Chicago exhibition showcases high school student art from across northern Illinois

By Igor Studenkov for Chronicle Media

Mundelein High School junior Ana Bonilla poses next to the pedestal that displays several sculptures, including her own “Ode to Oculus” (Photo by Igor Studenkov/for Chronicle Media)

For Mundelein High School junior Ana Bonilla, having her sculpture included in this year’s Illinois High School Art Exhibition was a full circle moment.

In Spring 2023, her class took a field trip to Chicago South Side’s Bridgeport Art Center to see that year’s exhibition. Works of high school students from across the Chicago region, and beyond, took up two floors worth of galleries, and even spilled out into the hallways. While most of the pieces were two-dimensional, there were more than a handful of sculptures and other three-dimensional pieces.

“If I didn’t see some of the sculptures [on display], I don’t think I could’ve made [my piece], ever,” Bonilla said.

Visitors look at Hinsdale Central High School senior Angela Lim’s paintings at the Senior Portfolio Art Exhibition. Lim already received approximately $272,000 in scholarship offers. (Photo by Igor Studenkov/for Chronicle Media)

“Ode to Oculus” is just one of more than a thousand pieces that are on display this spring, representing students from over 100 public and private schools. This year’s exhibition opened on March 15, during Bridgeport Art Center’s monthly Open Studios event, and will remain on display until April 21. It is divided into three sections — the more general exhibition of works submitted through schools, an exhibition for seniors chosen based on their portfolios and an exhibition for underclassmen trying to get into college-level summer programs. IHSAE offers opportunities to get scholarships and win prizes, but even for the student artists who get neither, it’s an opportunity to have their work displayed in a professional gallery.

Now in its 11th year, IHSAE started as something a group of teachers did to help student artists get scholarships. That effort has grown into a nonprofit called Art ConnectED.

Its mission has grown beyond the initial objective to include various efforts to support art teachers and various arts-related initiatives.

The display of paintings by West Aurora High School senior Menna Acevedo, who received approximately $196,000 in scholarship offers. (Photo by Igor Studenkov/for Chronicle Media)

But exhibition still represents an important part of its core mission — “to advance art education for young people by providing art exhibitions, educational opportunities and events that celebrate students’ artistic achievement and facilitate post-secondary opportunities.”

IDSAE is divided into three components. The Northern Regional Exhibition features artwork submitted by high school teachers from across northern Illinois on behalf of their students.

Each school can submit up to six pieces, which are displayed at Bridgeport Art Center’s fourth floor exhibition space and adjacent hallways.

A small hallway nook off of the fourth-floor gallery hosts the Early College Program Scholarship Exhibition.

Ninth- and 10th-graders submit portfolios of up to nine pieces for a chance to get scholarships to summer “pre-college” programs that will allow them to earn college credits on campus. The exhibition features some of the artwork the students submitted, whether they actually got the scholarships or not.

Fashion design work by J.B. Conant High School senior Alex Waterman, who received approximately $136,000 in scholarship offers. (Photo by Igor Studenkov/for Chronicle Media)

The Senior Scholarship Exhibition, which is displayed in the third-floor gallery space, is even more competitive. Seniors submit five- to 20-piece portfolios, and a jury panel chooses who gets in. Colleges and universities that work with Art ConnecED review the portfolios, but exhibition rules specifically state that being included doesn’t guarantee scholarship offers.

This year’s scholarship exhibition spotlights seven student artists who already received thousands of dollars in scholarship offers.

Hinsdale Central High School senior Angela Lim received more than $272,000 in offers after submitting images of mundane life painted in vivid colors. Downers Grove High School senior Alex Drozdov received more than $114,000 in scholarship offers thanks to a portfolio of stark black-and-white photos. And Alex Waterman, from Hoffman Estates’ JB Conant High School, saw a fashion design portfolio net $136,000 in scholarship offers.

All student artists automatically had their pieces entered into contests that can earn them additional awards and cash prizes.

Visitors look at the student work that’s part of the Northern Regional Exhibition. (Photo by Igor Studenkov/for Chronicle Media)

Art ConnectED website doesn’t give the exact information on what the categories are and how much the individual prizes are worth, it does indicate that the organization gives away a total of approximately $10,000 in prizes.

The winners will be announced during the April 21 awards ceremony, which will take place at the Art Center’s Skyline Loft fifth floor event space.

All exhibitions showed a great deal of geographic diversity, with artists coming from as far northwest as Crystal Lake, as far west as Plano and as far southwest as Joliet.

Most of the pieces are paintings, photographs and collages, with sculptures and other more complex, three-dimensional pieces scattered throughout. One of the most eye-catching pieces in the Northern Regional Exhibition, “Open to Survive” by West Leyden High School senior Estella Rodriguez, was a fire extinguisher box, complete with a hammer — except the box was filled with pill bottles.

Libertyville High School senior Rishi Tipparti’s “Shatter the Silence” is part of the Northern Regional Exhibition. (Photo by Igor Studenkov/for Chronicle Media)

Rodriguez is hardly the only student artist to delve into heavier themes. Another striking piece, which attracted plenty of attention on the opening night, was “Shatter the Silence” by Libertyville High School senior Rishi Tipparti. The black four-square grid, with each using quotes and eye-catching images depicts the experiences of a victim of sexual assault.

Bonilla’s piece is part of the Northern Regional exhibition — and, like many works on display, it is more complex than it might seem at first glance. She described how the shadows the complex web of “nerves” from the eyeball-shaped sculpture are as much part of the piece as the sculpture itself.

“The area, the bending, the different thickness [of the nerves] allow for a different thickness of shadows,” Bonilla said.

Bonilla was one of only a handful of student artists who attended the exhibition on the opening night. The artists who have studios at Bridgeport Art Center and were there to see several exhibitions over the past few years mentioned that student artists and their families tend to show up closer to the awards night.

Bonilla said she was “grateful” to see her work displayed.

“I think it’s special,” she said. “I love being among the beautiful work of other people.”

Bridgeport Art Center is located at 1200 W. 35th St. The galleries are open to the public from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and 8 a.m. to noon on Sundays. Visitors can also see the exhibitions during the art center’s monthly Open Studios on April 19, from 7-10 p.m.