Collaborative art project connects Evanston residents


Daily file photo by Colin Boyle

Evanston artist Melissa Blount at a February event. Blount is a collaborator on a project sponsored by the city’s Arts Council.

Ahlaam Delange, Reporter

Community artist and organizer Jason Brown launched a collaborative art project Sunday in a shared effort to bring residents together during the “cold, isolating” winter months.

The “unCovered” installment, the first workshop of Evanston’s 2018 Winter HeARTh community project, was hosted at the Evanston Ecology Center and will be followed by a second workshop on March 10. The annual public art series is a collaborative effort sponsored by the Evanston Arts Council that pursues community engagement during the winter.

This year’s project involves community members sewing square pieces that answer prompts about their sentiments toward the community, which will later be incorporated into a collective quilt. The assembled quilt or garment will be worn in a “future community empowerment event,” according to the city’s website.

“I like the idea of people coming out and putting down their opinions and feelings about the community in a tangible way,” Brown told The Daily. “Art and craft is empowering in that way.”

Brown said the more comfortable people are in expressing themselves, the more likely they will “push those feelings out” into society and improve the community.

The series has initiated collaborative events since 2014. This year’s main collaborator is Evanston artist Melissa Blount, who uses her background as a clinical psychologist to explore the notions of trauma, white supremacy and bearing witness to the unjust violent loss of life in communities of color, according to a city news release.  

Blount told The Daily she became captivated with the women of Gee’s Bend Quiltmakers, a small community of black women who create quilts in Alabama. The women have created hundreds of quilts for “utilitarian purposes” that date back from the early twentieth century, she said.  

Their work inspired Blount’s Black Lives Matter Witness Quilt, a project that seeks to memorialize women and girls murdered by their abusers.

“(Brown) was talking about how moved he was by the project and how we could work together,” Blount said. “He was really moved by the idea of taking social movement and actively engaging a community that would not otherwise think about these subject matters.”

Maike van Wijk, an artist originally from the Netherlands who attended the event, told The Daily that race was not always the dominant form of identification in her communities until immigrating to the United States. She said while most Americans think of people in terms of “black and white,” that mentality is much different in the Netherlands, where ethnic and cultural identification are more common.

Van Wijk said she appreciated the space that Blount and Brown provided for conversation and said the prompts “really make you think” about living in Evanston.

“Yes, we are kind of in a liberal bubble, but there are still a lot of issues that we need to address,” van Wijk said. “There are still some things underneath that we need to figure out.”

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Twitter: @ahlaamdelange