by Mark McGowan
Most people spend the wee hours of Thanksgiving Day either in the warmth of their kitchens preparing turkey … or snug in their beds dreaming about turkey.
A couple dozen NIU art education students will mark that time instead with paint brushes and floodlights.
For the second consecutive year, the Chicago Festival Association has recruited the School of Art students to paint the official logo of the McDonald’s® Thanksgiving Parade onto State Street between Madison and Washington. And just to make the experience more memorable, temperatures are expected to dip just below freezing.
“We’ll bring a lot of hand warmers,” said an eager Casey Klemp, a junior art education major from Downers Grove who serves as president of NIU’s National Art Education Association chapter. “This will be a whole new experience.”
“I’m really excited to hang out with the art ed crew outside of class,” added Abby Mansell, a senior from Elmhurst. “It will be a great experience to paint the mural, and it will be fun to see the logo on TV behind the announcers.”
The students can begin work at 10 p.m. Wednesday when the street officially closes to traffic. A smaller copy of the logo divided into grids serves as their guide.
Although they essentially have several hours to paint the 30-foot-by-50-foot logo, last year’s 12-member student crew completed the job by 2:30 a.m. A half-hour later, with still hours before daylight and the 8:30 step-off of the parade, the tools and supplies were cleaned up and packed away and the 17 gallons of paint were dry.
Supplies all are provided by the Chicago Festival Association, which also pays for some hotel accommodations for the students and delivers some much-needed late-night pizzas.
NIU’s connection to the parade is art education alumna Carole Jo Fremouw, the association’s event manager.
Fremouw invited students from her alma mater to participate last year on short notice, but the results impressed everyone from Fremouw’s colleagues to the Chicago television crews who watched the painting take shape.
The painted street logo “provides such a great visual element” for marchers and TV and in-person viewers alike, she said.
“We hope this partnership with NIU continues for many years. They did such a phenomenal job last year,” Fremouw said. “The students just blew us out of the water. We couldn’t believe how quickly they did it, and how professional and gracious they were. Here we thought they’d be working well into the morning, and they were done just after 2 o’clock.”
Afterward, she said, the students can enjoy a little sleep at the hotel before joining other parade fans “front and center” at the grandstand.
Behind the floodlights and the bright lights, however, are plenty of lessons for the future art teachers.
“I think I’ll learn more about organization: how to organize 30 people on one project, and how to provide people with things to do the whole time without getting in each other’s way,” said Mansell, who will graduate in the spring and plans to teach art in high schools. “That’s probably going to be a challenge, so I think I’ll come away with an experience that will transfer directly to a high school class: a lot of problem-solving has to be done.”
Klemp said the parade painting is just the latest in a series of learning opportunities the School of Art provides its art education students.
NEAE students, working with faculty adviser Mira Reisberg and visiting professor Kryssi Staikidis, have made protective talismans for Hope Haven and next semester will make sock puppets with children at the homeless shelter and ceramic bowls for the Empty Bowls project, raising money to feed the hungry.
“This teaches kids that they can apply artwork outside of their classrooms,” Klemp said, “and in their communities.”
“Our students already do a lot of teamwork, but this just reinforces that ethic, and the ethic of giving back to the community,” Reisberg said. “Our students really learn how to connect with community, how to use art to benefit community and how to develop art skills and techniques that are meaningful, that give service to help others and that challenge them as well.”
“This gets them really excited because our program is very connected to art as visual culture, so the idea of painting together a logo for the Thanksgiving Parade has a lot of meaning for them,” Staikidis said. “They get to go into the city. They get to participate in an activity in urban area and bring attention to NIU as well as bridging community and camaraderie with their classmates. They feel special.”
More than 400,000 street-side spectators are projected for the 2007 McDonald’s® Thanksgiving Parade that travels north on State Street from Congress to Randolph.
WGN-Channel 9 will air the parade live and in high definition from 9 to 11 a.m. Thursday, Nov. 22. Superstation WGN also will broadcast the parade nationally to approximately 72 million cable homes, making it one of only three parades in the country covered live, in its entirety, on a national television broadcast.
For more information about the McDonald’s® Thanksgiving Parade, contact the Chicago Festivals Association at (312) 235-2217 or visit www.chicagofestivals.org.
# # #