Sunday, May 20, will mark at least two firsts for the Chicago community of Beverly: the first time the Beverly Arts Center will host an LGBTQ art show, and the first time this South Side neighborhood to have a queer art event.
That's according to Steve English, an artist and floral designer who helped organize "abOUT ART: The Collective Works of LGBTQ Artists and Friends."
The show's opening reception will be 1-3 p.m. on Sunday, May 20, capped off by a circus-themed performance courtesy of the Chicago Gay Men's Chorus. "abOUT ART" will be held in the center's atrium, and run through Pride weekend.
"This is historic because there's never been an art show like this," which will be held in in a "very conservative Irish-Catholic neighborhood," English said.
"I'm sure there's going to be people who don't like it, but I'm tough-skinned."
Yet English said the show has drawn overwhelming support and interest around Beverly, which is also home to quite a few LGBTQ couples and families.
"I'm really hoping this will be a stepping stone for giving a place where all kids, especially LGTBQ kids, can go feel comfortable and safe," English said. "Especially since Trump is in office, more kids are getting bullied, and for transgender women of color, the murder rate is going up."
For many LGBTQ artists, "one of the ways they probably survived their childhood was through art," he said.
Thirty to 40 piecesincluding paintings, drawings and knitworkwill be displayed by about two dozen artists of all ages, from seniors to children as young as 11. Chicago photographer Rick Aguilar and internationally recognized artist and performer Vanessa German are among the more well-known individuals taking part.
The show will also include a quilt made in honor of Pulse nightclub massacre victims, which claimed 49 lives in Orlando in 2016.
"There's a real cross section of art," English said, adding that several teachers have expressed interest in setting up a mentoring program.
English said he hopes to make the aboutART show a yearly event; in fact, this is the third year the Chicago Gay Men's Chorus will perform at the Beverly Arts Center, an effort English said "took about six years of convincing."
"The hope is that [the art show] will be a success and later they'll have a showing in one of their galleries," English said.
He added that some museums and galleries have even reached out to him about taking the show's pieces to different locations after the aboutART show concludes.
Since moving to Beverly with his husband nine years ago, English has seen a neighborhood that's been increasingly supportive of LGBTQ folks.
"When we told our gay and lesbian friends up north that we were moving to Beverly, they said, 'are you insane? They will eat you up. But by and large the community is very welcoming," English said.
In fact, just last month, a United Methodist Church, which "was non-supportive of the LGBTQ community for the longest time," hosted a breakfast for the community, English said. "For a church that conservative now to have a group within that churchthat's great."
English and his husband moved to Beverly after they bought a floral design store. Over the years, they hosted social entrepreneurship events, workshops on sex trafficking and bullying and fair trade open houses at their Blossom Boys store, until it closed for business in 2016.
"We wanted to be more than just a flower shop," English said. Now, the couple continues to design floral arrangements from their home.
"Everyone said you can't do a showthat takes like a year," English said. "I said, 'oh no, we can do it in two and a half months. We can do it.'"
"abOUT ART: The Collective Works of LGBTQ Artists and Friends" will be at the Beverly Arts Center, 2407 W. 111th St. Tickets are $28 for the chorus' performance at 3 p.m.; visit www.cgmc.org/get-tickets/.