Cheese plates made from wine bottles. Bowls made from cement bags. Jewelry made from junk-drawer odds and ends.

Repurposing, always a passion among gallery owners in Oak Parkfs eco-friendly arts district, is becoming a lifeline there, too. To hang on during a recession, reusing and recycling found objects – and working with like-minded artists – makes real-world sense for business owners who realize their goods are household extras, not basics. This weekend, that survival spirit is at the heart of the districtfs annual Art on Harrison fall festival: “Oak Park Trash – The Art of Being Green.”

In the land of creativity and cross promotion, one feature of the festival will be a mobile fashion show. Models accessorized with Junk Drawer Jewelry from Art Gecko (19 Harrison), will be walking along the street in reclaimed-wool sweaters from Pamela Penney Textile Arts (130 Harrison). Each gallery will be offering a discount to shoppers with proof of a purchase at the other gallery.

Such outreach may be novel, but itfs also vital. Employees and owners of the Harrison Street galleries interviewed say that, for months, sales have been slow. A few galleries report going weeks without making a sale. Even browsers, they say, can be rare.

“Itfs as though theyfre afraid to come in and look at anything so they wonft be tempted to buy it,” Karen Schuman says of what little foot traffic there has been recently. Schuman, a textile artist who works out of Dancing Krow Studio (41 Harrison), is also a member of The Nerve Gallery co-op next door (43 Harrison).

“Art is most often perceived as a luxury good. Right now, people are less likely to spend money on art in order to spend it on necessities,” says Kim Ford, an assistant at Ridge Art (21 Harrison), a gallery that specializes in imported works from Africa and Haiti. Regular patrons havenft cut spending entirely, according to Ford, but they are opting for less expensive items.

To offer patrons art without sticker shock, and to stock works that arenft as costly to bring in, galleries are turning more and more to pieces made from discarded or found items. Pamela Penney uses reclaimed wool salvaged from sweaters and blankets that she finds at secondhand stores. She scours the wool several times, then uses the reclaimed fiber to make sweaters and scarves and caps. Prices in her gallery start at less than $10.

Across the street, at Prodigy Glassworks, Matt Kwilas has been adding to his product mix of mostly custom pieces styled from blown glass. With wine bottles he collects from local restaurants, Kwilas is crafting cheese plates that he sells for $20 each (photo at left).

At Ridge Art, $20 will get you a papier-mâché bowl made from recycled cement bags by children in Haiti. The bowls are in a collection of papier-mâché works, which include ornaments and masks, that gallery owner Laurie Beasley offers through the Art Creation Foundation for Children. Beasley is a director on the board of the Florida-based group that provides tuition and after-school arts workshops for boys and girls in Jacmel, Haiti. Beasley introduced the Haitian childrenfs work at the arts districtfs spring festival, Whatfs Blooming on Harrison, and has been carrying a variety of the papier-mâché works since.

Getting the word out about the diversity and the range of art on this eight-block stretch of the village has been a challenge. “Itfs a matter of getting people from the north end of Oak Park to come down to Harrison Street,” says Penney, a former president of the arts district business association. She and Lisa Nordstrom, of Art Gecko, have organized Harrison Streetfs gallery owners, shop owners and restaurateurs to invest in regional advertising. “Together the businesses have something unique to offer that canft be found anywhere else in Oak Park or even in the surrounding area,” says Libbey Paul, an Oak Parker who in the spring became director of event planning and marketing for the arts district.

One unduplicated offering in the neighborhood this weekend will be a silent auction for Harrison Streetfs rain barrels. Proceeds from the auction will go toward the planning of future community events in the districts. On Friday, when the barrels will be at their usual spots outside businesses on Harrison, the bidding will be on sheets inside each business. On Saturday, when Harrison Street will be closed from Lombard to Highland for a range of activities, the barrels will be collected together at the center on Harrison, where there will be a central bidding spot. Be on guard if you like the barrels outside Pamela Penney Textiles Arts and Valfs halla Records. Sources within the district say those two barrels are getting the most attention.

For some Harrison Street galleries, one hedge in a tough economy is income from classes. Both Pamela Penney, of Pamela Penney Textile Arts, and Matt Kwilas, of Prodigy Glassworks, say that interest in sewing and glassblowing classes, respectively, for all age groups keep customers involved in the arts even if they arenft buying art.

In the last year, in addition to regular classes regardless of season, summer camps for kids were hosted by 11 businesses in the arts district. With the success of the childrenfs art classes, which began last summer, came demand for more adult classes.

“So many parents commented that they were jealous that they didnft get to go to camp and create cool stuff,” says Libbey Paul, director of event planning and marketing for the arts district. According to Paul, more than 30 classes targeted to adults and teens are coming at the beginning of October in a “staycation” called Arts Retreat Weekend. That weekend, Oct. 2 and 3, will launch a 10-day villagewide culture fest called ArtRageous Oak Park. October is National Arts and Humanities Month, and its local salute will start on Harrison Street.

For some Harrison Street galleries, one hedge in a tough economy is income from classes. Both Pamela Penney, of Pamela Penney Textile Arts, and Matt Kwilas, of Prodigy Glassworks, say that interest in sewing and glassblowing classes, respectively, for all age groups keep customers involved in the arts even if they arenft buying art.

In the last year, in addition to regular classes regardless of season, summer camps for kids were hosted by 11 businesses in the arts district. With the success of the childrenfs art classes, which began last summer, came demand for more adult classes.

“So many parents commented that they were jealous that they didnft get to go to camp and create cool stuff,” says Libbey Paul, director of event planning and marketing for the arts district. According to Paul, more than 30 classes targeted to adults and teens are coming at the beginning of October in a “staycation” called Arts Retreat Weekend. That weekend, Oct. 2 and 3, will launch a 10-day villagewide culture fest called ArtRageous Oak Park. October is National Arts and Humanities Month, and its local salute will start on Harrison Street.

Art on Harrison

The name for the fall festival this year:
“Oak Park Trash – The Art of Being Green”

• 6 to 10 p.m. Friday, Sept. 11
• Noon to 8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 12
• The Oak Park Arts District is on Harrison Street between Austin Boulevard and Ridgeland Avenue.
• The first 200 people to arrive on bikes will each get a gift bag.



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