The nature of art, in all its forms, is to widen perspectives and help people connect with one another. Twenty-five years ago, leaders at Elgin Community College made a bold move to create a visual and performing arts center that would become a creative hub for the region and bring people together.
“Elgin Community College really is the cultural gem of the Fox Valley,” said Mary Hatch, dean of liberal, visual, and performing arts. “Over the years, we’ve sought to diversify our offerings and engage those who weren’t necessarily involved in the arts.”
By offering robust visual and performing arts educational programs, including musical theatre, plays, sculpture, printmaking, painting, photography, and music ensembles, in addition to establishing strong relationships with the broader arts community, the college serves as a conduit for artistic expression.
Community groups, such as Ballet Folklórico Huehuecoyotl (now BFH), a Mexican folkloric dance group, and Hamilton Wings, which promotes leadership development and academic readiness for children through access to the arts, have found a welcoming stage at the ECC Arts Center. The Elgin Symphony Orchestra (ESO) and the Elgin Youth Symphony Orchestra (EYSO), both community-based, nonprofit organizations, originated as ECC music classes.
In addition to classes, rehearsals, and art exhibits, an average of 270 performances take place in the college’s three theatre spaces each year. As many as 35,000 patrons visit from 300 different ZIP codes and 20 states, drawing attention and financially contributing to both the college and the community.
“Thousands of performers have cut their teeth right here in Elgin, and if you plotted their locations now on a map, they would show up all over the country,” said Steve Duchrow, senior director of performing arts since 2006. “People enjoy the ECC Arts Center and come to us from throughout the region.”
Just in time for its silver anniversary, the Arts Center underwent extensive remodeling, from new seating and carpeting to energy-efficient lighting —all to enhance the experience for guests. An October 2019 ribbon-cutting introduced the renovated space to the public and honored people who have supported its growth.
Duchrow sees the arts as a transformative experience. Performers succeed and fail together, all in front of an audience. “You are all part of the same team,” Duchrow said. “The audience provides feedback during a performance through their reactions and can spur performers on to success.” In the process, everyone learns more about themselves and, hopefully, it makes them better citizens.
Many familiar faces fill the theatre seats each season. Among them are people such as John Duffy, current and longest-serving ECC trustee; Peter Akemann, community leader; Polly Nash, former ECC dean; and Paul Dawson, former employee; who were part of the Arts Center’s planning and construction—a bold and visionary act, according to Duchrow, who notes that these four visionaries are still among the first in line for tickets.
“Art is meaningless without community,” said Duchrow. It’s this sense of community that helps the Arts Center stay innovative and makes ECC a cultural destination for the region.
Harry and Phyllis Blizzard: A Gift to ECC
Twenty-five years ago, Harry and Phyllis Blizzard’s significant gift to Elgin Community College helped fund the construction of the Blizzard Theatre—and far more. Their donation resulted in the Harry and Phyllis Blizzard Endowed Fund for the Arts that has continued to ensure top-notch facilities and equipment for years to come, including a recently restored Steinway grand piano.