My first curatorial project was Art at Hull-House: Producing Hope and Building Communities, displayed in Montgomery Ward Gallery at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) from 23 August through 24 September 1999. The selection of historical photographs and artifacts produced at Hull-House between the turn of the century and the 1950s examined the role of art in settlement life. The gallery’s periphery displayed photographic reproductions and historical objects that document two central aspects of creative life at Hull-House—ethnic diversity and art education. The center of the gallery moved visitors into the present with objects from an art outreach program called “Hull-House Now.” These art workshops, which I developed and implemented through the UIC Craft Shop, reincarnated the art education endeavors at Hull-House and linked the university to its surrounding communities.
The UIC Provost provided the funding for this exhibit and accompanying art outreach program. As a public institution serving a diverse population, UIC strives to create an inclusive environment for the varied groups of people who comprise its community. The role of the arts in education is a frequently debated topic, just as the public’s educative responsibility in general is constantly negotiated. In its exploration of the relationship between art and community, the exhibit also examined concepts of democracy, public education and American-ness as constructed from both historical and contemporary perspectives.
In the summer preceding the exhibit opening, I developed and implemented “Hull-House Now” art outreach workshops based on the long history of art education at Hull-House. Elementary students from neighborhoods near the university were invited to the Craft Shop on UIC’s campus to explore and express through art the relationship between self and community. Although the process was just as important as any final product, the students’ end goal was to create ceramic tiles representing their communities in the present day and ways they hope to see their neighborhoods develop in the future.
When creating their tiled table, the Eisenberg Boys and Girls Club worked with muralist Patrick Gaurano to create one overall picture. Students from Marillac Center—a social settlement modeled after Hull-House—constructed a collage of many different views.
Marillac Center Mosaic ~ “Our Neighborhood Today and Tomorrow”
The children’s tiles were mosaicked onto a table with excerpts from each weeklong workshop decoupaged around the pedestal bases. These tables were displayed in the center of the gallery during the exhibition and given to each community center after the show ended where they serve as a visual reminder of the links between art, education and the neighborhoods in which we live.