The Museum of Science and Industry’s annual Family Day on Saturday, April 2, drew families of all kinds into the museum’s exhibits — kindergarteners chased each other through crowded exhibits, a woman pushed her mother-in-law’s wheelchair, a young girl quietly examined paintings with her aunt.
As guests stepped into the museum’s main rotunda, they were greeted by a display honoring the museum’s 2022 Black Creativity Innovators. The four individuals honored this year include a computer programmer, an artist and a local social entrepreneur.
One of them is Quilen Blackwell, co-founder of Southside Blooms, who was at Family Day with his wife and co-founder, Hannah Blackwell, and other members of the Southside Blooms team.
Southside Blooms, a nonprofit that hires young people on the South Side to help sell flowers from local urban farms, collaborated with the museum to create a hands-on project for museum visitors. Using Chicago-made metal parts designed in the museum’s Wanger Family Fab Lab, along with colorful flowers, guests made boutonniere holders to clip to their clothing and bags.
“It’s kind of surreal to be part of an event like this, and it’s really cool that it’s focused on kids and families. I think it’s really good for kids to see different leaders in Black creativity and also to have an activity that’s hands-on to commemorate it,” said Hannah Blackwell.
Quilen Blackwell said it was “an honor” to be chosen as a Black Creativity Innovator: “I was kind of shocked. When I got the email I didn’t think it was real. I just think it’s really humbling. … The kids will come, they’ll see the flowers, but then (we) get a chance to talk about our work.”
The youth members of the Southside Bloom team were busy helping guests create their floral boutonniere holders. “The real stars are our youth. That’s who we do this for,” said Quilen Blackwell, smiling.
Manny Juarez, the museum’s Director of Science and Integrated Strategies, emphasized Family Day’s impact on the museum’s programming. “The big thing is drawing attention to Black Creativity. If we could do this every weekend, that would be great. … We want to get as many guests as possible engaging in that program.”
The Black Creativity exhibits showcase the achievements of African American scientists, engineers, doctors and artists. One of them, the Black Creativity Juried Art Exhibition, started in 1970 as the product of a collaboration between the museum and a Hyde Park organization, Black Aesthetics. According to Juarez, it is the longest continuously running exhibition of African American art in the nation.
The Juried Art Exhibition spans two stories of gallery space, with any and all artistic media represented — a brightly colored quilt hangs next to a painstakingly rendered graphite portrait, while a film piece plays on repeat from a flat screen television mounted to the wall.
Over 800 pieces were submitted to the jury that curates the exhibition. Out of those 800, the jury selected 121 pieces from 91 adult artists. Additionally, 22 students submitted 64 total pieces of work, all of which hang in the gallery.
To families visiting the museum, the Black Creativity Juried Art Exhibition was more than just an art gallery. Tanisha Hemphill, a mother and the founder of Black Mom Resource, noted the importance of the exhibit to her family: “I think that it’s really nice (for my daughters) to see a reflection of themselves in the exhibits, because I’ve been coming here since I was a kid, and this is my favorite museum in Chicago, and not seeing a reflection of themselves… it is really nice to be able to see a change, even for my next generation.”
Hemphill’s daughters, Chloe and Eva, also enjoyed the art. “This is basically my favorite exhibit,” Chloe said. “I’ve always liked to make art,” Eva chimed in.
Janel Pilate is a Big Sister through a local Big Sister Little Sister chapter, a mentoring program that pairs young women with older mentors. Pilate brought her young niece and Little Sister to the museum.
When asked what brought them into the museum for Family Day, Pilate responded: “The Black Creativity exhibit. Obviously just wanting to expose them to a lot of Black art, because on this mass scale we don’t really get it as much. … But also just bonding and having an experience together.”
Brooklynn Larue, Pilate’s Little Sister, was particularly moved by the pieces addressing police brutality, and specifically noted Ron Beckham’s “Untitled #50” as one of her favorite art pieces
Although she couldn’t choose a favorite piece, Pilate kept coming back to “Little Dragon,” painted by Erin Kendrick. The piece features a young Black girl rendered in brilliant color, one finger lifted, staring directly at the viewer. “I like this one, just because of my little one,” said Pilate, gesturing to her niece. “It’s just the aura of the painting… how much (spunk) it gives off, and resistance and resilience. I just want that for her.”