Artist in Residence Jon Veal tapes off an area on the wall that he plans to paint inside the Idea Box at the Oak Park Public Library on Lake Street. | Alexa Rogals/Staff Photographer

From strolling through Scoville Park, drumming up interest by passing out percussion instruments for the kickoff in September to covering the walls from floor to ceiling in the “Idea Box” with paint, artist Jon Veal is trying to inspire youth with his drop-in programs at the Oak Park Public Library.

During his two-hour art sessions for students in grades 6 through 12, Veal provides some structure but allows for flexibility.

“We had one art project where they drew by looking at one another and couldn’t take their eyes off each other or lift their pen,” Veal said. “The idea is to really see what you’re drawing.”

The young artists were also intrigued by Carole Harrison’s brass and copper, larger-than-life “Unity and Growth” across the hall in the vestibule of the Main Library.

“They just started drawing the sculpture,” he said.

That piece, dating back to 1966, has been located there since the new library opened in 2003. It was also at fixture at the previous Main Library. Surely these students had walked by it countless times, but now they were seeing it with fresh eyes — artists’ eyes — and recording those visions on paper.

Children and Middle School Services Librarian Jose Cruz said many students find the library to be a safe haven to come to after school. He said the idea for the Artist in Residence program is to provide quality programming that helps all students feel welcome.

“I’m particularly proud that we have had, so far, a Puerto Rican and an African American artist lead the classes and serve as role models for the students who frequent the library after school, which happen to be mostly students of color,” Cruz said.

In January, the library’s first artist in residence, poet and vocalist Luis Tubens, began holding writing workshops and open mics. The program was such a success, he continues to work with students at weekly writing meet-ups, monthly open mics, and weekly after-school chess.

Meanwhile, Veal’s concluding project is in full swing. The Idea Box, located outside the Main entrance, has ongoing changing art and exhibits. Veal has selected an “uplifting color palette” for the walls to be painted.

This particular project could be life altering for one student who has regularly attended the drop-in sessions.

D’Mauri “DJ” Jackson, a Gwendolyn Brooks Middle School seventh-grader, started life on the West Side of Chicago and loved to paint as a young boy. But he had not picked up a paintbrush since his mother died when he was 7 years old. The following year, his father also died.

Now 13, he is being raised by his grandmother, whom DJ says “is the best.” The smiles come easily and he loves drawing cartoon characters and passing them on to friends to color because he can always draw some more. In the past, he “discovered spray paint” and customized his scooter and bikes with friends. But painting expressively did not happen until now.

“We painted rocks, stacked them and put them in the Idea Box,” DJ said. “We painted them in all colors — blue, yellow, brown, purple. That was my favorite art project.”

The cairns were left on display with the lights dim to create a mysterious look that DJ also liked. But the next installment means the students will be painting the walls as well as canvases. When asked how he’ll feel about unleashing all that creativity with a brush and paint once again, DJ smiled.

“It’s going to feel good,” he said.

On Friday, Nov. 10, and Wednesday, Nov. 15, students can join in the Community Painting Project and Gallery Installation at the Idea Box, Main Library, 834 Lake St., from 4 to 6 p.m. A reception will be held Friday, Nov. 17, from 4 to 6 p.m.

More than a Mic, an open mic event for grades 6 to 12, is held the last Wednesday each month from 5 to 7 p.m., in the Veterans Room at Main. The next one is Nov. 29. Writing meet-ups are held every Wednesday, 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Chess is on Tuesdays, 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Both meet in the Children’s Department, Main Library. 

Join the discussion on social media!