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New CityLink bus wrap celebrates Black culture and diversity in Peoria

The bus wrap highlights the Illinois River and the architecture found in Peoria
ArtsPartners of Central Illinois
The bus wrap highlights the Illinois River and the architecture found in Peoria.

In honor of Juneteenth, a CityLink bus sporting a new wrap celebrating diversity and Black culture in Peoria will soon be driving around the River City.

Doug Roelfs is the General Manager of CityLink
Doug Roelfs is the General Manager of CityLink

That’s according to general manager of CityLink, Doug Roelfs, who said he wants to use the buses for more than just private advertising.

“I think this was a way for us to kind of get it out there to the public, a little bit more about what Juneteenth is all about,” Roelfs said.

Juneteenth marks the day in 1865 when some of the last enslaved Americans learned they had been freed. It became a state holiday in Illinois in 2021.

The initiative came together with the help of ArtsPartners of Central Illinois. Executive Director Mae Gilliland Wright said ArtsPartners worked to connect CityLink with local artists in the area.

“I thought this would be a perfect fit for the Peoria Guild of Black Artists (PGOBA),” said Gilliland Wright. “Then the folks at CityLink…ultimately ended up providing a stipend for three artists to create a comprehensive idea for what this wrap might look like. And then at the end of that process, Brenda was chosen as the artist. Her design is incredible, and I cannot wait for the public to see it.”

Artist Brenda Pagan of PGOBA created the design that wowed the panel of four CityLink representatives, including Roelfs, and which will ultimately be installed on bus 2245. A Peoria native and graduate of Illinois Central College, Pagan is a visual artist who dabbles in a variety of mediums, like sculpting, painting and now digital work.

“I'm not actually a digital artist…I mean, I've worked with digital drawings and paintings, but I have never taken graphic design to make a larger-scale image. I kind of had to figure out Adobe Illustrator,” Pagan explained.

Brenda Pagan is a member of the Peoria Guild of Black Artists (PGOBA)
Brenda Pagan
Brenda Pagan is a member of the Peoria Guild of Black Artists (PGOBA)

Not only did Pagan learn a new platform, but she said the bus dimensions and doors were an added challenge to the already large-scale work. Though it was a big task, Pagan said she finished the design in roughly two weeks.

“I wanted to create sort of a peaceful, pastoral sort of landscape, but also involve old buildings from the river valley and where CityLink is. So, I chose buildings that represented different sorts of parts of life in Peoria,” said Pagan.

The theme of growth is always an inspiration in her artwork, Pagan said, whether related to the earth itself, or people growing into who they are. And the City of Peoria has seen a lot of growth and change in the past decade — something Pagan was excited to capture in this Juneteenth=inspired design.

“Just showing the peace, but we're still kind of working towards that, that restfulness,” explained Pagan. “Celebrating history and working towards a more peaceful future…it's a big part of my art, of blackness, of who we are and what we're capable of. And the past that we've overcome and the amazing things that we're doing.”

Gilliland Wright agreed that Pagan’s piece evokes feelings of growth.

“The Illinois River is a key part of it, and you see the river going all the way along the bottom of the bus and then you see all of this lush green surrounding it, as well as the buildings and to me, it's just a wonderful way to celebrate our city,” she said.

Roelfs hopes the community receives the new wrap well.

Portraits 2023
Jeffery Noble
Dr. Mae Gilliland Wright is the Executive Director of ArtsPartners of Central Illinois

“It's the first time that I know of that we've tried something like this, but I think we wanted to bring in something unique and something that probably isn't the forefront of Peoria and maybe give a little spotlight on it,” he explained.

And in the future, Gilliland Wright hopes to see much more public art like this around the city.

“Public art in particular tells a story about what a city values. It tells the story of the city itself,” she said. “When we ask local artists to do these great works, it reflects how they see the city through their eyes…it is chiefly a celebration of Peoria, of black Peoria, but it's also a celebration of the fact that we have incredible artists like Brenda who live in our community, and we are very fortunate in Peoria to have such a thriving arts and culture community.”

Pagan hopes the community feels a sense of joy when the bus is finally unveiled.

“I hope that people see things they recognize. I want it to bring peace. I want it to bring a sort of pride," she said.

The bus will be unveiled on Juneteenth (June 19) at the Minority Business Development Center on Southwest Adams Street in downtown Peoria. The event begins at 10 a.m., and brief remarks are planned from representatives of CityLink, PGOBA, ArtsPartners and the Minority Business Development Center.

Corrected: June 18, 2023 at 12:39 PM CDT
Bus 2245 is getting the new wrap.
Jody Holtz is WCBU's assistant program and development director, All Things Considered host, as well as the producer of WCBU’s arts and culture podcast Out and About.