MATTOON — Several community members recently turned out at a reception to meet the Mattoon Arts Council's current Featured Artist, Skylor Harden, and see his works in the display area at the Cross County Mall.
The 20-year-old freelance graphic designer and illustrator from Mattoon said he was just as excited to meet those community members and see their reactions to his artworks at his first-ever public exhibit.
"I started taking pictures of them getting really close and trying to see all the little details," Harden, said, adding that it was rewarding for him that they noticed such details. Harden said he also was glad to field good, thoughtful questions about his work. "That is the essence of what makes the receptions a really nice experience."
Now, Harden hopes to encourage other artists to display their work and share in this experience while volunteering with the Mattoon Arts Council as currently its youngest and one of its newest members. He recently joined this community organization, which has a mission of developing and supporting high-quality, affordable arts programs and activities for people of all ages.
Harden said he started "doodling and sketching" when he was a child and then began pursuing artwork as a serious hobby in his early teens. The young artist said these efforts eventually developed into a side business of creating logo graphics for businesses, flyers for local bands, and T-shirt designs, including a recent commission for a ram logo shirt for Arthur Christian School.
The current Featured Artist display in the north entrance corridor of the mall includes examples of this artwork, as well as illustrations that Harden has created "just for fun" to depict images from his favorite books and video games. His Christian faith is reflected in his artwork. The exhibit has been extended until Oct. 15.
"It's a really opportunity for local artists to get exposure," Harden said. He added that in-person exhibits are a nice alternative to trying to stand out in online formats saturated with artwork. "It's nice to get to know your local artists."
Arts Council Coordinator Julia Degler said she has been pleased to see Harden's display lead to extra commission work for the young artist. Degler said she has also appreciated having his perspective on the council to help develop programs that connect with other young artists and audiences.
Degler said the Arts Council also recently recruited musician and music teacher Jon Clarkson as a member. She said having a good mixture of artists and supporters on the council has been helpful as they transition from modified programming during the COVID-19 pandemic to more traditional live events, such as upcoming "2021 Fall Follies" and "The Christmas Gnome" productions. More information is on the Mattoon Arts Council page on Facebook.
Harden said feels that "having a say" in the development of local arts programs is a good responsibility to have. He said he looks forward to working behind the scenes on these programs and being "another voice of support" for other artists.
"It's been nice to see the different programs that are being put out there and getting started to get the community involved and bring recognition to artists," Harden said.
Contact Rob Stroud at 217-238-6861.