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When Art Meets Design: An Overview of the All-City High School Visual Arts Exhibition

Walking into the CPS All-City High School Visual Arts Exhibition, guests are greeted with an electrifying blue color on parallel zigzag walls, playful typography, and an array of artwork by high schoolers throughout Chicago. With every turn, there’s an attention-grabbing piece of art or something to interact with. The team at the Design Museum of Chicago has built its reputation around creating memorable and rewarding experiences, with this exhibition inviting the city’s young artists to reap the benefits of its thoughtful execution.

DCASE has brought together the CPS Department of Visual Arts and the Design Museum of Chicago to organize two exhibitions: the All-City High School Visual Arts Exhibition and the All-City Elementary School Visual Arts Exhibition. The collaboration has sparked an overwhelming excitement over the possibilities within both organizations. “Everyone was so excited, it was like the roof was going to blow off the building,” exclaimed Tanner Woodford, Founder and Executive Director of the Design Museum.

Image: Front view of the All-City High School Visual Arts Exhibition. Blue zigzag walls create a walkway for viewers with art displayed on the surrounding walls. Photo by Ryan Edmund.

Image: Front view of the All-City High School Visual Arts Exhibition. Blue zigzag walls create a walkway for viewers with art displayed on the surrounding walls. Photo by Ryan Edmund.

Having a show that was inclusive and representative of as many types of students as possible was at the forefront of Woodford’s mind. This mission was accomplished by featuring an ambitious amount of work in the All-City High School Visual Arts Exhibition, which included the art of 200 high school students as well as a slideshow displaying 700 more pieces. One of the most significant takeaways from the exhibition was the extreme breadth and depth of the work. The young artists have created pieces rooted in identity politics, social justice issues, and environmental concerns.

One of the sculptures that stood out to Woodford is a piece titled “Exchanging Words” by Gisselle Ramos, a 12th grader from Amundsen High School. The piece displayed two porcelain hands outreached toward one another, each holding delicate flowers. By placing one hand higher than the other, the sculpture represents humanity’s superiority over nature and intends for the viewer to feel sorrow for what humans are doing to the earth.

Image: Gisselle Ramos, “Exchanging Words”. A black wooden box containing white porcelain hands outreached toward one another, each holding delicate flowers. The hand on the left is positioned higher than the right. Photo by Ryan Edmund.

Image: Gisselle Ramos, “Exchanging Words.” A black wooden box containing white porcelain hands outreached toward one another, each holding delicate flowers. The hand on the left is positioned higher than the right. Photo by Ryan Edmund.

With the help of Facility Foundation, a multi-disciplinary creative hub founded by Nick Cave, the Design Museum is able to award two $500 unrestricted scholarships to a student from each exhibition. Ramos was chosen as the high school recipient, with the elementary student still to be determined.

What makes this exhibition unique is its foundation in key design principles such as form, line, color, shape, pattern, and space. The rich blue walls of the exhibition space boldly state the definition of each design principle, with the adjacent walls covered by a hand-drawn grid using permanent marker. The grid invites people to draw a self portrait in its respective category. For example, self portraits with a focus on color are drawn in the color section, and those emphasizing line are drawn in the line section. Inclusivity in the broadest sense spawned the idea of the grid, so that guests are able to contribute to the show despite not having a formal piece in it.

Image: Detail of the exhibition's constructed walls. One of the walls, which is bright blue, displays the definition of "Shape." The adjacent walls contain a hand-drawn grid with self-portraits drawn into the grid's squares. Photo by Ryan Edmund.

Image: Detail of the exhibition’s constructed walls. One of the walls, which is bright blue, displays the definition of “Shape.” The adjacent walls contain a hand-drawn grid with self-portraits drawn into the grid’s squares. Photo by Ryan Edmund.

“We came up with the perspective of having these foundational categories to organize the work as a way of communicating to students that in order to be a working professional they don’t have to be Picasso,” explained Woodford. “You can take these foundations and apply them to being a graphic designer, an architect, or even a sound engineer.”

The exhibition’s overall design was developed by the Design Museum’s art directors Annie Leue and Yaro Banduro, with a steadfast team of volunteers to help with the execution. The playful typeface on the wall combined with their organic shapes and black and white texture allude to a student’s notebook. The zigzag construction of the blue walls creates a walkway to pause and learn something new, to draw a self portrait, and to apply that design knowledge to the rest of the show’s pieces.

Image: Detail of the exhibition's constructed blue walls. The wall in the foreground displays the definition of "Form," while the walls in the background display the definitions of "Line" and "Color." Photo by Ryan Edmund.

Image: Detail of the exhibition’s constructed blue walls. The wall in the foreground displays the definition of “Form,” while the walls in the background display the definitions of “Line” and “Color.” Photo by Ryan Edmund.

The exhibition’s opening drew in a few hundred students, teachers, and family members, all in one central location to celebrate the work. As the All-City Band played in the front window, the enthusiastic students and their friends gathered around the art for photos. “If the show pushes one student to a creative career, it’ll be a massive, resounding success,” reflected Woodford.

Image: Partial view of the exhibition. Various artworks of different styles, sizes, and colors are displayed on the walls and upon pedestals. Photo by Ryan Edmund.

Image: Partial view of the exhibition. Various artworks of different styles, sizes, and colors are displayed on the walls and upon pedestals. Photo by Ryan Edmund.

The All-City High School Visual Arts Exhibition was on display from April 10th-20th. The All-City Elementary School Visual Arts Exhibition will open on May 1 and remain on display until May 12th at Expo 72. Visit www.designchicago.org to learn more.

Featured Image: Two young people carrying backpacks and walking through the exhibition. Image credit: Ryan Edmund.

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Portrait_RyanEdmund_SquareRyan Edmund is a photographer living in Chicago. His practice is rooted in the intimate connection between himself and the subject in an effort to capture the softer, more nuanced sides of their identity.