Community-oriented galleries like those in the Hyde Park Art Center (HPAC) are founded on the idea that encounters with art can be educational. Now, with a new exhibition called “Public School,” the gallery is exploring the possibility that education itself—meaning pencil sharpeners, cubbies, and swing sets—might be an object of artistic interest.

Artists Jim Duignan and Rachel L. S. Harper, respectively of Chicago-based arts education organizations Stockyard Institute and Seen + Heard, have collaborated to transform HPAC’s central gallery into an environment that is half learning center, half sculpture garden. Dominating the room is a decommissioned school bus with the words “UTOPIAN CENTER FOR CIVIC LOVE” printed on its side; the seats have been pulled out and arranged in rows on the floor while the bus interior has been repurposed as a “theater.” A podium made of found wood and painted with “MR. DUIGNAN” stands atop a large wood dais surrounded by small chairs. In the corner of the room, a cage full of functional radio broadcasting equipment (to be used in on-site workshops) stands beneath two swings that hang from the high ceiling.

The exhibition’s resistance to being seen as simply a collection of things to look at is intentional: “Public School” will host months of workshops, screenings, and conversations. The gallery brochure says the space intends to “[highlight] the technical learning resources nestled in [the city’s] neighborhoods.” At publication time, one of the gallery’s walls was already covered with screen-printed posters, made at a Sanctuary Poster Screen Printing workshop on February 26, declaring the importance of sanctuaries for immigrants and refugees. In the foyer outside the gallery, the Humboldt Park-based Read/Write Library has set up a community library filled with books, local publications, and other items of interest.

By filling the space again and again with learning and work, “Public School” redefines not just what a gallery can be, but what a school can be. Throughout the months of March and April, HPAC will be hosting the Chicago Home Theater Festival, in which activists and organizers will create “field guides” for their neighborhoods, as well as a series of podcasting workshops. On March 12, Duignan, Harper, and a series of collaborators will host a daylong series of workshops “for people ages 0 and up.” The events and programs will continue through June 25, which should be shortly after the end of the CPS school year, unless the state’s endless budget woes make summer break come early.

“Public School,” Hyde Park Art Center, 5020 S. Cornell Ave. Through June 25. Monday-Thursday, 9am-8pm; Friday-Saturday, 9am-5pm; Sunday, noon-5pm. See website for workshop information. Free. (773) 324-5520.

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