CITY WATCH

Kids take ride on road to artistic
expression

By Jon Anderson
Tribune staff reporter
Published September 20, 2005

Looking for new ways to define what interests them, modern artists have used everything from cannon balls to miles of string and cracked plates.

So, could a Dodge van be an appropriate vehicle for a creativebreakthrough?

“Sure,” Jennifer La Civita said Sunday, encouraging a flood of youngsters gathered in the sunshine to take brushes and paint in hand, then dab and swoosh and swirl away.

That they did, for six hours, covering an aging blue van with words, names, shapes, figures, flowing lines and flowers–in a rainbow of colors.

“It’s total expression. Anything goes,” observed La Civita, the director of the Portage Park Center for the Arts.

It is also, she added, art.

“The Art of the Car” was a highlight of the 9th Annual Eli’s Cheesecake Festival, a two-day neighborhood event held on the grounds of a cheesecake plant at 6701 W. Forest Preserve Drive, on the northwestern edge of the city.

It was a weekend filled with delights and diversions–Irish dancers, a jazz band, cooking demonstrations, a yo-yo expert, a Hula-Hoop contest, tumblers, dancers and free food.

But for the kids who paid $1 to enter the Paint-A-Car area, there was a kind of quiet, artistic intensity that comes from the discovery of new ways to look at an everyday object.

“Come on, get the windows,” said one, as he added a heavy-stroked, Gauguin-like sunset to the front windshield.

Nearby, Kyle Kranz, 4, reached up under a wheel rim to spread blue paint. In back, Emily Kazmierski, 7, splattered orange on a rear tire.

Others–encouraged to “go ahead, there are no rules”–colored in the license plates, customized the rear-view mirrors, drew all over the bumpers, decorated the wheel rims and crawled underneath the van to paint its tailpipe.

“We had a Caprice last year, but it got filled up way too fast,” said La Civita.

The car-painting raised some money for the Portage Park arts center. But the main point was to encourage young artists, part of the center’s mission of “celebrating the literary, visual and performing arts.” Opened in the summer of 2000, it is housed in the former Nebo Lutheran Church, at 5801 W. Dakin St.

The church closed in 1998, one of eight Northwest Side Lutheran churches that combined congregations after years of declining memberships.

Now, with classes in everything from drumming to quilting, the arts center “is like a big house that invites everyone to celebrate their inner being,” its current schedule reports. Though van painting might seem a bit random, there were important lessons to be learned, La Civita suggested.

Even in art, there are rules.

“Hey, guys! No!” cautioned one mother, as several young artists started splashing paint on each other’s arms.

Nor does all art endure.

“It’s only poster paint,” said the man who lent the van. “Tomorrow, I’ll use a high-pressure hose and blast it all off.”