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Education in Arts and Culture

The foundation of a community’s arts and culture begins with education, a premise that the Rockford Area Arts Council (RAAC) and Rockford Art Guild (RAG) have long held. RAAC has partnerships with various local school districts, including the Ellis Arts Academy after school program. Moreover, ArtsPlace offers local teenagers a paid apprenticeship to professional artists, and Project Full House allows students of low-income families to attend programs for $1.

Since 1955, RAG has promoted the visual arts in the Rockford region with a focus on education and creative exploration. As part of its program, RAG offers Art Hors d’Oeuvres Classes downtown at the Mendelssohn Performing Arts Center.

Rockford Art Museum

In the late 1800s, what is now known as the Rockford Art Museum (RAM), began to enrich the area’s quality of life through permanent collections, traveling exhibits and continuing education. It has morphed today into a non-profit and public museum with more than 1,900 works of art. RAM’s continuous collection includes modern and contemporary American art stretching from the 1800s through today. The collection includes photography, contemporary glass, outsider and new acquisitions.
RAM (711 N. Main St.), which has been recognized as a Partner in Excellence by the Illinois Arts Council since 2004, also features an onsite museum store, office space, classrooms and studios. Educational programs are formatted for children, adults and teachers that showcase partnerships with area organizations like Rock Valley College. Internship opportunities are aplenty in the fields of curating, education, graphic design and public relations.
Rockford Art Museum also collaborates with various partners in hosting the annual Greenwich Village Art Fair, which is held rain or shine the second weekend after Labor Day. Staged on the grounds of the Riverfront Museum Park where RAM is located, the fair was established in 1948, making it the longest running fair of its kind in the Midwest. For two days, food, music, art and more are celebrated to help support RAM programs throughout the year.

A Theater Town  style=

A Theater Town

In a town with rich theater heritage, the Coronado Performing Arts Center (314 N. Main St.) is a crown jewel of Rockford’s cultural venues. The 2,310-seat Coronado has retained much of its unique appeal: its star-lighted ceiling mimics the positioning of the stars on the night it opened, October 9, 1927. The venue’s décor also includes Spanish castles, Italian villas and oriental dragons. The Coronado today draws musical acts, plays, movies and special events downtown to continue a long lineage of star performers that has featured Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Rockford natives Cheap Trick.
Located about two blocks south of the Coronado at 118 N. Main St., Nordlof Center’s main arena is the recently renovated J.R. Sullivan Theater. The intimate venue has 280 seats and is one of the area’s most technologically sound performance venues, and it hosts a variety of small shows, seminars and festivals year-round. Starlight Theater is located on the campus of Rock Valley College. Built a half century ago, Starlight underwent major renovations in 2003 when its star shaped roof was fitted to retract and take the shape of flower petals when opened.

Historic Landmarks

The Rockford area is home to many structures that remain on the National Register of Historic Places. At 411 Kent St., Tinker Swiss Cottage is still one of the region’s most popular attractions, and its history began in 1865 when Robert Tinker began construction on the building. A fan of Switzerland architecture, Tinker’s cottage was built on a cliff that overlooks Kent Creek just south of downtown. Brewmaster’s House is the oldest building on the national registry, since Jonathon Peacock began brewing beer out of his home in 1845. The facility now features 10 buildings on more than two acres along the Rock River.
The Peacock Brewhouse, known today as the renovated Prairie St. Brewhouse, was built in 1899 and still features Romanesque Revival roots. Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall is a Greek Revival building established in 1902. Known now as Veteran’s Memorial Hall, the building still owns one of the country’s finest Civil War and military memorabilia collections.
In 1892, the William Brown Building opened in honor of the namesake Rockford judge. That Romanesque style continues with the East Side Center, which was completed a few years earlier in 1889. An office building at present day, the East Side Center was once the first YMCA in Rockford. In 1887, Garrison School was built on part of a farm and remained an educational institution until 1987 and is now a residential complex.

Rockford Area Arts Council  style=

Rockford Area Arts Council

The Rockford Area Arts Council (RAAC) is the leading entity for arts and culture to help drive the quality of the community, economy and education. Its mission is three-fold: to support all areas with grant opportunities, to promote local events and artists, and to develop and implement new programming. RAAC helps coordinate events such as Spring and Fall ArtScene, which promotes more than 350 artists. ArtsPlace has yielded 1,000 artist apprentices since the youth program began in 1995.

