Everywhere Art in Rogers Park: 49 Expressions

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By: Isabella Chamberland, Senn Senior

Bright and unique art painted onto the benches of Pratt Beach. Every block you turn, a new mural occupying the train bridges. Pre-COVID art festivals filling the streets with lively crowds and compassionate communities. Quirky and complex sculptures impressing rumination on it’s nearby passer-bys.  

Rogers Park is undoubtedly an area bustling with artistic culture and expression, and the members of the 49th Ward office’s youth committee wanted to showcase that through a virtual art gallery featuring the work of local creatives.  

This virtual art gallery, named 49 Expressions, premiered on April 9th.  A video of the gallery can be found at this link https://www.facebook.com/Alderwoman49/videos/757629851623880/

The gallery event was streamed on Facebook and began with a speech by 49th Ward Alderwoman, Maria Hadden. Through her speech, she highlighted the importance of art in the community stating that, “Art and culture help us to communicate with one another; they help us understand one another’s diverse backgrounds, experiences, and identities.” Hadden’s speech identified the main motivation of the gallery: to bring together the community in a celebration of creativity.  

As a co-chair of the committee, I gave a speech as a secondary introduction to the gallery.  Through this speech, I discussed the purpose of the 49th Ward youth committee from the perspective of a member, and how the diversity of art present in our neighborhood is truly a force for good. I also highlighted the official mission statement for the gallery. “Our mission is to bring the community closer through the mutual appreciation of the 49th Ward’s comfort and community through artistic expression.” Throughout the various mediums, statements, and inspirations showcased in the gallery, it’s clear that this mission was a success.  

The gallery continued with a slideshow of youth and adult submissions from various Rogers Park and West Ridge residents. Most pieces were accompanied by an artist statement, which explained how each piece intersected with the mission and the community, and the individual artist’s vision. From paintings, to sculptures, to photographs, the gallery saw a spectacular display of diverse mediums illustrating places in the ward, experiences of residents, and spontaneous views of creativity.  

The gallery then saw a speech from New Field Elementary teacher, Cathleen Andes. As an art teacher, she emphasized the importance of exposing children to art. She also explained that art was a valuable resource for many students during remote learning.

She said, “The format encouraged us to spend more time sharing our work with one another and talking about our own art while providing positive feedback for our peers. While sharing our work, we were able to create a community where students supported their classmates and as artists they became more comfortable talking about their work.” 

Andes’ statement further strengthened the mission of the gallery, reminding viewers that the inclusion of artists as young as six-years-old in our community can continue to strengthen our neighborhood with creativity and compassion. After Andes speech, the gallery showcased elementary school artist work. The work ranged from sketches of patterns, interpreted views of famous art pieces, drawings of houses, and more.  

The gallery also introduced the two council favorites from each category.  From the Junior category, fourth grader Sheena C’s piece was awarded the title of council favorite and from the youth and adult category, Nicholas Haye’s piece “Rabbit 1” was awarded the distinction.  

This gallery was certainly a success, especially in the way it helped the residents and committee feel closer to the community, which coincides with the core mission of the project. Stevie Rezac, a member of the 49th Ward youth committee, stated that they felt like this project helped them to understand art in the context of Rogers Park.

“I see art as a language, where the burden of the translation is embedded into the viewer.  I think this project helped me feel more connected to my community because, as a viewer of this artwork, my perception of all of these beautiful pieces was that people really see the beauty in Rogers Park.  Whether that’s nature, or the lake, or the people, or the food,  I saw people make art about all sorts of things that they loved about the community. I think it helped me feel unity in seeing how creative and strong this place is.”  

In addition to the applicable success of the gallery, it also helped to prove a greater point about the importance of art in the community. Rezac saw this as a huge benefit. He said, “I really just think it helps improve the connection between individual people in a space. It gives  people a glimpse into each other’s lives, and in times like a pandemic it can give people a spark of hope or human connection. Consistent isolation can be very impactful on people’s mental and physical health and I think this was just something we could do that provides people with a sense of unification, something that has been quite difficult to feel this year.” 

The achievement of this gallery is jumpstarting the way for similar projects to emerge and continue to bring us all closer together. 

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