After hearing people say they couldn't find the Indi Go Artist Co-op, Jim Barham decided to do something about it.
He had its facade at 9 E. University Ave., C, lit up. Big time. With indigo blue LED lights.
SeanMurphyLIGHTS, which designed the lighting for the storefront, had the blue LED fixtures custom-made for the facade as well as a warm white LED fixture for the steel beam and decorative cast-iron rosettes that cross the middle of the facade.
The lights are set to an astronomical time clock, meaning they turn on at sunset year-round.
"They turn off at 3 a.m. so all the folks coming home from their night out have an opportunity to see it," Murphy said.
I drove by Tuesday night to see it.
It looks fantastic. The rosettes really pop.
To help pay for the project, Barham took advantage of the city of Champaign Storefront Improvement Program.
Using TIF (tax increment financing) money, the program pays for 50 percent of the cost of first-floor improvements and 25 percent of upper-floor facade renovations.
The Storefront Improvement Program was the idea of T.J. Blakeman, implementation planner for the city. The program started a year ago and recently was funded for its second fiscal year, which started July 1.
An entire new storefront is being constructed there for a new restaurant-bar. The former Vriners next door will receive the same treatment, he said.
Other grant recipients during the first year were Christopher's Fine Jewelry and Dandelion. They plan to build balconies on upper floors and a storefront for a new retail space between Christopher's and Specialty Stamp & Coin on Taylor Street.
The Storefront Improvement Program is intended for all sorts of facade improvements and restorations, not just lighting. But Blakeman likes what SeanMurphyLIGHTS did at Indi Go.
"It's going to really help anchor that block," he said. "Indi Go becomes a lot more visible on University Avenue, which is great not only for Indi Go but the businesses that surround it.
"I would love to see all the businesses on University Avenue in that area take advantage of it."
Barham, owner of Barham Benefit Group, an insurance brokerage firm, started Indi Go on a whim during the 2009 Boneyard Arts Festival to provide a sculptor friend with a place to show his work.
At first, he rented the bi-level space. Then, in late 2012, Barham bought the building.
Shortly after that, Blakeman told Barham about the Storefront Improvement Program. Barham knew Murphy, who has designed lighting for theater and dance programs here, mainly at the Parkland Theatre and Krannert Center for the Performing Arts.
(You've likely seen SeanMurphyLIGHTS designs at other places, too: KoFusion, Big Grove Tavern, Destihl, Dublin O'Neil's and 301 Mongolia, all close by in downtown Champaign.)
Before moving here 13 years ago, Murphy worked at large architectural lighting firm in New York. In recent years, his company, based in downtown Champaign, has concentrated on commercial and residential lighting design.
Barham considers Indi Go more of a community center than art gallery. With that in mind, he does not charge rent from artists, musicians and other groups who use the venue.
He does charge a 25 percent commission on pieces sold there. If the proceeds are designated for a charity, Barham gives his commissions to the charity.
Indi Go puts on several shows and events each month.
"We want to give as many artists a chance to show as possible, but also we found usually after the first opening night or special performance that the traffic goes down," Barham said. "I also kind of joke that I have ADD (attention deficit disorder), so I keep it moving." More information about the program is available on the web site at www.hmhid.com.