They arrived felted, taped, knitted, painted, cross-stitched, sculpted, scissored, drawn and mirrored — stamped and mailed, art bare and exposed to the elements. Others were walked in, or carefully packed in envelopes stamped “Austria,” “South Africa,” “New York,” with artist statements or no information at all. 

This is how 500 postcards, wearing the vision of each artist’s interpretation of “Sanctuary,” came to the Oak Park Art League (OPAL) to be exhibited in this month’s Art for Social Change show, a historical tip-of-the-hat honoring the 50th anniversary of Oak Park’s Fair Housing Ordinance while also addressing the timely topic of sanctuary cities.

This is a fitting location for such an exhibit — Oak Park has been a sanctuary city since February 2017, and passed the local Fair Housing Ordinance just after the federal Fair Housing Act of 1968, which prohibited discrimination during the sale, rental or financing of housing, based on race, religion, national origin or sex.

“We wanted to tie in with the historical anniversary,” said Gina Lee Robbins, OPAL board member. “Oak Park, at that time, was really a trailblazer in fair housing and implementing the act essentially as it was written — how you can advertise and such — to support the Fair Housing Act.”

This exhibit is inspired by a similar annual fundraiser started 20 years ago by Visual AIDS in New York called, Postcards from the Edge. All the postcards are sold with buyers unaware of whose art they are buying. Robbins, an OPAL member artist who works in sculpture and mixed media, has participated in Postcards from the Edge the past two years. Proceeds go toward Visual AIDS art programs and supplies for artists living with HIV/AIDS.

At the Sanctuary show, one may purchase local student art, an OPAL member creation, or possibly a piece sent in by a European artist with works at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The creator of each 4-by-6-inch piece will not be revealed until the purchase is complete.

First dibs go to those who attend a ticketed Preview Party this Thursday. All the postcards will be on display, including 300 by students that were completed at area school and library events. The postcards sell for $75 each that evening. On Friday, an opening reception is open to all, and the postcards will sell for $35 each. The proceeds will be split between the Oak Park Regional Housing Center, the Pro Bono Network, and OPAL to cover exhibition costs.

These organizations were chosen to be the beneficiaries because “equity in justice and equity in housing seem to remain the things that are out of balance,” Robbins said, “and, the organizations this will support are so important to our community. It’s an opportunity to get some really unique work for $35— what you’d spend on coffee in a month — and you get a special reminder that is meaningful in some way.”

Running in conjunction with Sanctuary is Resist! A Visual History of Protest, with the art of Franklin McMahon, who documented such events as the Emmitt Till trial, the Civil Rights Movement and housing protests. His daughter, Oak Park sculptor Margot McMahon, will be speaking at the Preview Party about her father and his art. An OPAL artist member, Margot is herself an artist of note, currently “creating the first sculpture of a Chicago poet in Chicago’s parks, Gwendolyn Brooks,” according to her website.

Both exhibits run through June 1. Of the postcards that don’t sell, some will be set aside for historical reference, with some staying at the Oak Park Art League, some going to Oak Park River Forest Museum, and others going to the Newberry Library in Chicago.

The Preview Party is Thursday, May 10, from 7 to 9 p.m., $20, tickets at the door. The opening reception is Friday, May 11, 7 to 9 p.m. Remaining postcards will be available for viewing or purchase through June 1. Gallery hours are Mondays through Fridays, 1 to 5 p.m.; Saturdays, 1 to 4 p.m. Questions: 708-386-9853, 720 Chicago Ave. 

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