Expo Chicago’s a kid-friendly fair

The highly anticipated new art event caters to aspiring young art fans.

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  • Photo: Courtesy of Chicago Children's Museum

    Kids from the Legacy Charter School in North Lawndale work in a collage project that will be featured as part of Expo Chicago.

  • Photo: Courtesy of Chicago Children's Museum

    Kids from the Legacy Charter School in North Lawndale work in a collage project that will be featured as part of Expo Chicago.

  • Photo: Courtesy of Chicago Children's Museum

    Kids from the Legacy Charter School in North Lawndale work in a collage project that will be featured as part of Expo Chicago.


Navy Pier is already Kid Central, with its carousel, a fun-house maze and the Chicago Children’s Museum. So it’s fitting that the highly anticipated new Expo Chicago (a.k.a. the International Exposition of Contemporary/Modern Art and Design), which debuts there September 20–23, will include a range of programming for young art fans—a first for a major Chicago fair.

“I’m thrilled when I go to art fairs around the world and see families engaged in the provocative and challenging and beautiful experience of connecting to the visual or performing arts,” says Tony Karman, the fair’s founder and director, who formerly served as VP of the now-defunct Art Chicago show. So while art lovers of all ages marvel gallery works and other attractions such as a re-creation of Gordon Matta Clark’s famous Garbage Wall built from Chicago River trash and a made-on-site Tony Tasset exhibition, here’s a look at four other ways Expo Chicago is cultivating a new generation of little critics and collectors.

1. Bring in the professionals.
Karman tapped Robbie Klein, owner of arts management company RK March LLC and a former director at Art Chicago, to coordinate the children’s programs. “Part of my business historically has been putting together meaningful partnerships between educational and arts groups,” Klein says. To ensure the fair offers something for everyone, especially kids who might not otherwise experience the arts outside of school, Klein partnered Expo with some well-known Chicago orgs—including the Chicago Children’s Museum (CCM), the Illinois Network of Charter Schools and Marwen, an arts-based youth-development org for underserved kids. The goal, he says, was to “expose children to the arts in a practical and theoretical way, allow a number of kids to make art, and allow kids to see, when they visit the fair, real artists who have made work.”

2. Develop kids’ talents.
Kids can also ponder art made by other kids. This component of the fair showcases work made by students from Legacy Charter School, located on the West Side in the North Lawndale neighborhood. Last May, 30 fifth graders at Legacy participated in an intensive collage-making workshop sponsored by CCM and Expo, and led by local printmaker Jonathan Stein. The theme was Navy Pier’s iconic Ferris wheel. Unlike the typical school art project, where kids create something to take home that same day, these works will be exhibited at the museum for six months, beginning at the Expo. On September 22, the students will have the opportunity to go to Navy Pier and see their collages on display, which Klein thinks will “create all sorts of intellectual spark.”

3. Recruit some young experts.
Sixty Legacy students, including the 30 who made collages in the spring, will tour the Expo led by high-school-age docents from the Marwen program. This is exciting, says Laura Reischel, associate vice president of arts and culture at the CCM, because rather than being guided by adults, “the charter-school students will get a window into the art world through the eyes of kids just a bit older than them.” In another kid-focused element of the Expo, ten young artists will be featured in a juried exhibition at the Marwen booth on the show floor. “By exhibiting work, it makes the experience very personal and very real for students,” Klein says. “It tickles that aspirational desire.”

4. Create a kids-only space.
Enter Art Park, a special area where kids can hang out and participate in arts activities during Expo. Representatives from CCM will lead projects from curricula they’ve developed for the museum’s Kraft Artabounds Studio. “That’s what makes Art Park fun and exciting,” Klein says. “It’s not just a drop-off center but an art-themed area where kids can make work and take it home with them.” Activities will be focused on kids ages 5 to 12, but Reischel says they’ll welcome children younger and older. Art Park will be monitored by a licensed day-care provider and remain open September 22 from 11am to 7pm, and September 23 from noon to 6pm.

Expo Chicago runs September 20–23 at Navy Pier.


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