A new Fourth Fridays event in Tazewell County offers an opportunity to explore art while checking out establishments in neighboring communities.

From 5 to 9 p.m. on the fourth Friday of each month between May and November, artists, businesses and organizations will be partnering to create a unique shopping and entertaining experience in what is being called the Tazewell Art Loop. The public can mingle with local artists, view exhibits and performance demonstrations, listen to live music and explore area shops and restaurants.

“I think it’s going to be a great thing, and I hope people will wander outside of their own towns and learn there are other little shops around and artists nearby that they didn’t know about. It will also give local artists more networking opportunities,” said Shannon Cox, executive director of the Pekin Academy of Fine Arts.

Cox came up with the Fourth Fridays idea after participating in Peoria’s First Fridays event in which artists open their studios to the public.

“It was hard for artists and the public to go to both Pekin and Peoria during First Fridays, so we came up with the idea of having our own on the fourth Friday of the month so people could do both if they wanted to,” Cox said.

Recently, Cox teamed up with Rose Hubbard, owner of Jefferson Street Studio and Gallery in Morton, and the two women asked the Pekin and Morton Chambers of Commerce to help organize the Fourth Friday events because of the potential economic impact.

“We started with a small committee, and then the word got out and more communities wanted to participate,” Cox said. “It now includes Morton, Pekin, Tremont and Delavan, and it’s open to other cities if they want to get involved.”

Lenora Fisher, community development director for the Morton Economic Development Council and Morton Chamber of Commerce, noted, “Art activities are good for the community because programs like the Tazewell Art Loop activate and enrich our places and spaces. We have great shops and restaurants in Morton, and the goal is to draw people out and pay better attention to where we live and the assets we have. We have high hopes that people will come and check out the shops and activities time and time again.”

The Tazewell Art Loop Fourth Fridays committee has put together a list of artists, musicians and food trucks so participating businesses have the resources to arrange for an artist to display artwork or perform at their establishment during a Fourth Friday event.

“We also put together a list of businesses for artists to contact. So we gave them all the tools needed to be able to do it, and the chambers developed a map of the participating businesses,” Cox said.

Participating businesses are asked to pay a $40 annual fee to be listed on the Tazewell Art Loop map to help defray printing costs. “The maps are available in every location, so that’s a huge advertising opportunity,” Cox said.

Fisher said residents are encouraged to come out for each Fourth Friday as there will be different activities and promotions every time. “And if they visit one or two towns one month, we recommend stopping in at the other two towns the next time,” she said. “Each town has great amenities and things to do and see. They also have different personalities and community cultures. We want Fourth Fridays to be a great opportunity to explore the variety of things to do right in your own backyard. We think they’ll be surprised, delighted and have a ton of fun.”

Cox said the Pekin Academy of Fine Arts, which is now housed at Grace United Methodist Church in Pekin, will start participating in Fourth Fridays in June.

Businesses that want to get involved should contact the Pekin Chamber of Commerce or the Morton Chamber of Commerce. For more information, visit the Tazewell Art Loop Facebook page.