As rain spat outside, Chinatown residents and other interested Chicagoans gathered in the cozy basement of the Chinese-American Museum for a simple purpose: to draw. As a part of The Big Draw Chicago, a month-long and city-wide festival, visitors were asked to transform their personal impressions of Chinatown into drawings.
For most people, Chinatown means food–Crayola drawings popped up depicting a traditional dim sum table setting, a steaming bowl of noodles, and a cup of bubble tea. One monochromatic drawing, a scene from the restaurant Lao Hunan, was hastily rendered in thin brown marker, complete with a large cartoon of Chairman Mao on the wall and a small waiter garbed in a military uniform on the corner of the page. Another was a study in green and black crayon that suggested, more than delineated, the interior of a dim sum restaurant with light, shaky lines. The museum collected the finished drawings of those willing to donate their artwork, which are to be presented at the Museum’s fundraising gala in early November. The gala’s theme is “Beyond the Centennial,” in reference to the 100-year anniversary that the neighborhood is celebrating throughout this year.
The idea behind The Big Draw was conceived twelve years ago in the United Kingdom, and has since migrated to cities like New York and Los Angeles. This year, for the first time, it reached Chicago. The Big Draw and its parent organization, the Campaign for Drawing, has a clear and humble purpose: to encourage people to draw by creating supportive, lively environments where the only requirement is enthusiasm.
Anita Luk, executive director of the Chinese-American Museum, told me that she first heard about The Big Draw when a UIC student named Sandy recommended that she submit the Museum for consideration as a venue. It immediately made perfect sense. “It was like killing two birds with one stone,” Luk said–with this event, Chinatown residents and others could engage in a positive, community-building gathering, and the Museum could attract more Chicagoans to Chinatown in honor of its centennial.
Young couples and small groups trickled in throughout the afternoon. Luk said, with a tinge of regret, that they had initially hoped to hold the event outside, in the Museum’s parking lot, but the weather hadn’t permitted. Instead, the event was tucked away inside the Museum’s basement–an intimate space lit with warm recessed lights that was welcoming after the narrow stairs we took to reach it. This room contained tables covered in bright red and green tablecloths, bearing sheets of printer paper and buckets of crayons. Ensconced in this inviting space, safe from the pouring rain, we drew.