Pilsen exhibit honors Maggie Daley’s arts legacy
Maggie Daley, Chicago’s beloved former first lady and a champion of arts education for children in every part of the city, is receiving a unique posthumous tribute from the National Museum of Mexican Art.
Daley’s life and work with the arts is the centerpiece of the Pilsen museum’s Dia de los Muertos — or Day of the Dead — exhibit. The annual exhibit, which runs from September through mid-February, is the museum’s most popular and celebrates the lives of the recently departed, whether they are well-known members in the Pilsen and Little Village communities or national luminaries.
“We know that the best way to reach the youth and one of the best ways to continue to develop a cultural understanding among everybody here is through the arts and the culture,” said Cesareo Moreno, the museum’s chief curator and visual arts director. “And Maggie Daley understood that very, very well. She lived it.”
“Maggie Daley: A Tribute by Chicago’s Youth” opens with a 6 p.m. reception Thursday. The exhibit is comprised of approximately 25 pieces of art created by about 30 Chicago youth through Daley’s arts education program, After School Matters, as well as the Yollocalli Arts Reach, the museum’s arts education component, which receives After School Matters funding. The exhibit includes several portraits of Daley, including one co-created by After School Matters alums Fatima Garcia and Ruben Garcia Jr.
Fatima Garcia, 18, said during her time in After School Matters, she didn’t know much about Daley’s life. That changed when she started researching the portrait and Day of the Dead altar she created underneath the picture.
“I thought she was like any other typical woman, but she was more than that,” Fatima Garcia said. “She was really outgoing. She loved travel, her grandchildren, her children and her husband. She loved After School Matters a lot. A lot, a lot.”
Garcia participated at After School Matters at Bogan High School on the Southwest Side. When she started, she only had used pencils and charcoal for sketching.
“I learned how to silk screen, how to sculpt, how to paint with watercolors and acrylics,” she said. “I also met my best friend.”
Other pieces in the Daley tribute are not specific to the former first lady’s life, like puppets and stained glass, but are representative of the kind of sophisticated art After School Matters teens are creating.
“We tried to demonstrate how she has affected so many different communities from Rogers Park all the way to south Chicago,” Moreno said.
Daley was 68 when she passed away on Thanksgiving 2011 after a long struggle with breast cancer. For more than two decades, she championed arts education through After School Matters, a non-profit that currently serves 20,000 Chicago teens with after-school programming, including opportunities to participate in visual and performance arts.
“She is someone who really understood the arts as crucial to human development,” Moreno said. “She really understood teaching arts and culture to youth really helped develop the human spirit. In a way, we see her and understand her as somebody who is an advocate, as someone who holds the things we hold close at our museum.”
The exhibit was curated by five Yollocalli high school students in a summer internship program at the museum. The young curators were paid through After School Matters, said Vanessa Sanchez, Yollocalli Arts Reach director. Yollocalli students have a tradition of curating their own shows at the center, but this allowed them to participate in a show at a larger museum.
“It was just a good experience to let them be a part of the museum in the City of Chicago,” Sanchez said.
The National Museum of Mexican Arts, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary, has been offering its Dia de los Muertos exhibit for the last 26 years — a year before the museum had a permanent home. Dia de Los Muertos is a joy-filled celebration with origins in Mexico’s Catholic and indigenous communities.
“The beautiful thing about Day of the Dead is it really shows our loved ones remain integral to our families even though they are no longer physically with us,” Moreno said. “It’s the community that keeps them alive. They stay alive through their legacy. It’s a very beautiful, healthy way to understand the cycle of life and death.”