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Local Legend: Matt and Sara McGibany

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Local Legend: Matt and Sara McGibany

Behind the region’s revitalized music scene and resurgence of Downtown Alton’s historic business district is the energy and passion of Matt and Sara McGibany.

From vendors graduating from a weekend booth at the Alton Farmers’ & Artisans’ Market into brick and mortar storefronts to musicians flocking to the region to experiment with collaborative musical styles, the McGibanys have helped shape the tenor and tone of the area.

“The culture of Alton is cooperative and collaborative,” Sara McGibany, the Executive Director of Alton Main Street, noted. “To create a destination, we all need to join forces and promote the wide variety of artistic ventures that are happening. We are all about linking people with others who share a similar vision for the area. Alton is becoming well known for having a broad spectrum of eclectic things to do.”

The new artisan and entrepreneurial spirit which has emerged in the region is a shift from the Alton the McGibanys experienced growing up. The two left Alton as young adults but ended up returning 10 years ago.

“We missed the area,” Sara said. “We didn’t realize how much we appreciated the natural resources here until they were absent from our daily lives. There is a major city a stone’s throw away but also we have beautiful drives, great hiking, and, of course, the river right here. Alton is truly the best of both worlds.”

 “Geographically this location is amazing,” Matt pointed out, “We have some of the best natural landscapes in the country right here. Sara and I spend a lot of time exploring the bluffs, River Road and Pere Marquette State Park. Alton has a down home intimacy that you don’t find a lot of other places, as well as a city feel that’s rich in cultural diversity.”

Reconnecting with their hometown also inspired the McGibanys to help shape the community.
Through the Main Street program, Sara McGibany has focused on revitalizing Alton’s historic downtown. That means working to create a well-rounded district of shopping, dining and entertainment options.

“We want the complete package here: aesthetically pleasing, economically sound and socially active. Locals and tourists alike will find many ways to rediscover the district.”

Downtown Alton is the heart of the community. The historic buildings which line the streets are the true identity of the town, and many significant buildings have recently been renovated, she noted.
Over the years, she has helped local entrepreneurs move into storefronts after testing the waters at the highly successful Alton Farmers’ and Artisans’ Market. She has also expanded the event to include a Wednesday Night Market in the warehouse at Elijah P’s Burgers and Brews in an effort to give budding, creative entrepreneurs access to a larger customer base. McGibany also coordinates iconic events in local venues and on the city’s streets including the Mississippi Earththones Festival, All Wheels Drive-In Car Show, Downtown Alton Chili Cook Off and the Taste of Downtown.

“With each success story we celebrate, the momentum continues to build and the vision becomes clearer. Our community is working together to turn downtown Alton into something exceptional,” she said.

Matt McGibany, a musician by nature and training, has been instrumental in attracting other musicians to the area and building a regional appreciation of the music scene in Alton. The city’s nightlife and entertainment district have exploded in the last few years, thanks in part to McGibany’s ambassador work as a performing musician.

McGibany is a multi-genre musician who teaches music locally, and has performed throughout the country. As he performs, he spreads the word about Alton. “One of the most important things for me is to get out and perform with various groups and connect with different musicians. This gives me the privilege to bring that connection and attention to our area in return. Branching out to other places increases visibility for our local music scene. I feel fortunate to play a part in this exciting process.”
His business, Alton Acoustic Arts, was created to foster tradition in his students and musical culture in the area. “Playing music transcends everyday communication - you hear it, feel it, know it,” Matt said. “There’s sincerity in learning to express one’s self, and in sharing that part of yourself with others.

The couple has taken their passion for this creative community and built an authentic life in Alton that they truly appreciate. Sara and Matt hope to inspire others to live the life they have always dreamed of.