The sons of Leslie Ann Jones and Tom Johnson are funding an arts scholarship in their mother's name. | Photo courtesy Ben Johnson

The Oak Park Area Arts Council (OPAAC) has added a new scholarship for 2021 to the awards it already grants for graduating high school seniors. The Leslie Ann Jones Memorial Award is a $1,000 scholarship that will go to a female of color planning to major in visual arts. Jones was a board member and president of OPAAC from the late 1990s to the early 2000s.  

Jones and her husband Thomas E. Johnson were murdered in their Oak Park home in April. It was their sons who wanted to set up the Memorial Fund. 

“Both were the salt of the earth,” Wilson White said of Jones and Johnson. “They were always trying to make it a better place and stand up for the underserved. They were both just good people.”

Wilson White worked with Jones at the Art Council, including on the Continental Harmony Project, a White House Millennium Council Project. “Professional composers worked with local musical organizations to create compositions that reflect the past, present and future of the local communities,” a White House newsletter from the time stated.

In Oak Park, one of 58 communities across the country that were chosen to participate, the composition “Symphony of Place” celebrated the village’s racial diversity and its Fair Housing Ordinance passed in 1968. 

Early in the process, Jones opened her home to the community to voice their thoughts on the project to the composer James Kimo Williams, a professor at Columbia College and composer in residence for the Chicago Sinfonietta. Wilson White said 40 to 45 people attended the reception and that Kimo said it was one of the most wonderful things he ever saw someone do.  

The performance, on Jan. 27, 2001, included 450 people on stage according to Wilson White. Two of those were Harriette and McLouis “Mac” Robinet, among the first African American home buyers in Oak Park, who used a straw buyer to accomplish this feat in 1965. During Williams’ symphony, they spoke in time to the music of The Symphony of Oak Park and River Forest, while reading the Village of Oak Park’s Diversity Statement. Also performing that night were OPRFs Jazz Ensemble, Heritage Chorale, Pro Musica, an assembled community gospel group and others. 

It was Jones’ idea to keep ticket prices affordable and most seats were filled in the Oak Park and River Forest High School Auditorium, Wilson White recalled.

Jones also was passionate about public art. While a public art ordinance was being written by the village government, she crafted more robust language, Wilson White said, and started a public art advisory commission within the village government. Now, that function is carried out through OPAAC.   

“We have a heightened visibility of art and get calls all the time from cities and towns all over about our public art,” Wilson White said. “We have gained credibility when it comes to public art.”

It was Jones who said they should put public art near businesses and in some parks for increased visibility.  

The Leslie Ann Jones Memorial Fund is accepting donations. More:

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