‘Feed’ing art and culture in Kankakee

Feed Arts & Cultural Center, a lo- cal not-for-profit organization based downtown, took its name from its mission: to feed the creative and cultural facets of Kankakee county.

Feed’s website provides a description of its goals: “To encourage and nurture emerging and established artists and to increase the appreciation and understanding of the arts within the Kankakeeland communities through classes, workshops, outreach, exhibitions, lectures, film screenings and other cultural events.”

The group was founded in 2014 by art students Michael Costanza and Chris Clark, who said, “After completing graduate school, we were looking for a way to use our talents and education to support our community. Eventually, we found a bunch of people to help out, and Feed was born.”

Feed is one of the newest additions to a variety of projects and businesses that are trying to revive downtown Kankakee. Bill Yohnka, a Kankakee native and advocate for the city, is one of the most active leaders of this revival.

He has been closely involved with Feed from the beginning and said, “My hopes for the future of Kankakee are bold, and Feed fits into this in a huge way, because the concept of Feed is so much bigger than the building on Schuyler Avenue. It is about realizing the ambitious creative power that lives in the people here.”

Feed hosts classes and events for the community while also providing a studio space for its member artists, who pay a monthly fee to use the materials and workspace available at Feed’s studio location. Members are also afforded opportunities to exhibit their work and teach classes.

Katie Bretzlaff, a Feed member and art teacher at Bradley Bourbonnais Community High School, said, “It’s a place where people who care about our community come together. The networking that takes place between creative people is tremendous and is changing our community for the better.”

One of Kankakee’s most ambitious development plans, a project that Feed was closely involved in, was the decision to host an artist-in-residence. Brandi Burgess, an actress and artist from New York City, lived in Kankakee for the summer of 2014, shortly after Feed’s opening. She worked closely with local artists in the studio, trying to encourage “growth through creativity.” As an outsider from a big city, Burgess had a different perspective on Feed.

“Kankakee has a great amount of creative talent,” she said. “Feed is really good at helping encourage that talent, and it shows in the projects that are going on in the community.”

While the majority of Feed’s events happen inside the studio, the organization also tries to go out into the community. Feed helped with the marketing and art sides of Merchant Street Music Festival, and they have a close relationship with the Kankakee Public Library, where they often host readings and screen films. Feed members can also be spotted at Perry Farm doing Art in the Park events, which showcase local talent and teach art to children.

Feed has an interactive website with information about member artists, up- coming events, and opportunities to support their cause. The site is updated often, as new things are happening all the time. Feed’s latest endeavor is setting up a scholarship fund for developing artists.

“It feels great to be a part of something positive,” said Clark. “Long term, I hope the Feed movement continues to spread, inspiring others to take a chance on their dreams.”

–Alexandra Van Dehey, contributing writer

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