New Hyde Park Art Center opens

A sculpture in the new Hyde Park Art Center hangs down the two-story stairwell. It's an image of spring, showing small trees, flowers and mushrooms stretching out of pieces of rock-hard synthetic ice.

It's emblematic of the center itself, which has taken root in what was once a military warehouse and is now striving to bloom into something new and beautiful.

"Art is taking over the building," said Deborah Halpern, spokeswoman for the center, which opened Saturday. "There's going to be art on the stairs, in the bathroom and on the floor."

The center launched with a marathon of activities -- 36 hours of free art activities, ranging from midnight ceramics, watercolor painting workshops, film screenings and dance performances.

The center, at 5020 S. Cornell Ave., has a 35-year lease from the University of Chicago for $1 a year. Letting property at that price is unusual for the university, said University of Chicago spokesman Hank Webber at a ribbon-cutting event April 22.

"We do it when there's an extraordinary idea that will benefit the community, make the university stronger because the community is stronger and [also] when you have people who will put it all together," Webber said.

The center will offer art classes for children and adults, but space will be dedicated to helping older art students and professional artists.

Colleen Coyne, development assistant at the center, said the center has five exhibition spaces, "so it gives an opportunity to show more artists' work."

The new location, which is three times as large as the old art center, includes a new digital media lab, studio space for artists in residence and a library and resource center in which artists can network, teachers can look up ideas and high school students will be able to get help preparing their portfolios for college applications.

While Margie Roman, the center's director of operations, said she was still not certain what role the artists working at the center would play in the classes, she said their studios would be open so that visitors could see works in progress.

"If students or visitors want to see, they can peek in and ask questions," Roman said. "They can get a feel for what current artists are doing and how they get inspired."

The center is also dedicated to supporting innovations in the arts, with an entire experimental gallery focusing on new media work. Five giant screens, which will be visible from inside or outside the art center, will display video-based exhibits.

"These typically are things that galleries won't show because it's too experimental and people won't buy it, but that's the kind of art that we want to display," Roman said.

The center opens at 9 a.m. Saturday and will remain open for the 36-hour participatory marathon. For a complete list of activities, check www.hydeparkart.org or call 773-324-5520.

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