Rings of fire swirl in the air, glinting off the windows of the building ahead. Flames whip around, illuminating the evening, fighting against the oncoming dusk. On the ground beside the fire, a young girl calmly lies down on a bed of nails, smiling as a cinder block is placed on top of her. A man in red soars skyward, twists, flips and returns back down as one of his comrades springs up. “The tumbling team got rained out last year, so we’re hoping that won’t happen again this year,” laughs Colleen Coyne of the Hyde Park Art Center (HPAC). The acrobatics, fire, and nails will all be a part of HPAC’s free twenty-four-hour bash, “Creative Move Too,” an extravaganza celebrating the organization’s one-year anniversary in its sleek new facility. Although there will be cake and juggling, this is not the average birthday party. The fire-spinners and tumblers are a pre-cursor to a marathon of art, music, and “creative endurance,” and they serve merely as the parking lot entertainment.
Looking north from 51st Street, HPAC sits at an unassuming new address. Tucked behind a gas station, with a big blue “H” painted on the side, the brick building has the appearance of a cozy community arts center. But this view belies the true size of the building, and the school, studio and gallery housed within. A stroll down Cornell reveals a contemporary design which stretches out for half the block. Replete with an 800-square-foot digital projection faÃ§ade, a glass panel which allows the center to project images from inside the gallery to the outside of the building, this is no kitschy community center.
HPAC has long been a fixture for modern art on the South Side. Their former space, in the ballroom of the Del Prado apartment building, was charming and welcoming, but small. Space, of course, is one of the main perks of the new building–and the focus of “Takeover,” the exhibit showcased at last year’s inaugural fÃªte. While space will not be the focus of this year’s festivities, it is still a noticeable influence and has allowed for more daring installations, like “The Speaker Project.” This engaging exhibit, featuring a two-story speaker, plays with different sound experiences and is a must-see at Creative Move Too.
Besides the gallery, both the studio and the school have profited from the new space. The art classes have flourished, with traditional choices like painting, sculpture and ceramics offered alongside metal-smithing, silkscreening and digital photography. On any given day, the airy interior hums with kids, professional artists, and first-time workshoppers. As Coyne explained, HPAC is an eclectic meeting place: “We have a lot of diversity here, a lot of people from different walks of life that wouldn’t meet elsewhere all come together here. That’s what we’re trying to do.”
HPAC has pushed forward, but remains firmly rooted in the South Side community. Despite the polished new digs and its drive to become more of a household name in Chicago’s modern art scene, the center has not fallen victim to a technological takeover or an ego-trip. Just as accessible and engaging as ever, HPAC remains a place for the community to gather, discuss and learn about alternative art, just as they did in the days of art matriarch Ruth P. Horwick. “Back in the sixties before the Museum of Contemporary Art existed downtown, her house was where contemporary artists would come and gather and talk about art and share their work with each other. Her house was really the salon and gathering place,” explains Coyne. With its well-stocked bookshelves, one of the first rooms one comes across at HPAC is 4833: rph (4833 was Horwick’s address), a gathering place dedicated to sparking discussion and promoting art education.
Though the year-old space is sophisticated and refined with floor to ceiling windows, it still has an offbeat vibe. The extravagant program planned for Creative Move Too captures all of the usual HPAC quirkiness. Kicking off Saturday, April 28th, this year’s shindig promises to be epic: from shadow puppets for kids to whimsical aerial ballet (a frightening feat in which dancers tangle themselves up in long silks hung from dazzling heights) to mesmerizing belly-dancing. Besides this, there is of course the art. The party features five exhibitions including several receptions with Chicago’s most innovative minds. This year HPAC is “encouraging people to hang out for the long haul!” exclaims Coyne. With the help of “creative endurance” activities (a dance-a-thon, a knit-a-thon, a chess-a-thon, and art-a-thon) as well as drink specials and a sumptuous Sunday Brunch, this shouldn’t prove too daunting a challenge.