There will be dancing, music, poetry and, of course, visual art as the Oak Park Art League (OPAL) celebrates its 100th anniversary. 

“I planned the year keeping in mind that our organization has hit all those disciplines at some point in our history,” said Jill Kramer Goldstein, executive director of OPAL.

Kramer Goldstein said she took a dive into the archives and found pamphlets showing they danced at OPAL in the 1930s and 1940s (There were notes that said  “Don’t dance too hard on the floor.”) and they did poetry readings in the 1970s. “We’re really paying homage to the past, but in a current way,” she said.

Having something for everyone may help attract new faces to the 100-year-old institution. Kramer Goldstein said she still hears of too many people who have never come in. For a place that is always free, and has a new art exhibition every month, (allowing for being COVID-safe) there has never been a better time to check out or revisit the Carriage House Gallery at 720 Chicago Ave. Classes are still running too.   

This isn’t where OPAL got its start, however, and the Oak Park Art League wasn’t even its name. It started in founding artist member Carl Krafft’s Austin home with Chicago-area artists gathering and creating The Austin Oak Park and River Forest Art League in 1921. It was renamed the Oak Park Art League in 1970.

That’s not all that has changed. It has moved around from former locales like the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio and the Nineteenth Century Club to its current location, an E.E. Roberts design. The Carriage House Gallery, as it is now known, has been OPAL’s home since 1937. OPAL needed a permanent home because of its growing membership, which included Grace Hall Hemingway, author Ernest’s mother. 

Carl Krafft, artist and founder of the Oak Park Art League (Photos provided by Oak Park Art League).

To help educate the community about the early years of the art league and about art in the area during the first 25 years of the league’s existence, OPAL has partnered with The Oak Park River Forest Museum for a virtual program on Wednesday, March 31, 7:30 to 8:30 p.m., A Century of Culture: The Creation & Early Years of the Oak Park Art League.

While the history event serves as a kickoff for the centennial, April brings more activity to OPAL. The annual Spring Members Exhibition opening reception is April 9, 1 to 9 p.m. And the installation and dedication of a courtyard bronze statue by OPAL member artist Mike Vest commemorating Oak Parker Bobbie Raymond, who not only was important to OPAL, but to the community with her fight for fair housing, will be unveiled. 

OPAL’s May exhibition, Intersection: Art & Word, ties in with the centennial’s quarterly celebration of written and spoken word for April, May and June. This period also includes a Spoken Word event collaboration with Arbor West Neighbors. “We are reaching out a little bit more,” Kramer Goldstein said. Other collaborations include A House in Austin, Chicago, and Momenta Dance Company, Oak Park. 

In an effort to be accessible to everyone, the installation of an ADA compliant bathroom is planned this year, too. Events like a courtyard Starry Night evening with live music will help raise funds.   

Also new, August brings Antonia Ruppert to OPAL as artist-in-residence. Kramer Goldstein said Ruppert will be “presenting new work, utilizing studio space for programming open to the public, talking about her work and initiatives she’s working on.” Ruppert is currently the artist-in-residence for Chicago’s Austin community.

Executive director Jill Kramer Goldstein stands for a photo out front on Saturday, March 27, 2021, at the Oak Park Art League on Chicago Avenue in Oak Park, Ill. | ALEX ROGALS/Staff Photographer

The September OPAL art show will be a national juried exhibition. An OPAL Centennial Yearbook is expected to be published in November in conjunction with the Artist Member Exhibition, during the final quarter dedicated to dance and movement in the arts. 

OPAL will continue to hold classes as it has throughout much of the pandemic, although with lower participant numbers for social distancing and a modified set up in its upstairs art studio space. All visitors must wear masks and other COVID safety protocols are in place. Exhibit openings have been adjusted to accommodate visitors all day instead of the two-hour evening reception of pre-COVID days. 

Funding to keep OPAL running and to make up for lost revenue during the pandemic has come from grants, donations and the sale of paintings from their permanent collection.  

“If we can get through the centennial and celebrate it in a way that celebrates our past, present and our future, on top of the pandemic, we can do anything,” Kramer Goldstein said while reflecting back on OPAL surviving 100 years.  

The Carriage House Gallery is open weekdays 1 to 5 p.m., and Saturdays, 1 to 4 p.m. More on OPAL and the centennial celebration: A Century of Culture: The Creation & Early Years of the Oak Park Art League is Wednesday, March 31, 7:30 to 8:30 p.m., presented virtually. $10; member discounts available. Tickets and more here.

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