When Cecilia Green moved from Kansas to Bartlett, one question kept popping up in her head.
Where's the art scene?
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Back in the early 2000s, there were no studios. No gallery. No festivals.
Green and others looking for a venue for Bartlett artists began tossing around ideas in their home basements.
Fast forward from that humble start, and the founders of Arts in Bartlett are preparing for a long-awaited move to the downtown's marquee development.
In October, the nonprofit group plans to open in a former hair salon in Town Center on Main Street and Railroad Avenue.
"It will give us a lot more energy and a lot more ways to serve the community with new and innovative projects," Green said.
Town Center, a mix of condos and retailers supported by an old tax increment financing district, has struggled to fill vacancies. And plans for two condo buildings died in the economic slump.
But the arrival of Arts in Bartlett and several new restaurants means Town Center is turning a corner, Economic Development Coordinator Tony Fradin said.
Marco's Pizza debuted earlier this year. Next door, the owners of D'licious have signed a lease but have not set an opening date. The restaurant will offer halal French and Indian cuisine, with meats prepared according to Islamic dietary rules.
Arts in Bartlett will head to a 2,750-square-foot space that has stood vacant since the height of the recession.
Counting all three, 62 percent of the storefronts are occupied, up from 40 percent.
"We're very pleased that Town Center is starting to gain some good occupancies there," Fradin said. "That's really what the village envisioned when the Town Center project commenced."
Fradin chalked up the momentum to more affordable rent and new property owners, who took over the site about 18 months ago and hired Buffalo Grove-based Horizon Realty Services to market vacancies.
Nearby shops and eateries are hoping Arts in Bartlett draws its 220-plus members and visitors to its gallery, gift shop and studios.
"It's a win-win-win," Fradin said. "It's good for Arts in Bartlett to expand into a more visible location, a nice walkable location. It's a win for the village because Arts in Bartlett can have a presence in the downtown area. It's a win for the Town Center as well."
Arts in Bartlett, Green says, has outgrown its 1,300-square-foot space, sandwiched between a dentist and a law office downtown. Membership has tripled in recent years, driven in large part by youngsters craving classes as schools cut back on the arts.
The new site will allow the volunteer-run group to expand its offerings. Artists have already snapped up five of the six studios in the works.
The group also will carve out a space for live performances. Green envisions the return of open mic nights on Fridays, plus concerts by resident cellist Dorothy Deen and the Bartlett International Chorus, known for its inclusion of seniors and a diverse repertoire.
This month, Arts in Bartlett will launch a fundraising campaign for a new website and cosmetic changes to the Town Center site, at 215 S. Main St. The group has raised roughly half of a $20,000 goal for the improvements there.
Although Arts in Bartlett has long coveted a bigger space, Spartan Consulting helped fine-tune that direction. The team of Elgin Community College students earns class credit by providing consulting services to nonprofits, and in late 2013, encouraged Arts in Bartlett to pack its bags.
"If you're just staying with the status quo, especially in the arts, you're not going to succeed," Green said. "People will lose interest in you. Innovation is the lifeblood of the arts."