Visit Spark! in Rushville
Jason Eveland lectures a group of Rushville art students about the creation and installation of "A Day of Smiles".
By Matt Meacham, Program Manager
Read Time 6 minutes
October 17, 2023
In all probability, few of the people jogging or picnicking among the palm trees in La Jolla California's oceanside Scripps Park on September 15, 2023, knew that their counterparts in the other Scripps Park, situated among gently rolling prairies on the southwestern outskirts of Rushville, Illinois, were celebrating its centennial at that very moment.
It also seems unlikely that many of the motorists and pedestrians traversing Rushville Street in La Jolla that day realized that on the streets of its namesake town in western Illinois, veterans’ organizations and high school bands were marching in the Smiles Day Grand Parade.
Visitors to the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego’s La Jolla facility, which occupies the former home of Ellen Browning Scripps, presumably didn’t know that in Ms. Scripps’s previous hometown, another contemporary art institution, The HUB Arts and Cultural Center, was presenting an original exhibition about its community’s annual Smiles Day in conjunction with this year’s iteration of the festival, “100 Years of Scripps Park Smiles.”
In summary: residents of La Jolla, California, might not be aware that some of their city’s foremost amenities stem from innovations that began in a small town almost 1,600 miles away with a population of just over 3,000 people.
The Scripps family, renowned for its monumental contributions to journalism, began its first newspaper, The Prairie Telegraph—still operating today as The Rushville Times—in the mid-1800s in Rushville. From there, members of the family migrated to Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, and southern California, founding the first national-scale newspaper chain in the United States (Scripps-McRae, later Scripps-Howard) and an influential wire service (United Press International). Ellen Browning Scripps was instrumental in the development of the feature article as a genre of journalism.
Rushville history enters the spotlight
The impact of innovations originating from Rushville reverberates from coast to coast, but Rushville’s innovative spirit manifests itself just as vibrantly within the community’s own boundaries—nowhere more so than at The HUB Arts and Cultural Center.
That’s why Spark! Places of Innovation, a traveling exhibition presented by Illinois Humanities and the Smithsonian Institution, focuses on The HUB, making Rushville one of 30 communities nationwide—including seven in Illinois—featured in the exhibition as examples of small towns where innovation enhances the economy and quality of life.
Spark! Places of Innovation, the latest feature of Illinois Humanities’ Museum on Main Street program, will be on display at The HUB from October 21 to November 25. Read more about The HUB in our Grantee Partner Spotlight, and plan your visit to Spark! in Rushville.
Exhibiting generations of art and performance in Schuyler County
Accompanying Spark! will be an exhibition curated by The HUB’s founder and director, Erin Eveland, exploring Rushville’s robust tradition of organized artistic activity.
“The thing about Schuyler County,” of which Rushville is the county seat, “is that they have this very long history of supporting the arts,” Erin explained.
The companion exhibition will profile organizations—some still active, others not—that have contributed to that tradition since the mid-20th century: the Schuyler Arts Council, the Schuyler Singers, Farwell House, Pandora’s Playhouse, and several dance studios.
“The overarching theme for it is, ‘Why not here?’,” Erin noted.
Erin carefully studied the featured organizations’ archival materials, such as printed programs, and conducted interviews with many of their members. She came away impressed with their long-term dedication and the caliber of their achievements.
“They thanked me for bringing back all of their memories about the events that they did. I was really grateful to hear them say that,” she commented. “I was surprised at how passionate they still were about the things that they had accomplished and the things that they still want to see happening in our community. They’re grateful that there are still people doing the work that they started.”
A critical hub for arts and culture
The HUB has furthered and expanded upon the tradition that the exhibition supplementing Spark! will document. Upon opening its doors six years ago, it added a substantial visual-arts component to a local milieu in which performing arts were flourishing but opportunities to learn skills and exhibit work in media such as painting and sculpture had been limited in recent years. The HUB has fulfilled the previously underrecognized potential for synergy among local cultural institutions ranging from the Schuyler Jail Museum to the Princess Theater, resulting in pooling of resources, productive exchanges of knowledge and ideas, and interdisciplinary projects that comprise more than the sum of their parts.
“I think we really brought a new level to the community with our partnerships,” Erin observed. “We cooperate with all of the different organizations that we can.”
The HUB also seeks to engage the community’s growing population of French-speaking African immigrants. It has translated many of its exhibition texts into French. In 2019, the center presented “Arts Kuba,” a remarkable exhibition of works by artist Albert Bope, who lived in Rushville at the time, and his ancestors. Bope’s father was artist-in-residence for the king of Kuba, a long-established nation situated within the present-day Democratic Republic of Congo. The exhibition featured carved wooden masks, sculptures, and weavings representing Kuba’s widely admired artistic traditions.
The HUB has demonstrated its commitment to, and centrality within, the community and region—in a variety of other ways, as well. One is by serving as the anchor partner in Illinois Humanities’ Foreground Rural Initiative’s western regional hub. (Yes, The HUB is the anchor of the hub. Try not to let that confuse you.) Another is by offering take-home activity kits and online classes throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.
Still another is by producing “A Day of Smiles,” a thoroughly researched exhibition tracing the evolution of Rushville’s distinctive annual festival. Initiated in 1919 to honor veterans returning home from World War I, Smiles Day has doubled as Rushville-Industry High School’s homecoming celebration since 1967.
“They just go all-out. It’s the happiest day in Rushville, and everybody loves it,” said Erin.
Everybody seems to love The HUB’s exhibition about it, too. Curated by Erin and fabricated by her husband, Jason, a graphic designer with Dot Foods in nearby Mount Sterling, “A Day of Smiles” will remain on display until October 13, just eight days before the opening of Spark! and the center’s companion exhibition.
“There are some really talented people in our community who want to share their gifts with the community and want to bring a high level of quality to the events and things that they do,” Erin observed.
That sounds like an apt description of Erin herself and the artists and volunteers at The HUB, as folks in Rushville, throughout Illinois, and—who knows?—maybe as far away as La Jolla, California, will learn when they encounter Spark! Places of Innovation.
About Spark! Places of Innovation
Spark! Places of Innovation, the newest Museum on Main Street exhibition from the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service and Illinois Humanities, will tour Illinois from June 17, 2023, to March 29, 2024. Organizations in seven communities statewide will host the exhibition and will produce companion exhibitions and public programs relating the subject matter of Spark! to their own local history and culture. Visit Spark! in a town near you!