Dear Arts Enthusiasts,
What a gorgeous month in the Rockford Region. I don’t think the landscape of Rockford has ever looked so good in early October as it does this year! I’ve been biking to work on a new e-bike, trying to walk-the-walk a bit. It has been a glorious experience that would make a better start to anyone’s day—a little hard breathing, sunshine and vitamin D, wind in the hair (through the helmet), and taking in the beauty of the Rock River.
The Arts & Culture Sector is vibrating with end-of-summer productions, events, and announcements: Screw City Steel was installed at Davis Park, SOMNIUM—a must-see, another Rockford Symphony Orchestra candidate vying for conductorship of our fabulous orchestra, Artists’ Ensemble 2022/2023 season opens soon, with a special production of Julie and Jane at the Cheek Theatre (Rockford University), next weekend, 10/14 + 15! Fall ArtScene is also October 14 + 15, ART FOR IMPACT submissions are due…awarding local artists over $150K for public art proposals, Poet Laureate/Youth Poet Nominations are OPEN, and Access Grant submissions have until November to submit!

On a more somber note, the Arts Council has a dear friend to honor. This month, our arts community mourns the passing of Bruce McDonald. Former Arts Council Executive Sharon Nesbit-Davis shares a tender reflection on working with Bruce over the years:

Bruce McDonald, my dear friend, and Co-Director for ArtsPlace, passed away on Sunday. He was quiet without being shy, deeply reflective with a surprising sense of humor. He was my rock at ArtsPlace (youth apprenticeship program of the Rockford Area Arts Council). Bruce had the qualities I looked for in a teaching artist: An artist who was exceptional in their artistry, and dedicated to teaching in a respectful and loving way that encouraged and empowered the students. Bruce did all that and more.

One year our budget was slashed and we needed to be creative. I had a crazy idea. I asked Bruce if he would co-direct with me. I didn’t want to lose him as an artist. I wanted him to continue teaching the Print making team AND organize the visual arts teams. I would do the basic admin for the program and coordinate the performing arts teams. He thought for a moment, shrugged his shoulders and smiled. Neither of us were sure it could work, but it did! And we continued co-directing for the next 16 years.

At our initial staff planning meeting each year, Bruce arrived early so we had time to talk. Not about the program, but about how we were doing, which always morphed into our families. His eyes lit up when he talked about his wife, Deborah. They continued to stay lit as he talked about the kids, and in time, the grandkids.
Two African proverbs:
“Happy is the man who is happy with his children”
“A man is not dead until he is forgotten”

Bruce was (and is) a happy man…who will be cherished and remembered.
Thank you, Bruce, for everything. -Sharon

The Cultural Plan challenge continues. We are reaching out to our community partners and YOU for support. I am asking you to engage with the Arts Council as we move into the next challenging period of time with countless opportunities for collaboration, innovative enrichment, and planning!
How will YOU engage with the arts in the next few months?
I hope to see you at an arts-related event soon!
Mary McNamara Bernsten
Executive Director

ART FOR IMPACT is a new Arts Council program focused on public art opportunities for local artists–from murals to performances, to three-dimensional art installments…ART FOR IMPACT currently hosts opportunities for local artists. ART FOR IMPACT objectives:
o Bolster neighborhood pride
o Create a sense of place, community, and belonging
o Develop public art that draws the attention of residents + visitors
o Reflect the values and priorities of the Rockford Region—diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging
• Arts Council Action Grants and AAccess Grants open next week! Action Grants are available to individual artists and organizations, the deadline is 10/31/22; Access Grants provide up to $2500 in funding for 501c3 organizations providing creative programs + events in our community, the deadline is 11/16/22.
Grants to support artists who have been at work for 20+ years, or who have been at work for 10+ years and who are experiencing a crisis, NO DEADLINE
o City of Rockford’s Business First Program is a comprehensive business advisory panel with the City’s experts–once a month!
o LIST of entrepreneur/small business resources from Transform Rockford

