When Nikki Romain first stepped onstage to audition for a high school musical, her world changed in an instant. “I knew that’s what I wanted to do for the rest of my life,” she recalls. Having suffered trauma at a young age, the theater stage was Nikki’s saving grace. “That’s why I often say that the arts saved my life,” she notes. Today, as executive director of Artists Re-Envisioning Tomorrow, or ART Inc., she is helping others who face similar adversity.
ART Inc. was founded in 2018 by Nikki and her husband Jonathon, a renowned artist who started painting in prison. “Art saved both of our lives,” he confirms. Together, their shared mission is to pay that forward — inspiring and empowering the Greater Peoria community through arts, education and culture.
“And we do that through our programming for children and youth,” Nikki adds, outlining an eclectic lineup of activities ranging from afterschool programs and teen summits to leadership and empowerment initiatives, to a variety of unique community events. Having transformed a vacant school building into a vibrant and bustling center for the arts, the couple’s mission is well underway. “This is what we plan to do for the rest of our lives,” she stresses. “We are committed to Peoria, to ART Inc. and what we’re doing here.”
Born on the south side of Chicago, Nikki also spent time in Atlanta and Dallas growing up. A “city girl” through and through, she moved to Peoria after falling in love with Jonathon. “I thought I was moving to a farm town!” she chuckles. “I just had this preconceived notion of what a smaller town would be like.” As she quickly discovered, Peoria was nothing like her preconception.
Not only did she find pockets of like-minded friends, but she also found an abundance of things to do and places to go. “I love to go hiking on the trails, and there are a lot of shows and activities on the riverfront,” Nikki continues, “There are so many great restaurants. We have a wonderful arts scene. There’s a lot of really cool things to do here in Peoria.”
As she and Jonathon continue to positively impact Peoria’s children and youth, they know they can count on their community for support. “Peoria has embraced us,” Nikki confirms. “Having had such a nomadic upbringing, to come here and finally feel like I’m home is huge for me.”
It’s a feeling that is mutual. “As much as I’ve poured into Peoria, it has poured back into me in so many ways,” she continues. “I get kind of worked up because I’m just so grateful. Like I said, this is my home. I feel so welcomed.”