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This year, the largest local art show in Chicago will be directed by a Forest Park resident.

The Chicago Art Open, originated in 1998 by the Chicago Artists Coalition as an opportunity for local artists to display their work and gain sales, followers and resources, will host works by more than 300 artists this year.

Liz Chilsen, who is directing the exhibition for the first time, said that the event’s best asset is the diversity of the artwork on display. “There is one piece on display by each artist, and we try to work to create a sense of dialogue among the pieces and among the artists,” she said.

The artists who contributed to this year’s event include painters, sculptors, photographers and more. “It’s really a huge range,” she said. “It’s a challenge to get all that diversity to make sense.”

Chilsen has lived in Forest Park for four years and has been a professional photographer for over 20 years. She also teaches photography at Columbia College, where she attended graduate school after moving to the Chicago area in 1992. Her current project, Views from My Family Home, is a series of photographs taken from inside the houses of various family members which documents the story of the transition from rural to urban life experienced by her own family and the country as a whole.

She has been a member of the Artists Coalition since moving to the area, and when she heard that a director was needed for the Open this year she decided to apply.

Though she has directed the year end photography exhibition for Columbia seniors for the last four years, which features 4-6 pieces by about 120 student photographers, she said this experience was different because of the range of artists involved.

Any artist who applied for the Open was allowed to have their work displayed, as long as they could show that they were professional artists whose work had been displayed in galleries in the past and that the piece they’d be displaying fit into a larger project or exploration. This year, for the first time, there was also a space for student artists.

She said that though working with professionals was different from her usual work with students, she found a similarity in that much like she normally looks to help students find and express their voice, she now had to help each piece of art finds its voice among the many works on display.

Chilsen worked with three volunteers to lay out the gallery. Instead of dividing the work into strict categories, she said, they worked to create a dialogue between the works. One of her favorite areas is the section of works dealing with spiritual issues. Some of these works, she said, are specifically spiritual or religious, while others, such as a painting of flowers which she said “looked like they were from Eden,” simply had an aspect of magic or fantasy to them.

Though no Forest Park artists had works on display this year, she said that she believes her hometown has a vibrant art scene, pointing to Madison Street galleries such as Plan B as examples.

She said that the village proves its dedication to the arts each year by making a financial contribution to the Oak Park Area Arts Council.

“It’s essential that the village continue to support the work of that organization, and to support artists and the arts in whatever ways it can,” she said.

She said she hopes to see some Forest Parkers and residents of other western suburbs join the several Oak Parkers who display their work at the open in the coming years.

“It’s a great opportunity that I don’t think a lot of them are familiar with,” she said.

The Open is being held at the Third Floor Gallery at 847 Jackson Blvd. in Chicago. It began Oct. 10 and will run through Oct. 24, and is open free of charge from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. More information is available at http://martketplace.com/ao2005.

There will also be an opening reception Oct. 15 at 6 p.m. in honor of the 30th anniversary of the Chicago Artists Coalition and a closing reception on Oct. 21 at the same time.