Former MacMurray building to be a hub of activity
The Jacksonville families of Tim Smith and Michael Woods have banded together to revitalize the MacMurray Hall on the corner of Clay and College avenues, with a goal of reimagining and cultivating Jacksonville’s cultural and rural roots through the arts and ecology by gathering farmers, artists and our diverse communities across the heartland of Illinois.
Branded as the Midwest Agriculture and Arts Complex (MAAC), Smith and Woods note that the mission of the venture “stems not from a new movement but from Jacksonville and the regions culturally rich and diverse artistic traditions and agricultural roots that led it to once be known as the Athens of the West.”
Smith further spotlights that “the vision is to cultivate a creative hub, boost tourism and economic development through the celebration of food production and artistic expression.”
As the cultivator in the project, Woods highlights that “the building will feature a fusion of agriculture and arts through a local sustainable food hub selling fresh produce, locally grown meat, cut flowers along with artists’ workspaces that explore the use of sustainable agriculture products as art.”
Notably, Woods stresses that “one of the main constraints to the entry and expansion of local foods and arts is the lack of distribution systems for moving local foods and artistic works into mainstream markets.”
The USDA has noted that food hubs like this can provide greater delivery reliability than can be obtained through purchasing from many producers selling independently. Woods points out that “food hubs represent a strategy for producers, particularly small and mid-sized producers, to market their production locally.”
He further notes that the MAAC food hub “aims to be part of a growing local food system that strengthens rural economies by lowering entry barriers and improving infrastructure to create, as well as expand, regional food markets.”
Smith, as the conductor with the project, will advance a performing arts center, The Esprit de Corps Academy, that features the growth of music, dance and drama. Smith notes that “the performing arts aspect of the project will strive to provide quality performance training in a positive, enthusiastic, nurturing and embracing environment.”
Through classes, workshops, camps, performance opportunities and unique experiences, “the community will be able to advance its commitment to community-based performing arts, while showcasing essential community building blocks of teamwork, respect, responsibility, care and compassion,” Smith stated.
“We will always strive to make our performing arts experiences a memorable one that will shape our community participants in whatever path they choose to take,” Smith stated.
“The youth programs will emphasize the importance of character both on and off the stage and work to inspire each participant to be a positive light in our community,” Smith added.
Stated Woods, “Agricultural and art has been an enormous part of the Jacksonville history. For me, the revitalization of MacMurray Hall into the Midwest Agricultural and Arts Complex is a way of cultivating our connections to our land and souls as we strive to harvest the bounties that sustain the lifeblood of our communities diverse and rich culture that truly defines the region.”
Agriculture and arts are part of both Smith’s and Woods’ roots. Smith grew up on a farm in Morgan County and thought of piano, and most notably the organ, as ways to showcase his musical spirit. Armed with music degrees from the University of Illinois and the University of Kansas, Smith marched off into the world to share his musical passions.
For more than 40 years, Smith has served as an organist, choirmaster, recitalist and teacher in Texas and Florida. He served Episcopal parishes in Winter Park and Sanibel, Florida; Corpus Christi, Texas; Austin and San Antonio, and was on the faculty at Texas Lutheran University.
Smith chaired the Liturgy and Music Commission for the Episcopal Diocese of West Texas. He has concertized and has recorded for broadcast on the National Protestant Hour. He and his choirs have been deputized for services in British cathedrals and given concerts in Spain; he has played recitals in France and Spain. As dean of the Central Florida Chapter of The American Guild of Organists, he was director of a pipe organ encounter at Stetson University in Deland, Florida. Sponsored by the national American Guild of Organists, a pipe organ encounter is a residential organ camp for high school students interested in pursuing studying organ.
Smith returned to Jacksonville after the passing of his parents (Jack and Marilynn Smith of Franklin) to manage the family farm with his sisters, Mindy Rader and Charlotte Woodyard.
Raised in northern Illinois in Henry County, Woods — and spouse Jaime Filio and daughters Jaylyn, Jolia and Jewel Filio-Woods — moved to Jacksonville in 2017, when he joined the Illinois College faculty and established the agribusiness management program. For over 30 years, Woods has made a career in the agricultural industry. After graduating from Black Hawk College in Kewanee with a degree in agriculture, Woods attended the University of Illinois to receive a bachelor’s in agricultural communications.
While working for the Illinois Department of Agriculture coordinating the Illinois Agriculture Youth Institute, he completed his master’s in extension education. At this point, he set off into the world to work as an agricultural copywriter for an advertising agency in Milwaukee, and eventually for Oscar Mayer’s Wienermobile program across the US and Canada.
After returning to the US, he pursued his Ph.D. from Iowa State University. During his tenure at Iowa State, he took on teaching and research projects in the Ukraine and Slovakia. After completing his Ph.D., he joined the Michigan State University faculty in agricultural communications, exploring value added agricultural tourism and risk-based communication.
In 2005, he returned to his home in Atkinson to establish a winery and a bistro, while leading the Rock Island County U of I Extension. After a statewide reorganization of the U of I Extension in 2009, Woods served as the executive director of the largest Hispanic-serving nonprofit in western Illinois and eastern Iowa.
In 2014, he returned to his passion for teaching all things agriculture and joined the faculty at Spoon River College in Canton. This career path began his southern migration that eventually ended in Jacksonville at Illinois College. He joined the Cornell University Extension in Dutchess County, New York for a short time in 2019 but returned to Illinois to join the Department of Agriculture, leading the Division of Natural Resources.
With over 125 years of combined experience and passion for all things agriculture and art, this dynamic duo of Smith and Woods, supported by their respective families, are sure to aid in nourishing the communities’ heart and soul one carrot and one ballad at a time. Like many great community maestros before them, the duo declared during this opening act, “Stay tuned, for more exciting news of the Midwest Agriculture and Arts Complex initiatives underway.”