MSI’s Black Creativity program features exhibit of African-American art

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Students from Emmett Till Elementary take part in the Museum of Science and Industry’s Innovation Studio, which is part of the museum’s Black Creativity exhibit. | Annie Costabile/Sun-Times

Students from Emmett Till Elementary in Woodlawn filled the Museum of Science and Industry’s Innovation Studio on Wednesday to craft, create and become inventors.

It was just one stop on their tour of the museum’s Black Creativity program, which celebrates the scientific breakthroughs and creative works of African-Americans. The museum’s juried art exhibition is the longest-running exhibition of African-American art in the United States.

“This is our celebration of the contributions that African-Americans have given to fields of science, technology, engineering, medicine, entrepreneurship, art — of course — and creativity,” said Manny Juarez, the museum’s director of science and integrated strategies. “We have a variety of programs that we hold, some of them all year, but particularly starting on Martin Luther King Day and going through Black History Month.”

The juried art exhibition is the most notable attraction and was started in 1970 by Black Aesthetics, a Hyde Park organization.

“They approached the museum about hosting their exhibit,” Juarez said. “The museum accepted, and it’s just been going on for 50 years continuously. It demonstrates how important the community is to the museum, and hopefully the importance of us to the community. We’re really part of Hyde Park. We’re part of the South Side neighborhood.”

The two-story exhibit features art by professional artists from across the country on the first floor and the second is filled with pieces done by Chicago high school students. This year’s gallery is the largest in Black Creativity history and features more than 170 pieces.

After the Black Creativity program wraps up in February, the museum’s art and creativity department begins contacting local high schools as well as professional artists nationwide for the next year. The call for entries begins in the fall. Once submissions are made, pieces are selected by a panel of five jurors.

“We understand that this programming is about putting a spark or some interest in these students’ minds,” Juarez said. “Hopefully they’ll come back from our programming and look at things a little bit different in their schools and in their classrooms.”

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