Roz Long believes Elmhurst has the potential to become an elite cultural arts destination in the Chicago area.
Long, an Elmhurst resident for 38 years, is the founder and organizer of Art in the Park, which celebrated its 20th year this summer, and the annual Wilder Mansion’s Holiday Market, which recently completed its fifth version.
Midwest artists attend these shows to sell original work, including painting, photography, jewelry, glass, ceramics, sculpture and other fine arts and crafts.
In its 20 years of existence, Art in the Park has become part of Elmhurst’s identity. Every summer since Long started the show, Wilder Park transforms into an art market attended by thousands of people.
“There are not a lot of places to buy art in Elmhurst or even in the western suburbs,” Long said. “That is why [the art shows] are very successful.”
About 10,000 people attended the latest installment of Art in the Park, which featured more than 100 artists.
“It was one of my better shows,” Long said. “It was one of my favorite shows so far.”
Even though Long has made a career out of forming relationships with artists and promoting their craft, she is not a trained artist or a business woman. She found herself in the middle of the art world almost by accident.
With a bachelor’s degree in elementary education, a master’s in special education and another one in counseling, Long previously worked in high school and colleges, both as a teacher and a counselor.
“I loved working with kids with disabilities, but that wasn’t fulfilling enough, so I started counseling troubled kids who were very gifted in the arts,” Long said. “I thought, ‘Boy, I would really love to do something for these kids and get them involved with the arts.’”
One day, the Elmhurst resident attended a jewelry party and met an artist who asked her to be her representative. Long was surprised at the request because she was neither a promoter nor had any experience selling art. Nonetheless, she seized the opportunity to enter the professional art world.
“I ended up becoming a wearable art representative,” Long said. “It grew from there, I took on more artists and became very successful with it.”
Long said she used her artistic instinct and people skills to get into galleries and boutiques that sold fine art, eventually curating a gallery show in Elmhurst. After that show, former City Centre Director Pat Zubak asked if she would be interested in producing an art show in the city.
She jumped on that opportunity and created an art show on York Street with 40 artists that was attended by 500 people.
“It was rough trying to get 40 artists for a first show,” Long said. “Artists do not like to do first-year shows because they don’t know if it’s going to flop or not.”
The show didn’t flop and instead has grown every year. And she continues to attract new names and faces. This year more than 2,000 people visited the two-day Wilder Mansion Holiday Market.
“I really did think that at this time in my life, at the 20th [Art in the Park], I would retire,” Long said. “I’m just enjoying the ride. When I’m 80 years old, I think I might still be doing it.”
Besides the two annual art shows, Long and her team at RGL Marketing for the Arts also teach artists how to market their art. Additionally, they curate gallery shows and events such as Arte at Nite, an evening art walk around local Elmhurst businesses.
Long is working on her second book, a top-10 list of the best art shows in the Chicago area, and she continues to look for ways to further the arts in the community.
“My vision is to keep growing with my venues,” Long said. “I’d like to get more involved with the city, to get them more involved, to create more of an artist community in this town.”
Long is convinced there is an opportunity to attract more people to Elmhurst through arts and culture, but she recognizes she can’t do it on her own.
“My next dream would be to make this a cultural arts destination, not just twice a year,” she said. “I think that probably developing some kind of art council would be the way to go.”
The time to push this initiative is now, according to Long, because the city is in the midst of developments that are expected to attract more businesses and people to town.
“You’re bringing new people [to Elmhurst] with high end demographics and I just hope we can re-energize the arts,” Long said.