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Tuesday Evenings: When MCA visitors interact with art

1 – Dance company A House Unbuilt kicked off “Tuesday Evenings MCA: Play Watch Share Listen” programming with an interactive choreographed dinner

1 – Dance company A House Unbuilt kicked off “Tuesday Evenings at MCA: Play, Watch, Share, Listen” programming with an interactive, choreographed dinner Oct. 1. | Natasha Wasinski/For Sun-Times Media

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Oct. 8: Needle Through Thumb — Visitors can watch artist and curator Alexander Stewart screen short experimental films about trickery, puns, and the cinematic equivalent of vaudevillian stage antics.

Oct.15: The Big Draw — Visitors can draw with Chicago artists in a workshop presented in association with the UK-based Campaign for Drawing.

Oct. 22: Eric Leonardson — Visitors can experience a “listening tour” of the MCA led by composer and sound artist Eric Leonardson, and then participate in a workshop about field recordings.

Oct. 29: Alexis Gideon’s “Floating Oceans” and Ezra Claytan Daniel’s “Upgrade Soul” — Visitors can watch Alexis Gideon’s stop-motion animation opera and see a live performance of Ezra Claytan Daniel’s science-fiction graphic novel.

» Museum of Contemporary Art, 220 E. Chicago. Tuesday Evening events are free for Illinois residents or with regular museum admission; 6 to 8 p.m. Visit

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Updated: November 5, 2013 6:15AM

Women dolled up in retro housewife wear strut around the Museum of Contemporary Art on Tuesday, ringing hand bells and beckoning to strangers.

“We’re so pleased you’re here,” they sing. “It’s time for dinner!”

Dance company A House Unbuilt recently transformed the museum’s rooms and wide-open spaces into a home fit for hosting to kick off Tuesday Evenings at MCA. The performers got museumgoers on their feet, and saved them seats at the table, for the interactive, choreographed “Dinner Dance.”

Stations were set up for guests to experience different movements — raising toasts, exploring photos in a briefcase, and drawing stories on paper plates — that fed into the sharing of a meal of falafel and chocolate cake . In the MCA lobby, performers engaged in a follow-the-leader-type of interpretive dance miming dishwashing.

Michael Green, of the MCA’s educational department, noted such activities entice people to contemplate what goes into the production of artwork.

“They encourage you to do things that create movement within yourself and with other people,” reflected Andrew Bermudez, 28, of Lincoln Park, who joined in on the wacky dish dance. “You end up being outside of your comfort zone a lot. It’s kind of liberating.”

MCA seeks to create similar new experiences for visitors with its various Tuesday Evenings programming. The events are also a way “to really get people thinking about the museum as place of social interaction,” said MCA Chicago Director of Education Heidi Reitmaier.

From October through May, the museum hosts weekly workshop-based activities focused on interacting with art. This month museumgoers can examine cinematic trickery in short, 16mm films with artist and curator Alexander Stewart; create pictures with Chicago artists in an all-ages draw-a-thon; experience a “listening tour” with composer and sound artist Eric Leonardson; and view Alexis Gideon’s Floating Oceans and Ezra Claytan Daniel’s Upgrade Soul.

The thread that connects the events is the program’s slogan: “Play, Watch, Share, Listen.”

“Those very active verbs are ways to different sorts of experiences,” Reitmaier explained. “Each time we’re the putting audience at center of the experience.”

Tuesday Evenings also helps tears down traditional boundaries set by cultural institutions by allowing visitors to be themselves.

Miguel Garcia’s family has experienced that feeling of inclusion firsthand at the MCA. As much as he tries to expose his children to music and the arts, Garcia said it’s not always easy to quietly walk the halls of museums with his severely autistic 13-year-old son. But being surrounded by interactive and visual art in a kid-friendly environment has helped in the boy’s development, he said. Garcia’s 11-year-old daughter is also an MCA fan.

“They’re the ones who are begging to come to art shows,” he said. “Instead of TV, it’s art, art, art. This is teaching creativity.”

So when A House Unbuilt performers shouted to one another from the museum’s balconies, no one attempted to shush them.

“It’s great when we sometime play in the institution [in a manner] that may not be seen as totally appropriate,” said Reitmaier.

She reminded that museums are not sanctuaries or spiritual places, but venues for all of the public to explore and enjoy.

“We want people to feel welcome and open to the possibility of being who they are,” Reitmaier said.

Natasha Wasinski is a local freelance writer.

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