One morning of Spring 2013, as I walked out my gallery at the Zhou B Art Center, I ran into artist and High School art teacher John Zilewics. He and some of his friends were walking into the art center. It was one of those awkward moments that almost seemed to have been in our destiny. John is an artist who has participated in some of my curated exhibitions. When I saw him, I thought he was just visiting with friends. However, we started talking and right there in the hallway, John gave me in a few seconds the grand vision for a massive high school art exhibit like Chicago had never seen before. Not only he and his buddies seemed serious about the idea but I could tell in their eyes they believed in this thing wholeheartedly. We talked for a while and by the time I left that brief conversation, there was a sense that maybe this was a good idea to pursue.
For over a year, Oh Art Foundation director InJung Oh and I had been talking about organizing a High School Exhibit at the Zhou B Art Center to give a professional platform to the future generations of students. When John showed up at our door, it seemed like this was the perfect time to partner with this group of enthusiastic teachers starting a grass root movement to energize a future generation of artists. What followed was a number of meetings to discuss ideas and plan ahead for this massive event.
Months later and with an amazing team of people, sixty five participating high schools, over 2000 guests, 40+ colleges/ university reps, 350+ works of art and over 4 million dollars of scholarship money, the vision came through with a beautiful celebration of art, creativity, energy, youthfulness and hope on February 23, 2014. This was an important day in Chicago and perhaps in the entire state because it demonstrated that kids that love ART matter to us! The amount of unpaid hours the organizers spent to plan and coordinate this event was an indication that when an idea meets passionate people, there are no limits on what can be done. In a time when shrinking budgets and bureaucracy have pushed the arts in education to the sidelines, there is hope for the future of art makers in Chicago. There are so many wonderful art teachers who really care for the arts and this event was for them as well. We can complain all day about the lack of support but until we get up the couch and do something about it, we have not changed a thing.
By the time I left the event, my body was tired after a long weekend of gallery openings, workshops and a massive high school show. However, my hope and enthusiasm for the future was rejuvenated as I walked through the hallways and saw the faces of amazing talented kids showcasing their work with pride. Not to mention the expressions of happiness from the hundreds of parents, grandparents, friends, teachers and siblings that came to support the kids. The guests visited the studios of working artists and the various galleries of the Zhou B Art Center as they anticipated the announcement of the exhibition winner. This was a great way to demonstrate to many parents that art is a viable career to path. If there is something I noticed is that art for these kids is about the heart. It has nothing to do with the complexities of the art market, gallery representation, auction prices, art fairs, or any of that junk that comes after in the life of the artists. I am thrilled I had an opportunity to be there and be part of it.
Special thanks to the Zhou Brothers for facilitating the 12,000 sf gallery space of the Zhou B Art Center, to Michael Zhou, Executive Director of the Zhou B Art Center, and to Oh Art Foundation for their support. With all humbleness and admiration, I thank the guys who had the big vision and worked very hard and with great focus to make the Illinois High School Art Exhibit an outstanding first event. They are: John Zilewics, Christopher Sykora, Benjamin Jaffe, Johnathan Reiman, Stephen Murphy, Nick Hostert, Anne Becker, Maribeth Coffey-Sears and many teachers and volunteers who worked behind the scenes.
The truth is my friends, if we wait for the government to support the arts in education, it is going to be a long wait. I believe in people who believe in the unbelievable and who spend their valuable time making a difference and not just complaining or criticizing when others are working to make a difference. This is the time to show up and do it!
Help support this grass root effort at: http://www.ihsrartexhibition.org/get-involved.html
Director of Exhibitions
Zhou B Art Center