Chicago artist Megan Hovany puts the finishing touches on the cardboard mural that will greet visitors to "Unboxed: Adventures in Cardboard" opening Aug. 28 at Chicago Children's Museum. | Photo courtesy of Chicago Children's Museum
♦ Aug. 28-May 5
♦ Chicago Children’s Museum, 700 E. Grand
♦ Admission, $12
♦ (312) 527-1000;
Updated: September 25, 2012 10:32AM
As all parents know, an empty box is the ultimate toy. For nearly 25 years, Chicago Children’s Museum has kicked around the idea of an exhibit extolling the virtues of cardboard boxes. That idea finally becomes reality when CCM opens “Unboxed: Adventures in Cardboard” Aug. 28 as part of its 30th anniversary celebration.
“I think the most exciting thing about a box is it’s really the most open-ended toy that could ever be,” said Jennifer Farrington, CCM president and CEO. “A box can really be anything and in the imagination and the eyes of a child it really is. We see that first-hand all the time at Chicago Children’s Museum and we’re just really excited to bring that magic to families.”
Developed by CCM staff, “Unboxed” aims to “unleash creativity. I think really to — I hate to use a bad pun — get visitors to think outside the box,” Farrington said. “In terms of parents, we’d like to remind parents that cardboard can really be the best toy ever, but it’s really something that parents can also do alongside their children. So I think it’s about discovering the power of imagination and creativity together.”
Visitors to “Unboxed” are greeted by an enormous mural made completely from cardboard by Chicago artist Megan Hovany, who was contracted by CCM. The 3-D piece that’s 43 feet long and 11 feet high demonstrates cardboard’s limitless possibilities.
“It sets the stage for the fact that cardboard, while being very ordinary, can surprise us,” Farrington said. “The theme of the team that was developing the exhibit is that they wanted this to be a place where the ordinary can become extraordinary. And I think that the mural really brings that to life in a way without words. … It’s almost as if it’s painted out of cardboard.”
Other exhibit highlights include a 10-foot-tall (while sitting) cardboard giant upon which children can climb, sit and play; a studio where visitors can create their own cardboard artwork to add to the exhibit or take home; a maze of box tunnels and towers; a tiny town made of cardboard; and an open activity space for creative play. Visitors are encouraged to embellish it all by coloring the boxes, adding to them or creating artwork to hang from the ceiling.
“I think that’s one of the most unique things about this exhibit is that … it evolves,” Farrington said. “It’s completely 100 percent participatory. … Once it opens it will never look the same way again. Every day it’s going to change. Visitors will add to it; they will color; they will adorn; they will embellish. Some of the pieces will have to go away at some point so that we can refresh and leave room for other visitors [to make their mark]. … So it really is new every time, I think, for visitors who come back over and over and over, and we do have lots of those. They’ll see the exhibit transform and grow and evolve over the months that it’s with us.”
♦ East Troy Electric Railroad celebrates the Windy City’s iconic L trains and Pullman-built cars during Chicago Days from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Aug. 25-26 at 2002 Church St. in East Troy, Wis. Admission is $12.50 for adults, $8 for kids 3 to 11. Call (262) 642-3263 or visit easttroyrr.org.
♦ Did You Know They’re Native II? is now open at the Mitchell Museum of the American Indian, 3001 Central St., Evanston. Featuring several new faces among its 24 subjects, the exhibit is a refresh of “Did You Know They’re Native?,” which opened in 2011. Among the new faces are Florence Owens Thompson (the migrant mother in Dorothea Lange’s famous Depression-era photo) and Olympic gold medalist Billy Mills. Admission is $5 for adults, $3 for children. Call (847) 475-1030 or visit mitchellmuseum.org.
♦ Chicago’s Twelve: 12 Artists Mobilizing the Earth runs through Dec. 9 at the Garfield Park Conservatory, 300 N. Central Park Ave. The free exhibit showcases art made from repurposed materials and challenges the nature of creating art. Call (312) 746-5100 or visit www.Garfield-conservatory.org.
♦ The National Museum of Mexican Art kicks off its annual Sor Junana Festival, which celebrates Mexican women, with a free concert by the all-woman Mariachi Divas at 6:30 p.m. Aug 28 in the Pritzker Pavilion at Millennium Park, Randolph and Michigan. Call (312) 738-1503 or visit national museumofmexicanart.org.
Jennifer Burklow is a local freelance writer.