King Day Festival at the Art Institute of Chicago

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The third Monday of every new year is known as Martin Luther King Day in celebration of King’s birthday on January 15th. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the federal holiday and the Art Institute of Chicago planned a very special “King Day Festival” to accentuate this milestone. The free event took place within the Art Institute of Chicago on January 20th, 2020 from 10:30 AM to 3 PM. It allowed guests to participate in activities and watch performances all centered around the theme of “tomorrow is today,” a phrase that King embodied in his life and work.

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The festival brought in much of Chicago’s youth with teens and children partaking in most activities. There was an arts and crafts activity encouraging attendees to write messages of hope for the future called, “Mobile Street Art Cart Project.” Similarly, there was a “Making Magic” activity that had participants create charms based on the work of Betye Saar, an African American Contemporary artist, and visual storyteller. These activities welcomed in large numbers of eager adolescents throughout the day.

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A teen-led activity called “Let’s Just Talk” had participants go on a gallery tour where certain paintings were discussed as they relate to the messages King personified during the Civil Rights Movement. Afterward, everyone would sit and spend time crafting their own work, via a sketch or poetry, that would center around how to use one’s voice. This activity would start at every hour mark throughout the event.

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The performances during the festival drew in as many adults as children. Those in attendance were first treated to a poetry ensemble by poetry slam team Rebirth/Reborn. The poets spoke about the 1963 church bombings in Birmingham, Alabama, injustice on the news, concerns about the future, and growing up in Chicago. All of the poets emphasized the importance of making positive change for the future.

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The Move Me Soul dance team soon followed, performing to songs by singer-songwriter Curtis Mayfield who produced politically conscious African American music. After their performance, they encouraged the audience to create their own interpretive dances to express what King believed in.

The festival was a successful event, drawing in people from all different backgrounds and delivering the following message to all attendees:

We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late. This is no time for complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.

Martin Luther King Jr.  |  In a speech delivered on April 4, 1967 at Riverside Church in New York City