This Wednesday, attendees of the Smart Museum’s opening reception of its new exhibition Feast were treated to art, food, and drink. What made this opening unconventional was that the “feast” itself was the art; various participatory meals engaged artist and media with the attendees. The combination of live music, free drinks, and interactive art made the event a huge success, drawing a large, enthusiastic crowd. Perhaps the most notable aspect of the gathering, though, was its diversity: students and faculty members were joined by guests from Hyde Park and the wider Chicago arts community. With the success of Feast in mind, the University should look to organize more interactive events similar in terms of wide-ranging appeal and accessibility.
All of the artworks featured were in some way shared experiences, giving the event an unusually lively atmosphere: guests drank beer with artist Tom Marioni as a part of his social artwork The Act of Drinking Beer With Friends Is The Highest Form of Art; students carved butter sculptures along with artist Sonja Alhäuser, whose own butter and marzipan sculptures were on display, and Michael Rakowitz’s Enemy Kitchen food truck was parked outside to serve regional Iraqi cuisine on paper replicas of Saddam Hussein’s china.
An element of interactivity can also be applied to events concerning more than visual arts. The Hyde Park Folk Festival is a good example of this. Attendees are encouraged to talk to the artists and play instruments, as well as attend workshops and concerts. The humanities departments or the various museums on campus could plan similar events that mix interactivity and culture. Structuring events in such a way would make them more accessible to Chicagoans outside of the academic sphere.
These types of events are the perfect means for greater community interaction and for making the U of C a center of culture in Chicago. They are also a great way to meet fellow students with similar interests, or perhaps just to provide a fun diversion from the grind of nonstop work, benefits that are largely absent from academic talks.
The U of C’s arts scene once appeared to be on life support. However, with the opening of the Logan Center, the arts are set to become an increasingly integral part of the identity of the University. With a bigger space to work with, administrators (and students) should think of creative ways to bring events like Feast to campus more often. There’s simply no excuse to do otherwise.
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