Boosting tourism during Illinois' bicentennial year - WSIL-TV 3 Southern Illinois

Boosting tourism during Illinois' bicentennial year

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MT. VERNON, Ill. -- Groups across Illinois are working to boost tourism as the state celebrates its bicentennial year. 

Illinois welcomed more than 112 million visitors in 2016 and this year, tourism leaders hope a new effort will bring in even more.

Illinois will turn 200 on December 3 and groups are working to boost tourism ahead of the state's bicentennial celebration. They're doing so by promoting everything from festivals to bicentennial wines and free entrance into museums and art centers in southern Illinois, including in Mt. Vernon.

"Mt. Vernon gets a lot of tourism from our two interstates, because 57 and 64, we're kind of at the crossroads of that," said Grace McDowell, Marketing Executive for Mt. Vernon Tourism.

She told News 3 they've been working closely with the Illinois Office of Tourism with initiatives like "Doors Open Illinois."

"This year especially we're hoping that we kind of get a boost from the state's bicentennial," McDowell said, adding that their "Illinois Proud" Fall Fest was officially endorsed as a bicentennial event.

More than 80 historical sites and museums across the state are participating and will offer free visits throughout the month of August, including the Shrode Arts Center at Cedarhurst Center for the Arts, named after a prominent ceramic artist Marejon Sue Shrode.

"We are excited to be a part of the Doors Open Illinois initiative," said Carrie Gibbs, who serves as the director of the Shrode Arts Center.

The center will offer free admission during the first weekend of August to the main gallery, which is honoring the legacy of  Marejon Sue Shrode. It's typically $5 to enter the main gallery and the other exhibits are free year-round.

"This exhibition highlights her career as a ceramic artist and the impact that she had on the beginning of the ceramic art movement in America," Shrode said. "Arts and culture is an important part of our community and an important part of Illinois."

Tourism leaders hope more tourists and locals alike will learn more about the history and visit town.

"Even a lot of locals don't know a lot about Cederhurst or have never been there so hopefully this weekend will bring visitors and locals alike out to see some history and heritage of the area they may not have known about,"  McDowell said.

The Cedarhurst Center for the Arts will hold various programs throughout the month of August, including a "bed-turning program" showcasing quilts on August 19 at 1:30 p.m.

To learn more about programs offered at the Cederhurst Center for the Arts, visit here.

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