Some much-needed good news came to 30 area arts organizations last week when Oak Park Area Arts Council (OPAAC) distributed funds from a $20,000 grant awarded through the Rapid Response and Recovery Fund set up by the Community Foundation of Oak Park and River Forest. The funds were distributed based on parameters predetermined by the OPAAC Board Grant Review Panel.


Camille Wilson White, executive director of the Arts Council, said the receiving organizations were not expecting these funds and were surprised and happy. These organizations also receive grant money from the Village of Oak Park and the Illinois Arts Council, distributed through OPAAC.


The local arts community has been hit hard during quarantine due to COVID-19. Art galleries and local museums are closed, and performance venues are shuttered. Several arts-focused classes and a handful of events have gone virtual, and some fundraising efforts have too, but the income from these does not match what it had been prior to shut down.


“It really is an honor to receive the Rapid Response Recovery funds and to be able to help the arts community during this crisis,” said Wilson White.


The organizations which received Rapid Recovery Relief Funds grant money are Choreospace, Church of Beethoven, Chicago West Community Music Center, Chicago a cappella, Dominican University Performing Arts Center, Ernest Hemingway Foundation, Expressions Graphics, Forest Park Arts Alliance, Frank Lloyd Wright Trust, Habakkuk Theater, Handel Week, Heritage Chorale, Historical Society of Oak Park River Forest, Illinois Storytelling Inc., Michael Teolis Singers, MOMENTA, Oak Park Education Foundation, Oak Park Art League, Oak Park Concert Chorale, Oak Park Festival Theatre, Open Door Repertory Company, Oriana Singers, PING!, Pleasant Home, Pro Musica, Speculative Literature Foundation, The Symphony of Oak Park River Forest, Unity Temple Restoration Foundation, Winifred Haun & Dancers and Wonder Works Children’s Museum.


Two summer art projects cancelled

While OPAAC applies for, manages and distributes grants, it also runs art programs of its own. Two of those are on hold this summer, also fallout from COVID-19.


Off the Wall and Mini Murals are both cancelled. Cutting these two programs, along with postponing public art repair and Oak Park Arts District sign beautification will save the Village of Oak Park a proposed $63,000.


Off the Wall employs a professional artist, an apprentice and several young artists, ages 16 to 22, from Oak Park and often from the Austin neighborhood of Chicago. Since 2005, they have installed a mosaic mural on a local building or other locale during the summer months. The 2019 mural can be seen on the YMCA at 255 S. Marion St. It celebrates both the 125th anniversary of the Rotary Club and 115th anniversary of YMCA. The 2020 project was going to be at the newly renovated Stevenson Park in Oak Park. 


Mini Murals are painted along the railroad retaining walls on North and South Boulevards. Artists submit proposals and those with winning selections are awarded $1,000 stipends to cover the cost of supplies and some of the time to complete the works.


During both projects, social distancing is difficult. For Off the Wall, the artists work in groups from two to four, according to Wilson White. When Mini Murals are created, the artists will, at times, be painting simultaneously. In both cases, passers-by stop to watch and ask questions.


“It tears at my heart to see people getting sick and dying,” Wilson White said. “I am going to do my part to keep our artists safe and I feel strongly about the safety for the people of the village. I want peace of mind that no one is going to get sick while we’re creating something beautiful for the village.”


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