Polsky Center Brings in Artist to Add Playfulness to Co-working Spaces

Artist Kara Cobb Johnson stands underneath a component of her “Mama’s Hand” art exhibit. (Photo by Nancy Wong)

Those who work at the Polsky Center know first hand how stressful it is to be an entrepreneur. Each day is filled with phone calls, meetings, hours staring at the computer screen, and countless cups of coffee. And the boundary between weekdays and weekends is often blurred, with little time available for relaxation.

Luckily for those who spend most of their waking hours at the Polsky Center, Kara Cobb Johnson, an artist based in Evanston, IL, has focused her time and creativity most recently on adding a bit more fun to Polsky’s Hyde Park co-working space through her colorful and playful works of art. On Thursday, April 4, the Polsky Center and Hyde Park Art Center hosted their second art installation gallery opening at the Polsky Exchange, featuring Johnson’s first solo exhibition “Mama’s Hand.” Attracting an intimate crowd of Polsky members, staff, and other members of the UChicago community, the exhibition represented a successful combination of Johnson’s experimental art practices that aim to provoke wonder and an industrial co-working space that is committed to inspiring new ideas and innovation. 

Among Johnson’s artworks are colorful paper airplanes dangled from the high ceiling; a scene of scattered pick-up sticks illuminated by blue electric lights; and triangular-shaped vinyl cuts on the street-facing windows that catch the eye of passersby outside the space. These art pieces assume a ubiquitous yet unobtrusive presence at the Polsky Exchange, allowing people that work here to sneak a glimpse whenever they are tired from their work.

“The underlying theme of my exhibition is to not take yourself so seriously and just have fun,” said Johnson cheerfully. “I wanted it to be something like a stitch that people have in common, and this stitch is friendly, fun, and familiar. It activates the space and activates people to talk about it.”

While her exhibition is designed to encourage entrepreneurs at the Polsky Exchange to have fun, Johnson also had great fun creating these artworks. Throughout the art installation process, Johnson felt that she received overwhelming support from the Polsky Center. The Center not only offered her the entire Polsky Exchange space to experiment with her creative project but also invest full trust in her so that she could pursue her artistic instinct freely.

Johnson explains the different elements of her work to a curious onlooker. (Photo by Nancy Wong)

“As an artist, you don’t always have the freedom to be able to completely realize an idea, but the Polsky Center has been completely supportive of me following my vision,” said Johnson. “They are just very supportive of everything I wanted to do. I feel really lucky to be able to have done exactly what I wanted to do in the space.”

Additionally, Johnson was able to utilize the resources at the Polsky Center Fab Lab to create the vinyl cuts and use the Mansueto library to check out the blueprint of the Polsky Exchange buildings. Through these experiences she grew an appreciation of the University of Chicago and its history.

“I looked into the history of the University of Chicago and found that there are all these Nobel laureates and these amazing people that are constantly breaking new ground,” said Johnson. “So I thought to myself, I am not a Nobel Laureate, but I think my exhibition here is also ground breaking in a way that people from different backgrounds can appreciate it from different perspectives and relate to the materials, and the shapes of these artworks.”  

This is the second art installation exhibit that the Polsky Center has held in collaboration with the Hyde Park Art Center. Through the art installation project, the Polsky Center aims to foster greater community engagement and encourage more interdisciplinary innovations in both arts and business entrepreneurship. Moving forward, the Polsky Center will continue to host initiatives similar to the art installation project and bring more creative minds to the forefront.

Paper airplanes add a bit of fun and color to the Polsky Exchange. (Photo by Nancy Wong)

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