21 May “In Plain Sight” 3rd Annual Around the Corner
Article by Annmarie Handley
I was lucky enough to have attended the opening reception for this year’s “Around the Corner” gallery event, hosted by the Northwest Arts Connection (NAC). Especially from the perspective of an educator and parent, I was blown away by its importance. This event wasn’t any ordinary gallery show but exhibited the work of teen artists from Aspira Early College, Roosevelt, Schurz, and Taft High Schools on the Northwest Side. This year’s theme was, Who am I? #theREALme. NAC, as well as the many other art appreciators at the afternoon show, wanted to know, and we weren’t disappointed. These teens found an open, honest, and uncensored place to express themselves through their art and I found that art wasn’t the only thing to discover there.
The event took place in the bright, airy, second-floor space of the Hairpin Arts Center in the Avondale neighborhood. After organizer speeches and performances had finished, music flowed through the room as guests admired the teens’ work, mingled, and took photos. The artists were proud of their work and eager to greet guests and discuss their art, the process, and its meaning.
Dancers enchanted the audience with varied styles in performance. From a Harry Potter-themed ballet to a brave and moving performance art piece, honoring the dancer’s close relative, the young dancers truly expressed their unique feel for the art of dance, as well as interpretations of its meaning and expression.
Celeste, of Carl Schurz High School, read powerful poems about being a daughter, a young woman, and a force to be reckoned with when facing, perhaps, misogyny or a patriarchal society. It was clear that she is aware of the world in which she lives, focused on overcoming barriers to her success, and not afraid to be a strong young woman. According to NAC, she is a visual artist, poet, dancer, and singer whose next step is Columbia College, Chicago, my own Alma Mater.
Parker Handley, of Disney Magnet School, soon to be a Northwest Side student of Disney II Magnet, read her poem, “The Best Part of Me,” which was, as the poem described, her voice.
The Around the Corner event did just that—gave a megaphone to these teens so that their voices could be heard.
Although many of the busy art teachers had already left the event for other engagements by the time I arrived, I was honored to have spoken with Kara Escalante, the Visual Art teacher and Art Club leader of Theodore Roosevelt High School in Albany Park. She told me that when she presented the idea to her Art Club students, they were very receptive. Despite the teens’ other school projects, activities, and the rigorous Northwest Arts Connection contract the students had to adhere to in order to complete the work on time, they rose to the challenge, voluntarily. Every student from Roosevelt that volunteered to display art for the event followed through, most completed the work in their time away from school, and created thoughtful, inspired works for the show. Escalante, whose passion is art, was clearly proud of her students and their work.
The Around the Corner event has made a lasting impact on Northwest Side youth, so much so that they are drawn back to exhibit their progress. Two graduates from Luther North College Prep High School, Mialis Mercado and Amanda Jablonka, now students of the American Academy of Art, came back to include their paintings in this years Around the Corner event. These students exhibited their art in the 2016 show, as high school seniors, and have since gone on to develop their craft. Mercado said she was “extremely honored” to be a part of the show again this year.
What’s more, I was thrilled to discover, through the student-written testimonials that accompanied each piece, that it wasn’t the differences between these teens that drew my attention, but common threads. Many of the teen artists expressed their past hurts, loss, and perceived weaknesses, many defied the world’s challenges and expectations of them as young adults and as aspiring artists. Many of the works expressed dreams and emotions, many reveled in youth, simple pleasures, and pride for their accomplishments, in art and life. Strikingly, the most common thread might remind any of us of our own journey through adolescence—that it is difficult to define “the real me.”
During one of her announcements for the event, Marlena Ascher, the founder and President of the Northwest Arts Connection, very appropriately paraphrased the Goethe quote, “the hardest thing to see is what is in front of your eyes,” to connect the work of NAC, and Around the Corner, to a broader concept. I fully agree and can’t help but to think that these Northwest Side teens, whom we all see daily, walking home from school, riding their bike on the weekend, playing sports and hanging out with friends in local parks, can feel like they’re not really being seen. They can feel discouraged or taken for granted because they are so often right in front of our eyes. Around the Corner exposed that living and breathing, ever-changing and growing, talent that’s been hiding in plain sight.