CPS students’ self-portraits find impressive canvas: the Merchandise Mart

The artwork by members of the class of 2022 will be featured through Art on theMART twice nightly from Friday through May 4.

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Tiffany Delgado’s “Beaded Ears” self-portrait is projected onto the Merchandise Mart for a test-run ahead of the April 22 premiere of CPS students’ projects.

Tiffany Delgado’s “Beaded Ears” self-portrait is projected onto the Merchandise Mart for a test-run ahead of the April 22 premiere of CPS students’ projects.

Photography courtesy of Art on theMART

Tiffany Delgado’s goal was to represent her native Ecuadorian culture through art.

When she started painting her self-portrait, the 17-year-old senior at Von Steuben Metropolitan High School considered featuring a colorful Ecuadorian necklace. But in the end she focused on an earring she and her mother brought from the South American country when they immigrated to Chicago about a decade ago.

Through two AP art class periods — plus a long Saturday painting session — Tiffany did her best to show off the flair that reminded her of home. As it turns out, she did such a nice job that the whole city will soon get a peek.

Tiffany’s artwork, titled “Beaded Ears,” will be one of eight Chicago Public Schools seniors’ painted portraits set to be displayed starting Friday on the façade of the Merchandise Mart building.

“Beaded Ears”

“Beaded Ears,” a self-portrait by CPS student Tiffany Delgado

Provided/Tiffany Delgado

Anyone out for a stroll or drive through downtown Chicago over the next two weeks can catch a glimpse of the animated projections selected from a citywide student art competition in the second year of the district’s partnership with Art on theMART. They’ll be accompanied by an original musical score — also composed, produced, engineered and performed by a CPS student — that can be best heard on the Riverwalk between Wells and Franklin streets. The CPS projects will run twice nightly at 8:30 and 9 p.m. through May 4.

“It expresses how I’m proud of where I’m from, and I can remember [Ecuador] every day here in Chicago,” Tiffany said of her portrait. “It reminds me of my family over there, and also how our culture is very colorful when it comes to clothing, and also food.”

Tiffany Delgado poses for a portrait across from Merchandise Mart in the loop, Thursday, April 21, 2022. Delgado is one of eight CPS seniors who will have their paintings displayed on the exterior of Merchandise Mart.

Tiffany Delgado stands across from the Merchandise Mart in the loop, Thursday, April 21, 2022. Delgado is one of eight CPS seniors who will have their paintings displayed on the exterior of the building.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Tiffany and the other seven students submitted their pieces to the All-City High School Visual Arts Exhibition, which since last year has worked in conjunction with Art on theMART to also select top artwork for projection onto the mart.

Though the team at Art on theMART likes the way portraits show up on the wide canvas that is the Merchandise Mart, executive director Cynthia Noble said it wasn’t necessarily the plan for all the pieces to be portraits. But there were no complaints when that’s what all the top selections turned out to be.

“It was a wonderful, happy coincidence,” Noble said. “We wanted to represent as many regions of the CPS system as possible. And so we had that idea of representation in mind anyway. And then what better way to offer a sense of diverse representation than to show students’ portraits.”

The other pieces were painted by students at Lake View, Amundsen, Senn, Ombudsman, Lindblom, ChiARTS and Westinghouse, while the musical score was done by a Senn student. The portraits were originally two-dimensional paintings, but the Mart team worked to animate them so they move across the building’s side. In the future, the goal will be to expand the partnership with CPS to have students create animations from the start, Noble said.

“It’s extra wonderful for students to not only see their artwork on the building but in some cases to see their own face on the building at such a large scale,” she said. “We’re hoping that’s very uplifting for the students and their communities.”

Tiffany said art used to be a hobby, but she started to take it more seriously in high school when her art teacher recognized her skills. She is still undecided on a major at the University of Illinois-Chicago, where she starts college next fall, but she’s thinking of pursuing architecture to keep some form of art in her life.

She and her family are planning to attend an 8:15 p.m. ceremony Friday for the CPS projects’ premiere. Laughing, she predicted her mom might cry when her portrait shines on the side of the Mart.

“I really never would have expected one of my art pieces to be selected and to have this much recognition. It’s just something I’m super proud of because I made my parents proud and also my teachers and friends.”

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