Melissa Merli: Artist wants to help drive creativity

Melissa Merli: Artist wants to help drive creativity

Bill Longfellow thinks everyone's creative.

Not just the "exceptional" person who devotes hundreds of hours to master his or her art. He believes everyone who raises a family and just gets through life makes creative decisions every day.

Longfellow is a Champaign artist who has made things his entire life. In July, he founded the Institute for Creativity, a loft-like school and exhibition/performance space in downtown Champaign.

"Creativity is misunderstood," he told me the other day on my first visit to the place. "It's fundamental to us as human beings but you can't get a degree in creativity."

He believes four things drive creativity: experience, knowledge, skills and motivation.

He wants I4C to develop those in students.

Toward that goal, the I4C, on the second floor of 111 S. Walnut St., will offer classes in a variety of subjects, for families and youths. Some start Monday; others in a week or so.

They include a design lab for kids, women's massage, West African drumming — and Adobe Photoshop and design for branding, self-promotion and business.

Also, creative writing and visual journaling — I wouldn't mind taking that. And drawing and design for comics, posters and fashion design.

There's even a 3-D Modeling and Virtual Design Club. And introduction to jazz guitar, plus jazz theory and improvisation. And a course on French culture in C-U(!) and France's Versailles.

I4C will offer an after-school youth center, with activities for kids age 13 to 17 who enroll in the I4C classes, including independent study. It will meet from 3 to 6 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, starting this week.

It's not free. Longfellow has worked at organizations that offered free after-school programs, and parents ended up using them as baby-sitting services, he said.

He has nine instructors including himself; more are coming on board.

One is Nick Lake, who has an art education degree from the University of Illinois and worked for five years as an art teacher in public schools.

I've never met Nick, who's 41, but know his father, Don. I took several art courses from the elder Lake at Parkland College in the 1990s, and I can say he's one of the best.

Because his son is involved in I4C, Don Lake told me his thinking might be a little colored on Longfellow's new project. But he said he thinks it's wonderful — that there's a need for community-based arts courses like the ones I4C offers.

Don Lake agreed with me that Longfellow — I chatted with him for an hour or so about I4C and creativity — is long on theory.

"But I think in practice the thing will be a good resource for the community, assuming they can get it up and running," he said. "I think any initiative like this is hard to get moving."

Longfellow, who with two partners designed the concept and interior of Big Grove Tavern in Champaign, remodeled the 3,100 square feet of I4C. He used as many recycled materials as he could.

The space includes an office, an exhibition/performance area and six rooms for workshops and classes.

It's raw, with concrete floors and the like. But that allows students to get messy and try new things.

"I learned the value of a creative space early on," Longfellow said, mentioning a studio he rented for $75 a month above the Esquire Lounge when he studied art at Parkland on a $1,000 Rotary Club scholarship.

From there he went to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, graduating with a bachelor's in fine arts.

For I4C course descriptions, visit Longfellow's email is

Coming up at I4C

What: "People, Places & Things," featuring photographs by Roger J. Inman, W.T. Payne and I4C collaborator Jessica Lewis Watson

When: Opening reception 7 to 9 p.m. Saturday with live music by Flatville Ditch; viewing hours 3 to 8 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and 1 to 4 p.m. Saturdays through Feb. 15

Where: Institute for Creativity, second floor, 111 S. Walnut St., C

Admission: Free

Don't get Down

I hope newbies to Brit period drama "Downtown Abbey" weren't disappointed by the first episode last week. A friend and I agree it was a "tad boring," but I'm sure writer Julian Fellowes has some exciting things in store.

SSG, again

The sublime bassist Larry Gray, who's a UI jazz faculty member, performed earlier this month in concert in Evanston with famed jazz-fusion guitarist Larry Coryell.

You can hear the jazz trio of SSG: Gray and equally talented UI Professors Chip Stephens, pianist, and Joel Spencer, drummer, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays every two weeks at The Iron Post in Urbana for $5.

News-Gazette staff writer Melissa Merli can be reached at 351-5367 or Her blog is at

Topics (1):Art