Arts and Culture Orgs

• What is it?
o A clearing house of all things arts and culture
o Arts Instruction Directory–visual, dance, theatre, and music
o Resource Directory for arts enrichment–places to go, things to do
• Who is it for?
o YOU–organizations–and individual artists
• Why does it exist?
o To provide the Rockford Region with arts instruction and cultural resources
• How do I register? HERE…NOW!
Other Stuff to Consider:
• Arts Council Action Grants and Access Grants open next week! Action Grants are available to individual artists and organizations, the deadline is 10/31/22; Access Grants provide up to $2500 in funding for 501c3 organizations providing creative programs + events in our community, the deadline is 11/16/22.
• Quarterly Meetings: Arts and Culture Sector individuals and organizations meet quarterly–if you’d like to join us, please email me at–You can represent yourself or a group you’re a part of.
Rockford Area Cultural Plan: The Arts Council continues its journey to fund a dynamic cultural plan for the Rockford Region. The Arts Council’s RIGHT TIME | RIGHT PLACE: Cultural Plan partners include the City of Rockford, Winnebago County, Transform Rockford, RACVB, R1, the Rockford Park District, Northern Illinois Center for Nonprofit Excellence, and local legislators. Please add your name to the list!

For the Public

Introduction of our new staff member…
Rhiannon Yandell, Office Manager
I’m Rhiannon and I was born and raised in Rockford. My family has always been heavily involved in the local art scene and I’m so happy to be a part of the Rockford Area Arts Council team! In addition to being an artist, I also teach adult and kids yoga classes and am a mother of two crazy kids. In my free time, you’ll find me reading. I typically finish five books each week and I love British detective novels.

A new member of the Rockford Area Arts Council team, Rhiannon is also a Resident Artist and the Business and Technology Manager at 317 Art Collective, a member of the Greenwich Village Art Fair Steering Committee, and a Registered Yoga Teacher. With a background in Informatics and IT, Rhiannon is thrilled to have an opportunity to use her skillset to support and serve the Rockford arts community.

Introduction of our new staff member…
Aria Childers, Program Coordinator
My name is Aria, and I’m so excited to be a part of the Rockford Area Arts Council! While I didn’t grow up here, Rockford has been my home since 2015. I love this city, and I’m so grateful to continue to build relationships and serve people in our community. On any given day, you can find me chasing around my silly and strong-willed toddler son, staying active and getting outside, or spending time with loved ones!

Aria is an invested Rockford local, and a new member of the Rockford Area Arts Council team! With experience and a background in community engagement, communications, and programming, she’s excited to serve the existing Rockford arts community while breaking down barriers, inspiring new creatives, and encouraging engagement in the arts in our area.

Keep up with what’s happening…we want to see you!

• The Arts Council is moving ahead with a Rockford Region Cultural Plan. We need your help to socialize this idea of a shared vision for our region–opportunity mapping, public art strategy, neighborhood heritage installations, and more will be included in the plans. If you are interested in being a part of this initiative, please email for more information.
Screw City Steel: This project was recently installed at Davis Park–check out Kevin Haas’s article in the Rock River Current! Screw City Steel is a biennial community impact initiative with regional artists submitting proposals to paint industrial steel doors in alignment with the theme of YOU BELONG HERE.
• Arts Council Action Grants are available now–up to $500 in unrestricted funding for individual artists–due October 31!
• The Arts Council is in the planning stages for NEA ARP Subgranting ART FOR IMPACT applications; the Arts Council is one of 3 Illinois organizations, and one of 66 organizations nationwide, to receive National Endowment for the Arts-American Relief Plan Subgrant funds. Artist submissions are open NOW!

You can support our region’s arts and culture groups in three ways:
1. We need to know what you need from us…Please contact your favorite arts + culture organizations and voice your concerns and contribute your ideas.
2. We need your support; support comes in many forms–membership and renewals, attendance at events/performances, volunteer, and social media attention are simple steps you can take to make a lasting impact.
3. Additionally, you can purchase season tickets, register for upcoming classes, investigate summer instruction for you and/or your child, plan a trip to a museum, attend a concert etc!
Contact Arts Organizations in the Rockford Area
Music Academy of Rockford, Rockford Dance Company, Rockford Art Museum, Rockford Symphony Orchestra, Friends of the Coronado, Artists’ Ensemble, Pec Play House, Nielsen Chorale, RACVB, District 205’s Fine Arts, Rockford Writer’s Guild, Rockford Art Guild, Womanspace, West Side Show Room, Mendelssohn Performing Arts Center, Starlight Theatre, 317 Art Collective, Underground Art Gallery, Usual Suspects, New Genres, Phantom Regiment, Domingos en el Parque

Thank you, friends of the Arts Council, for a mission-filled September + October!