Produced by HuffPost's Eyes & Ears Citizen Journalism Unit
Chicagoans flocked by the hundreds to a Wicker Park art gallery this weekend to see the Chicago Alderman Project: 50 Alderman/50 Artists, a portrait exhibition that intersects local politics and art.
The show, which generated considerable buzz throughout the city, attracted a diverse crowd of people ranging from politicos to art lovers, hipsters to young families, Chicago aldermen to area artists. Illinois Rep. Susan Mendoza and Illinois Commerce Commission chairman Manny Flores braved the packed Johalla Projects, along with representatives of the League of Woman Voters who were on hand to register citizens to vote.
The show's two curators, artist Jeremy Scheuch and political cartoonist Lauri Apple, wondered what would happen if they asked 50 artists to meet with Chicago's 50 aldermen and create an individual portrait of each one based on the reality of what they found, instead of relying on the negative stereotypes that are often part of the Chicago political scene.
"We thought let's make it more than just an art show, let's make it a learning experience," Scheuch said. "You know, we had the lowest voter turnout ever in this last primary in Chicago. It's ridiculous. This wasn't about attacking the alderman. We wanted to get people involved, to get them to inform themselves, and maybe even register people to vote."
The materials used in the humanizing portraits run the gamut from oil and watercolor to video or photographic depictions of the alderman. There is even one portrait made entirely out of Legos.
The experience was a positive one for artist and alderman alike, according to many of those at the event. Artist David Penna, who created an oil portrait of Alderman Joann Thompson of the 16th Ward, spoke about the meeting and the process.
"I read about her and I liked the things she was doing for her community," Penna said. "When I met her I was struck by her personality because she has such strength. People have preconceived ideas about Chicago politics and this project allowed me to connect with the political community and also put myself out there as an artist."
As collaborator and subject, Alderman Thompson felt that it was a rewarding experience.
"I trusted him instantly, and it turned out really well," she said.
Alderman Rey Colon, of the 35th Ward was paired with Logan Square artist and designer Craighton Berman. Colon viewed the results of his portrait with pride.
"He captured me as if he was somebody who has known me throughout my career," Colon said. "He really portrayed my ward and portrayed me."
Berman has even bigger plans for his portrait:
"My intent is to make prints of it and take it to all the businesses and restaurants in the area and ask them to put it up. Your alderman decides a lot of things about what actually goes on in your community. I believe you should know your alderman, you should be informed about who they are and what they do."
Chicago Alderman Project: 50 Alderman/ 50 Artists will run through April 2 at Johalla Projects, 1061 N. Milwaukee Ave. For more information, click here.
Check out some of the art, artists and aldermen here:
"Chicago Aldermen Project" curators Lauri Apple and Jeremy Scheuch.
A gallery visitor views the portraits.
Aldermen adorn the walls of Johalla Projects gallery.
Artist Dubi Kaufmann created a Lego portrait of Alderman Ariel Reboyras.
Alderman Walter Burnett, Jr of the 27th Ward and his photo portrait.
Alderman Rey Colon of the 35th Ward and artist Craighton Berman.
Alderman Willie B. Cochran of 20th Ward with digital portrait artist Shawn Sargent.
Alderman Joe Moore of the 49th Ward with video artist Andy Resek.
Artist Katy Keefe and Alderman Toni Foulkes of the 15th Ward.
Artist David Penna created an oil portrait of Alderman Joann Thompson of the 16th Ward.
The very crowded Johalla Projects on opening night.