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What value can you assign to the vibrancy of a community? How do you quantify the positive impact that accessible arts and culture creates in the vitality of our daily lives?

In Champaign County, efforts to provide opportunities for local artists while also creating free programming for the public are the driving goals behind 40 North | 88 West, the Champaign County Arts Council. This 501(c)(3) organization is staffed by one person, Executive Director Kelly White, and is supported by a working board of directors and volunteer committees.

It's always rewarding to hear from those who have been positively impacted by 40 North. At a Champaign City Council meeting this past December, numerous artists provided public comment on the opportunities they've received through 40 North, many stating that they chose to live and retire here because of the tremendous support and programs offered.

Every Friday night from the Friday after Memorial Day to the Friday before Labor Day, we as a community benefit from a program that has shaped the vibrancy of downtown Champaign, Friday Night Live.

This program, originally started as Art & Sol by 40 North in 2009, was a once-a-month offering to drive traffic to downtown while also providing opportunities for performing artists to showcase their art.

At the request of the city of Champaign, feedback from community members and increased attendance each year, the program grew to a whopping 13 weeks of nonstop entertainment on four corners in the downtown area, where more than 110 bands performed (and were compensated) in 2018.

Each week, Kelly books a minimum of eight bands alongside a children's activity before heading out that Friday to ensure equipment is available, sponsorship signage is in place, bands are set up and the evening is captured on film.

40 North has exceeded all expectations in driving traffic to downtown Champaign, where countless businesses benefit, increasing food and beverage tax to the city and providing vitality to all citizens of the Champaign-Urbana community.

Friday Night Live is just one of the many programs offered by 40 North. Since January of 2019, the organization has held its annual fundraiser, Untitled; coordinated Poetry Out Loud, a high school recitation program; held the Eric Show, a high school art show featuring more than 20 public and private area schools; issued calls for artists for MTD Art, Sky Gallery, the Blind Pig Brewery and Busey; and hosted and installed two art shows at 40 Point One, the gallery space provided in-kind by Consolidated Communications.

Last but not least, 40 North also pulled off another successful Boneyard Arts Festival this April, with more than 100 venues across Champaign County featuring several hundred local artists.

Taxes collected within our municipalities increase because of 40 North programming. Local businesses benefit when they embrace these programs, host local artists and support the programs that bring residents to their door.

Our employers benefit by touting the vibrancy of arts in our community in order to recruit and retain talent. Our residents benefit by being exposed — at no cost — to art of all kinds, enriching our lives and bringing joy whether it's by seeing art on a billboard or a free performance on a Friday night.

The impact of this organization cannot be understated.

It's time we determine what value we place on the vibrancy of arts in our community. It's time to bring together our community and corporate stakeholders to financially support the organization that provides so much to our livelihood. It's time for us all to ask ourselves: What is the value of art and culture in my life and how can I support an organization that dedicates every day to ensuring we have a vibrant place to call home?

For more information on 40 North, visit Or stop in to 17 E. Taylor St. in downtown Champaign and meet the one-woman-show who makes it all happen.

The executive committee of the 40 North | 88 West Board of Directors comprises Carly McCrory, president; Robb Springfield, vice president; Jan Troutt, secretary; Terri Reifsteck, treasurer; and Ellen Kirsanoff, past president.