Fun as an art form

A sunny, deserted island spotted with tall palm trees; flowered meadows illuminated by the moon; schools of fish darting through ocean currents. These scenes aren’t typical of the Chicago landscape, particularly this past week’s rainy days. Rather, they come in the imaginations of the kids visiting the Smart Museum on Wednesday afternoons, capturing their own conceptions of beauty through art.

The Smart’s Art Afternoons offer workshops each week to community children and adults. Starting with six attendees per week in 2001, the program has grown to a peak of about 140 participants in a given week. College students assist the workshops, as groups practice techniques such as clay sculptures, fish-tank gravel mosaics, and paper weaving. In a museum scavenger hunt, the children look for different shapes and styles in the art collection.

But it’s the hands-on component that often inspires the most excitement. Many participants hailed a past session, where they made sponges out of paper, expanded them with water, and then painted with them, as the coolest workshop yet. “I loved making the sponges,” said Nzaari Kaepra, 8, while weaving multicolored patterns out of construction paper with her home-schooled classmates. “It was really interesting to learn that paper can make sponges. We made different shapes, and I painted flowers in the nighttime.”

The College assistants also enjoy the workshops. “Art Afternoons are my favorite parts of the week,” said third-year Kristin Love, who works at the Smart as part of the College’s Summer Links community-service program. “There are always a lot of familiar faces, and the adults enjoy it too.”

Sean I. Ahmed ’06

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August 6, 2004