Mendelssohn Performing Arts Center

Since 1894, the Mendelssohn name has been synonymous with arts and culture in Rockford. Early on, international performances were featured before being complemented by youth and education driven programs in the mid-1900s. By 1985, the Mendelssohn Chorale was formed by Ralph Nielsen, and the ensemble continues to perform today through the Season Concert Series. The organization, which began as a membership-based sphere for music lovers in the area to join, became a public performing arts center in 2006. Located along what’s known as the Cultural Corridor in Rockford, Mendelssohn’s Emerson House building is also office headquarters to the world-renowned Phantom Regiment Drum and Bugle Corps.

Alternative International Art  style=

Alternative International Art

Since 1956, Rockford has had the privilege of another American art form—a drum and bugle corps that began as Rockford Rangers and Rangerettes. The corps began by veterans group VFW Post 342, who wanted to see a competitive drum corps. Now 60 years later, the organization is thriving as the Phantom Regiment. This non-profit youth organization blends arts and athletics through music and marching, and features a rigid schedule year-round culminating in an annual summer-long national tour. Phantom Regiment also has received acclaim and a devoted following internationally, winning the Drum Corps International (DCI) World Championship in 1996 and 2008.

Art Galleries and Events  style=

Art Galleries and Events

In addition to the Rockford Art Museum, there are various gallery spaces sprinkled throughout the area. Located downtown at 107 N. Main St., the J.R. Kortman Center for Design and The Kortman Gallery was founded in 1986. The gallery is located upstairs and changes its exhibits every six to eight weeks. Some of downtown’s newest galleries include Rockford Art Deli, Conveyor Company, Gallery 2213 and 317 Studio and Gallery. ArtSpace West and North Main Studios are located a few miles to the north, while hand-crafted art businesses are like MainfraiM are also utilized as gallery spaces during community-wide events like ArtScene.
Spring ArtScene, a 14-year old offshoot of the fall event, draws 1,000s of people from near and far to nearly 50 studios, galleries, office and retail spaces, restaurants and attractions. In early October, Fall ArtScene has taken over the region for nearly three decades. Both events provide all attendees the opportunity to explore the area’s artistic talents and a platform to purchase pieces for the sustainability of art in Rockford.

Illinois National Guard Armory

A National Register of Historic Places member since 2000, the Illinois National Guard Armory in downtown Rockford was headquarters to various Illinois National Guard divisions for six decades. The building opened in 1937 and was occupied throughout World War II and the Cold War by the Illinois National Guard. A visitor destination since its infancy, the building attracted its one millionth guest only four years after it opened. This art deco structure, which has hosted various concerts, was abandoned in 1993 by the National Guard, and used as an educational facility until 1999. The building, located at 605 N. Main St., has since been owned by the city.

Lake-Peterson House

Though its architect remains unknown, Gothic Revival is well-represented by the 1873 construction of the Lake-Peterson House. The Victorian Gothic house, made of yellow brick and sitting on a stone foundation, is adjacent to what is now Swedish-American Hospital, which owns and maintains the property. The building originally was a two-story residence for prominent Rockfordian and first owner, John Lake. Additions were made in the early to mid-1900s, when an expansion on the southeast side of the home and a three-story porch were added. At 1313 E. State St., Lake-Peterson’s exterior trims helped to define its place in Illinois architectural lore.

Haight Village Historic District

In 1834, Daniel Haight established a residential neighborhood on the east side of the Rock River, a community that resonates with pride today. The Haight Village Historic District represents some of the best examples of Classical Revival, Greek Revival and Late Victorian styles of architecture. Some of the district’s famous former residents include John Erlander, a Swedish immigrant noted for founding Rockford Union Furniture Company and Excelsior Furniture Company. Erlander’s 1871 home is now a museum.
Haight Village, much like present day, was primarily residential, though it did feature the Italianate style industrial Rockford Watch Company. The Classical Revival Rockford Central High School was completed in 1905, when it began its reign as Rockford’s only high school until 1940.
A settlement just east of the Rock River, Haight Village also represents the birthplace of the city of Rockford. In 1939, Haight Village and the Germanicus Kent settlement on the west side of the Rock River incorporated to found Rockford.

Frank Lloyd Wright Architecture

The only Frank Lloyd Wright designed building for a person with a disability is the Laurent House, located at 4646 Spring Brook Road. This hemicycle, 2,600-square foot home was designed by Wright specifically to the needs of Kenneth Laurent, who became paralyzed from the waist down in the late 1940s. After the illness, Laurent sent a letter to Wright asking for his assistance in designing a home that is wheelchair accessible to maneuver freely and live a normal life. In 1952, Wright delivered with the completion of this single-story home.
The primarily brick house has a flat gravel and tar roof, two fireplaces, a wheelchair accessible carport and main entrance, a 50-foot curved glass window that faces the back yard, and bathrooms designed for optimum maneuverability.
The Laurents were the only family to ever live in the house, and the home is now a museum open for tours in the Forest City.
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