September 20, 2010  |  Intern Chronicles
A Portait of Chicago, Part II

Hyde Park Art Center's facade displays art for the community after hours

In my last post we visited Street Level Youth Media and talked to Steven Evans about how his nonprofit empowers and supports Chicago’s young artists by introducing them to new digital media. Today’s post is all about adults and the arts. How do arts organizations engage artists and communities? One place I think has good answers is Hyde Park Art Center (HPAC), one of Chicago’s oldest and best-known arts organizations.

HPAC holds exhibitions of mostly Chicago-based artists, both emerging and established, who work in all mediums. Kate Lorenz, HPAC’s director, gave me a quick tour of their new building, and told me that its design reflects how HPAC serves the community. A glass wall in the lobby allows you to see into the community space and library; directly across from that is a small viewing window into the art classrooms; and straight ahead are two floors of artwork by international and Chicago-based artists. Community space, classrooms for teaching and learning, and walls for displaying art are all visible while standing in one spot in the entry lobby. Cool.

Allison Peters, director of exhibitions, describes how the new building informs her exhibition choices: “I’ve found that the most successful exhibitions here were ones that were more active in terms of using the audience as a component or medium for the artwork to be realized. I think that is one of our biggest assets.” For example, a large garage door opens up into the main gallery space, allowing local residents to walk directly into the gallery from the street. Also, HPAC has partnered with several artists to project moving-image works directly onto the outside of the building.

But this interactivity goes beyond the gallery spaces and into the community spaces. The successful program Open Crit gives artists access to feedback from guest curators and critics in a forum open to the public. “It kind of demystifies how artists are expected to think about their work and make choices about their practice,” Lorenz says. “People will show up and ask the most insightful questions.”

Michelle Becket organizes the classroom space for teaching ceramics and painting to kids and adults. She says, “The collective spirit among our adult students has been wonderful.” New adult events combine discussions about art with cocktails, and the new open studio program allows students to see what others are working on. But the buy-in for HPAC students goes beyond just events; recently they all pitched in to purchase collective storage space. “There is a lot of ‘Let’s work together to make this school a great space,’” Becket says. “I find the manner in which they are stakeholders very inspiring for me.”

Lorenz describes HPAC as “over-programmed,” yet program director Ray Yang says this is a good thing: “There is always someone new to access and find and connect to the Art Center in a different way, whether it’s through studio classes, an exhibition, or one of our events.”