As varied as the arts themselves…

As varied as the arts themselves…

“The artists…young and old…students and teachers…were really excited about their projects, and their enthusiasm showed. One young woman proudly showed her pottery and glass-blown pieces to Daniel Ash and me; her instructor then came up to us, provided some background, and said that this young woman had only been working with glass for one month. The enthusiasm throughout the hall that day was contagious!” Mary Train, WBEZ CAC

Last Saturday, in Yates Hall of the Chicago Cultural Center, nearly 700 people from all stripes and all walks of life, participated in, talked about, and celebrated the Community Art Centers of Chicago at the fourth Off-Air event this season.

I was T.I.R.E.D.

On top of our regular taping of Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me! on Thursday night, the BBC filmed a pilot of WWDTM on Friday night (blog post forthcoming on that one) and by the time I reached the Cultural Center at 6:00 AM, I was beat.

Yates Hall started as an empty room, only tables and some linens present. By 10:00AM, the room was bustling as representatives of the 12 art centers and the staff of Sixty Inches from Center set up booths, checked in merchandise, and the folks from Doors to a Better World set up the door that would be painted as the event unfolded. Breeze came in and meticulously set up the Marketplace (where each art center could sell cards, ornaments, student-created art, and t-shirts) and the DIY Wrapping Station (with boxes, flats, crayons, scissors, tape and lots of paper).

The WBEZ Volunteers arrived and staffed their stations. The Red Thread Project set out their yards and yards of yarn (with a knitted hat stitched into the string every couple of feet) in a winding serpentine on the floor in the center. Andrew Roddewig set up the video presentation that featured each of the centers. The folks from Intelligentsia set up the delicious free coffee station.

And at noon on the dot, the doors were opened and the people came.

“The WBEZ What’s Your Art? event on Saturday was a very cool experience! It was an amazing collection of some of Chicagoland’s best and most innovative art centers. And between the live performances, demonstrations and all the hands-on activities folks could participate in, with the direction of the art centers, it felt like a day at art camp! I walked out with an original print, a cool T-Shirt I’d designed that was literally “hot off the presses” and some really good connections made with other artists. Also, one thing that pleasantly surprised me was all the unique gifts available for purchase by local artists! I will make going to WBEZ’s What’s Your Art? event an annual tradition that rounds out my holiday season.” — Glendy X. Mattalia - Doors to a Better World

In spite of my exhaustion, the thing was completely in keeping with my take on holiday spirit. Old, young, black, white, brown, hipsters and tourists - you name the type of person you’d see on the streets of downtown Chicago and they were there. Lots of kids, families, groups of friends out for the day - it was a steady stream of Chicago coming into the space and talking to the artists, drinking coffee, shopping for unique holiday gifts and participating in the creation of their own pieces of art. The audience was as varied as the arts themselves and spoke to the enduring power of art and its role among we humans.

By the time the thing shut down and everyone was packing up, I was on my fifth wind and I spoke with a bunch of our art center representatives - the overwhelming feeling was warmth toward your favorite public radio station and the fact that WBEZ commits so thoroughly to finding ways to connect communities. It made me feel less tired because, like the time and energy expended by the art centers, our directors, the volunteers, and the patrons, it was well worth it.

Doors to a Better World can be seen here.

Next up: The Fourth Annual Winter Block Party for Chicago’s Hip Hop Arts - more art, more music, more spoken word, more dancing than you ever thought was possible!