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CHARLESTON -- A small group gathered Feb. 1 at individual work stations to learn a technique of fabric painting. This fiber arts event that was held at Otterbein United Methodist Church in Charleston was made possible in part by the Coles County Arts Council (CCAC), which recently marked its 30th year as a non-profit organization.

Retired Eastern Illinois University art professor Hannah Eads presented the lessons on “Tips for Painting with Colored Inks” and “Using Colored Inks for Quilt Making.” Six participants learned about Eads' different techniques and viewed examples of her fabric paintings of an autumn landscape, flower paintings, and oriental brush paintings.

“I think that it is important to offer various art-related workshops to the public because many people, retirees included, want to learn new skills and hobbies. There's a great satisfaction in creating a work of art and in my workshop people were proud of their hand-painted silk scarves as well as their fabric paintings,” said Eads.

For three decades, the CCAC has been helping to provide exposure to a variety of arts, including textiles, music, dance, weaving, drama, sculptures, paintings, photography, historical heritage and writing, for people of all ages. The group was formed in 1984 under the name Charleston Area Arts Council, but 10 years later the name was changed to reflect a countywide effort to bring a variety of arts to this area.

The Prelude

The Prelude is the annual meeting of the arts corporation, which has taken place each year since the beginning of the second year in 1985. It provides a time to report to its membership the accomplishments of the previous year, said outgoing president Jeri Matteson-Hughes of Charleston. This year’s theme is the Golden Age of Cinema.

During the event, it is also the time to make recognitions, receive member approval of the new officers, hold fundraising activities and dinner for the black tie-optional affair. It was moved to the LifeSpan Center last year, due to having outgrown the space it had used before at EIU’s Tarble Arts Center.

“There will be a buffet dinner, the silent auction of arts, vintage, and business products and services items, a photo booth, a live auction, and music, dance, and theater entertainment throughout the evening,” said Matteson-Hughes.

 Due to inclement weather, the Prelude has been postponed this year. The new date will be set soon.

This 30th year will also be a time to unveil the newest logo for CCAC. It came about from a contest using social media this year and is designed by Gaye Harrison. It is only the third logo in the group's history. The first logo served from 1984-95. With a name change from Charleston Community Arts Council in 1995, the organization unveiled its second logo.

How it all began

It all began in 1983 with plenty of brainstorming ideas. During that time, a constitution and articles of incorporation were formed to be presented and approved at the group's first yearly meeting in January 1984, which was held at the Tarble Arts Center, which had opened in 1982.

CCAC members recently reflected on its early years of existence, noting that early on some members teamed up with the City of Charleston, helping with its sesquicentennial celebration in 1985. Founding President Patricia Mahler of Charleston said working on this project made it evident that Charleston held the arts as being of high importance.

As a group, Mahler; Matteson-Hughes; slated incoming President Nick Shaw, Villa Grove; and Janet Messenger, also of Charleston, a past president and current co-coordinator of the Past Forward Memoir Writing Group, re-visited the early years and reflected on the organization’s many accomplishments.

“We realized the value of the arts to this community and also that there is a common link between the arts and tourism,” said Mahler. “Cary Knoop and I were on this (sesquicentennial) committee. We started a project called Arts in the Park, which has evolved into a children’s project, now called Kids’ Arts in the Park,” she said. 

At its second annual meeting, Jan. 27, 1985, the current structure of the organization was pretty much in place. "The association was mainly designed to showcase the arts in the community, but as a downstate community we didn’t have a vehicle through which to organize community based arts activities,” said Mahler.

"In the early 1980s, the City of Charleston was involved in writing and implementing Community Development Assistance Program grants as a way to enhance the downtown courthouse square area. It was during these discussions that the role of the arts and the large number of talented arts people living in our area became evident,” Mahler said.

“When we first started meeting, we were in City Hall. We met in a tiny back office. We had that space and a four-drawer filing cabinet,” she said.

