Augmented Reality Murals in Downtown Peoria by Dr. Mae Gilliland Wright, Big Picture Peoria

History has come to life in downtown Peoria! With a groundbreaking combination of art and technology, local arts nonprofit Big Picture Peoria recently launched a new series of “Portraits of Peoria” murals. Displayed prominently on the windows of the downtown Peoria Public Library (107 NE Monroe, Peoria), each of the eight large-scale portrait installations were created by local artists—and all of them are enabled with augmented reality.

When users scan the murals using a specially designed app on their phones, a video pops up that brings the portrait subjects to life. Local performing artists transformed into these prominent Peorians, telling their stories from a first-person perspective, sharing little-known facts and fun details. The portraits are designed to help educate and celebrate the diverse and important contributions of notable people who called Peoria home. 

The murals depict the following significant Peorians, all created by renowned local artists:

Lydia Moss Bradley by Connie Andrews;

Nance Legins-Costley by Preston Jackson;

Betty Friedan by Eliza von Zerneck;

Valeska Hinton by Brenda Pagan;

Jim and Marian Jordan (“Fibber McGee and Molly”) by Bob Doucette;

Annie Turnbo Malone by Trish Williams;

Dr. Romeo B. Garrett by Kevin Bradford; and

Robert “Bob” Gilmore by Jeremy Berkley. 

Among the local performers portraying these prominent individuals are former WCBU radio personality and storyteller Lee Wenger, portraying Bob Gilmore, and the up-and-coming award-winning actor Ronnie Hudson II as Dr. Romeo B. Garrett. 

This augmented reality mural program is quite literally putting Peoria on the map thanks to the union of art and technology. It tells the stories of those who called central Illinois home in a way that uplifts and informs—from that of Nance Legins-Costley, the first enslaved African American freed by Abraham Lincoln twenty years before the Civil War, to Jim and Marian Jordan, also known as ‘Fibber McGee and Molly,’ who were radio stars during the 1940s and captured the hearts of millions across the nation. 

The collaborative project brought together an all-star group of eight local artists, nine performing artists, a historian and writer, film crew, and app programmers and developers. The location of these murals is also of great importance. If you are interested in learning more about the mural subjects, the library staff is there to help.

To learn more and to download the app, visit bigpicturepeoria.org/pop.

As Big Picture expands the “Portraits of Peoria” mural program, feel free to email me at mae@bigpicturepeoria.org to express interest in future involvement—whether to submit the name of a significant Peorian or to serve as a volunteer or donor.

Our mission is to build a thriving and vibrant community for all by using the arts and creativity as a driver for social change, economic development, and wellness. We do this by providing arts-based solutions, promoting and supporting artists and arts initiatives, and advancing arts education.

Photo credit: Jeffery Noble