The motto of the Union League Club of Chicago is “community, country and culture.” That commitment is on display in the club’s recent support of a cultural institution in the Kenwood community called Little Black Pearl.
Brandis Friedman: On the corner of 47th and Greenwood stands a high school and cultural arts center. At Little Black Pearl Art and Design Academy the curriculum can include painting, jewelry making and dance. At the Union League Club in the South Loop, an exhibition on the third floor gallery features paintings made by aspiring young artists who study at Little Black Pearl. And the students have been mentored in more than creativity.
Daria Amerik, teacher at Little Black Pearl: All teenagers have attention spans that they’re going crazy all the time, so this teaches them to be consistent. It also teaches them professional development.
Kyrin Hobson, Union League Club member: An important focus of all of this is the realities of careers in the arts. We talk a lot about that. What does it take to become an artist? If you love art and you might not wanna be a practicing artist you could be a curator, and they’ll meet a curator. You could direct a cultural foundation. They meet a cultural foundation director. You could be a gallerist, work at an auction house, work in museums where there’s woeful underrepresentation of people of color.
Amerik: This is really an example of what the art world is like for them as opposed to just sitting in a school creating stuff that they like and not knowing where to take it. This is a direct example for them, and it’s to help them also with their portfolios for art school.
Friedman: The theme for the students this year is "I Am." We asked one young artist about her painting.
Shabrea Austin, student artist: I was born on 63rd and California, so that’s where that comes from. And we used to go to the store and you know get snacks and all that, so that’s where Mike’s Corner Store came from. You gotta go back to your roots. We’re African-American, so we come from Africa so that’s where the jungle is inspired. And downtown Chicago—everybody loves it so, and I’m always there, so I felt like I needed to put that in there.
Hobson: To declare who you are, capture it in a work of art and put it out there for the public is tremendously affirming for these students, and the depth of thought that they’ve put into this, and that their classroom teacher brings out of them, is extremely compelling.
Friedman: The Union League Club has collected art since the late 19th century. This Claude Monet painting was purchased in 1895 for $500.
Sally Metzler, Union League Club, art director: We have around 800 works in this collection. In the early days, we did collect European art, and we’ve started to focus more on the past 10-20 years on local art and supporting Chicago artists and in particular the Midwest as well. And emerging artists is really one of our passions now. We have a wonderful art committee that is all led by members of the Union League Club, and they go out into the community and search for new artists, new talent and bring those artists here.
Friedman: Students from Little Black Pearl studied the club’s collection.
Austin: When we first started we had a look around, got some inspiration.
Amerik: They look at the paintings by the great masters here, the collection here, and they gain inspiration. We go back to the studio and they whip up their own ideas and this is the outcome.
Hobson: They don’t hold back. That’s the great thing about teenagers, yes, they’re all in. Their classroom teacher is in there with her sleeves rolled up, guiding them every day. The school fosters a climate of joy.
The exhibition of art from the Little Black Pearl is expected to be displayed at the Union League Club through the end of the week. All of the artwork by the students is for sale, and all proceeds benefit the Little Black Pearl and its students. Anyone interested in purchasing the artwork should contact Sally Metzler.
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