Matteson-Hughes explained that being in City Hall, located at 520 Jackson in Charleston, in those early days, it made sense to have one of its first exhibits there and it was called City Art I in 1985. Later, City Art II blossomed as a youth art works display on the second level of City Hall, around 2010.

Messenger said one of the first outdoor festivals was Arts on the Square in 1986, an event she co-chaired with Dick Stark. It was sponsored by Charleston downtown merchants, funded by the arts council, Merchants Association and a grant through Charleston Tourism.

“We invited artists of East Central Illinois to come and set up their works. We promoted all kinds of arts -- and there was a variety of food, entertainment, specials from shops, cafés and restaurants in town. Students at EIU studying art education helped with activities for the kids. It was a juried exhibition complete with nice prizes,” said Messenger about Arts on the Square.

Messenger also helped form the Memoir Writing Group in 2004, which was an off-shoot of EIU’s Academy of Lifetime Learning program. The daytime group meets at 1 p.m. on the last Friday of each month, except on or about major holidays. The evening group meets at 6 p.m. Tuesdays.

The writers’ group has given some public readings, working with Charleston Alley Theatre, and published a book, “Occasional Writers: Bringing the Past Forward.” It was edited by EIU’s Daiva Markelis and published by Cantraip Press. The book contains the works of 16 authors. Plans are to publish a second book this fall.

Growth of CCAC

The county-wide arts council has seen significant growth since its inception in 1984. At its annual meeting in 1985, the group enjoyed a membership of 36 in its non-profit organization, but hundreds of people were provided service to the arts events around the county. It had an operating budget balance of $819 at the end of the first year. It now has an operating budget of more than $16,000.

In 1987, the CCAC gave out its first scholarship in the amount of $200, for an art camp at Eastern Illinois University to Fred Hudson. In 2012, eight scholarships to various EIU camps for music, art, and speech, were awarded, totaling $3,640.

Mahler said the CCAC has survived and progressed to become a very special arts organization completely operating with no true office and all volunteer officers and members. All events take place at different venues throughout the county. Each event is run solely by volunteers. Activities are financed by funds generated through donations, grants and proceeds of the Prelude annual event.

“The Illinois Arts Council has always perceived the CCAC as one of the major active county-based arts councils in Central Illinois,” said Mahler.

Matteson-Hughes said as president for the past three years she wanted to take a look at what the organization was doing and how it could be made even better. In the past year, the Prelude was moved from the Tarble Arts Center to the LifeSpan Center because it had outgrown the space.

Participation at the Prelude held for the first time at the LifeSpan Center proved to be a success with more attendance, more sponsors, more items and a live auctioneer. “We grew its attendance by 50 percent; and the fundraising was up 200 percent from the previous year,” said Matteson-Hughes.

She also brought on a social media coordinator and a “visually newer” website was developed to help spread the word more about CCAC. 

“I realized that we have a group of highly energized people who love what they do. I don’t want to change things, but I want to help improve things,” said Matteson-Hughes. “We’ve been trying to find new ways to do what we were already doing, but better.”

Some of the newest involvements include supporting Dragonflies, a dance program for those with autism, and CCAC recently acquired some memorial funds from two of its longtime members, Nancy “Nan” Hennings and Richard G. Swartzbaugh. In their honor, the CCAC developed a library at the Hedwig House for women in jeopardy.

Become a member of CCAC

New members are always welcome. To join or renew membership, print out and submit the membership form on the CCAC website at:

Membership fees are as follows: $10 for senior citizens; $15 for senior citizen couples; $15 for individuals; $20 for a couple or family; $30 for a supporting patron; $50 for a sustaining patron; $100 as a benefactor or more.

The form also requests members select areas of interest: fiber arts, visual arts, literary arts, musical arts, historical, folk or heritage arts; dramatic and cinematic arts, dance and movement arts or all of the arts.

Contact Schabbing at or 217-238-6864.


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