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A weekly series focused on Bloomington-Normal's arts community and other major events.

Art that defies expectation: 2 McCauley Gallery shows invite everyone to the table

A long, narrow room with white walls is pepped with colored artifacts including a peach paper mat and red and green quilt at the far end.
Hunter Hawk
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Joe McCauley Gallery
The "Within Reach" art exhibition ends Aug. 12 at the Joe McCauley Gallery at Heartland Community College.

The shoebox-sized Joe McCauley Gallery is tucked between classrooms at Heartland Community College. Blink and you could miss it, but this little gallery packs a big punch with its thoughtful exhibitions.

Consider two shows this summer. Both are collectively aimed at reducing barriers to art with works made from unique materials.

“Within Reach” runs through Aug. 12, followed by a solo exhibition called “Have Your Cake” from Illinois State University graduate Emma Oliver, from Aug. 22 through Oct. 7.

“Within Reach” is both a literal and conceptual interpretation of its title. It features artworks made up of readily available materials — household items and natural ephemera that might not ordinarily be considered artistic mediums — you know, stuff that's within reach. Several mixed media pieces use everything from textiles to twigs.

But curator Shahrbanoo Hamzeh said the show's more important layer is about making fine art and galleries more accessible to regular folks.

“It started in my own exhibition when I invited a few friends of mine,” Hamzeh said. “They were in their 40s and 30s, and that was their first time being in a gallery. I thought, that’s not right. They could have had art in their lives much earlier.”

Hamzeh points out how many galleries are free and open to the public, noting, “But I understand that sometimes galleries look fancy, or out of reach.”

Art is in our lives from the beginning. Kids play with Play-Doh and finger paints. They make sculptures from sand and mud, or Tinker Toys and LEGOs. Arts and crafts are central parts of the day in most grammar schools.

“What happens that art becomes intimidating?” Hamzeh said. “People say, 'Oh, that’s not my area. That’s for other people.' It’s not! Something happens that they forget to embrace art the same way.”

Proof of concept: Hamzeh said several Heartland students and their families have stopped by the gallery to engage with the show. “I think that was beautiful,” she said, hoping people who might not ordinarily stop by an art exhibit will give it a try.

Oliver’s exhibition, “Have Your Cake,” will be like walking into a birthday party, cake and all. But upon further inspection, you’ll soon find the cake to be a bit dry — it’s made out of yarn.

Hamzeh said “Have Your Cake” is related to “Within Reach” in its unconventional use of knitting and crochet to create sculptures.

“When we were thinking about the other show, it was like art is not just a big, old painting or metal sculpture in the museum,” she said. “Art can be anything.”

“Within Reach” and “Have Your Cake” are free and open to the public in the Joe McCauley Gallery at Heartland Community College. The gallery is in room 2507 of the Instructional Commons Building (ICB). For more information, visit heartland.edu/artgallery.

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Lauren Warnecke is a correspondent for WGLT, focusing on arts and culture.
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