Paul Krainak, chair of the art department at Bradley University, leads the IVSC in this mission.
An Illinois native himself, Krainak came to Bradley in 2006 after spending time in Chicago; New York City; Knoxville, Tennessee; and Morgantown, West Virginia; his experiences having left him keenly attuned to the regional differences that comprise America's "melting pot" of culture.
It's the subtleties of the Midwestern landscape that are "absolutely, profoundly beautiful," Krainak
From Kansas City to Minneapolis to Chicago, the Midwest has been a "phenomenally productive" place, says Krainak
, not only in manufacturing and agriculture, but also in the arts.
As the IVSC
examines the nature of what qualifies conceptually as "Midwestern," its intent is not to imply a universal aesthetic, but to place the region into a broader context, shining a light into corners that may have been neglected by the dominant arbiters of modern culture.
"We tend to focus on coastal culture almost exclusively, whether it's popular culture or fine art, and that's a problem," he
"The work we tend to present as the 'finest' and the 'greatest' tends to be work that is the most marketable… That's what keeps the Midwest a little off the radar."
Artists gravitate to New York or Los Angeles not because those cities are inherently richer culturally, but simply because "that's where the markets are," says Krainak
cites several examples of contributions to American culture that were born and bred in the Midwest.
"If you think of the two most profound, culture-changing movements that have occurred in the United States, it's our architecture and our music, specifically blues and jazz," he
Architecture, in particular, offers a great model for visual production, Krainak
The same abstracted sensibilities can be found in Krainak's
own paintings, which employ clean, simple lines in grid-like patterns, not unlike an architectural draft.
"In the Midwest, my relationship to nature is nowhere near as profound as it is to architecture," he
continues, "because that's what I interact with, that's what influences me.
"Globalism is only productive if there are numerous cultural zones that are healthy and self-sustaining," says Krainak
, likening visual culture to agriculture.
"We don't have cultural heroes in the same sense as when I was growing up," Krainak
"It's niche culture," Krainak
cites the Prairie Center of the Arts
and its artist-in-residence program as one model of how to develop this type of cultural exchange.
"They have artists and writers and musicians coming in from numerous countries and all over the United States," he
"They've created a national audience for Peoria.
That does a great deal for people here-to see what's happening outside the Midwest-and it also supports artists here in Peoria."
In the end, whether you're talking art or economics, it's all about identity.
"We have to acknowledge that we're a country made up of a lot of cultural zones that are different in sensibility and inspiration from one another," says Krainak