When Abigail Winograd began planning the largest art exhibition of her career, she did not expect it to open in the middle of a pandemic.
Three years ago, Winograd was selected to put together a show that would illuminate key social issues, including the links between public health and environmental crises and the tragic costs of racial and economic disparities.
The global outbreak of COVID-19 has only underscored the magnitude of these conditions, adding gravity to a sprawling art exhibition that the University of Chicago’s Smart Museum of Art has organized with more than two dozen partners around the city.
“ felt like a moment of political and social urgency,” Winograd said. “But we were just at the tip of the iceberg of what we were really going to experience.”
Winograd is the Smart Museum of Art’s curator for “Toward Common Cause: Art, Social Change, and the MacArthur Fellows Program at 40.” The city-wide exhibition explores art’s potential for social impact and celebrates the 40th anniversary of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s Fellows Program, which awards no-strings-attached grants annually to individuals with extraordinary creative potential, including visual artists.
Created in collaboration with 19 University and local partners and supported through a grant from the MacArthur Foundation, “Toward Common Cause” showcases the work of 29 MacArthur fellows—including Mel Chin, Nicole Eisenman and Kara Walker—whose art often raises questions about or proposes speculative solutions to contemporary social problems.
With installation openings scheduled from May 2021 to January 2022, “Toward Common Cause” exemplifies the Chicago-based foundation’s enduring commitment to its home city and the provocative, wide-ranging work of the individuals who have received fellowships over the past four decades.
“We wanted to do something more than just a typical celebration for the 40th anniversary, and we wanted to find a way to bring the work of fellows to audiences that may not have the opportunity to see that work easily or readily,” said Don Meyer, a senior program officer at the MacArthur Foundation who specializes in the arts.