20 Neighborhoods – Nov. 22, 2014

The Oil and Water exhibition provided a perfect first session in a new 20 Neighborhoods year at Woman Made Gallery. Around 1pm on the chilly November Saturday, teaching artists and adult participants began arriving at the Gallery in West Town. We came by CTA, Pace, car, van and bike from all over the city. Mingling around the gallery until it was time to start, participants got a feel for the environment and could preview the artworks before discussions. As we prepared to begin, there were four participants from the Arts of Life, one from Mercy Housing and five from Chinese American Service League, along with an interpreter and a 7-year-old! He did a lot to help break the ice.

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The day started with tours of the artwork exhibited throughout the Gallery. Arts of Life and Mercy Housing participants made up a group, led by Ana and Renie. Lots of new ideas were found in the abstract paintings that we viewed and discussed—animals, musical instruments, tools, narrative, Christmas wrapping paper and many other associations were found in the work. There was a very subtle piece that began discussion with participants’ frustration, “There’s nothing there! It’s just white.” To everyone’s surprise, it was one of the most productive and interesting conversations, with endless connections to be made. Teaching artists brought up ideas of technique and how the artwork could have been made, and asked how participants felt when they look at the work—what emotions they related to each piece.

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Focusing on just one art piece, Betsy led Chinese American Service League in their tour. Using a translator to communicate with the group, formal questions about process were discussed, as well as what makes “art” art.

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After the tours of the artwork, everyone was excited with artistic energy, especially after treats and coffee. While participants relaxed and ate, they couldn’t help but continue to talk about and look at the artwork.

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As the art-making section of the day began, and to help that the two groups could get to know each other a bit better, participants introduced themselves along with answering the question, “Why did you want to be a part of 20 Neighborhoods?”

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Teaching artists demonstrated how to experiment with paint, before allowing participants to begin. Nails, feathers, brushes, string, corks and other various materials were used to create marks on paper with acrylic paint. The first art-making action was for participants to paint on a piece of paper with these new materials for 3 minutes. When time was up, all paintings were passed to the left and painted on by the next person, adding to what is already there from previous artists. When everyone had contributed to each painting, we stopped and looked at all the work that had been made through collaboration. This activity was used as a way for all those involved to feel more comfortable with experimentation and abstract painting skills, in a spontaneous way before a final solo piece was to be made.

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Finally, participants were given small canvases on which to create a more complete abstract painting of their own. The results were great, but by the end of painting one, many were worn out or seemed to have already expended most of their creative energy. Two hours may have been too much time allotted to creating. Possibly more time could have been spent discussing, since it was fruitful and energetic the whole way through. This will be considered for next time.

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While activities began to wind down for the day, paintings were put to dry, buses and vans were boarded and all said good-byes. There was appreciation for the day’s events, and the opportunity to meet one another, expressed by all involved. Warmth and community for women in a woman-led space was plenty as we departed, to meet again in January.


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20 Neighborhoods is made possible with generous donations from The Efroymson Family Fund, a CICF Fund; a CityArts grant from the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, and from individual donors.