midwest, in the middle of the state of Illinois, and 150 miles from a large metropolitan city, you work harder to retain the reputation -- and our loyal committee and sponsors are dedicated to the goal. As the winner of the Peoria Journal Star's "2016 Best of the Best in Peoria" and Peoria Magazine's "Best of Peoria '16/Best Festival", their efforts have paid off. The Fine Art Fair has also been published in the prestigious rankings of art fair rating sources. Most recently, the fair was ranked #32 in the "Top 50" list by Art Fair SourceBook. It was also ranked #69 in the "Top 100" by Sunshine Artist, and placed in the "Top 50" nationally by Art Fair Calendar. The Fine Art Fair is not only the major art event in central Illinois, but is a popular community and family event that showcases quality art, music, food, and hands-on art activities for kids and adults.