From the Opening of "Chicago Avant-Garde" | Newberry

From the Opening of "Chicago Avant-Garde"

On September 9, eighty friends of the Newberry gathered on our historic first floor for the grand opening of Chicago Avant-Garde: Five Women Ahead of Their Time, an exhibition which showcases the lives and work of five creative, groundbreaking women of 20th-century Chicago: artist Gertrude Abercrombie, poet Gwendolyn Brooks, dancers Katherine Dunham and Ruth Page, and curator Katharine Kuh.

Friends and colleagues reconnected at our first in-person event since early 2020 to enjoy the exhibition, live jazz music, and original typewritten poetry composed upon request. The program featured a welcome from President Daniel Greene, readings by poet Dr. Tara Betts, and comments from exhibition curator Liesl Olson, who then invited guests to visit the galleries with her.

Jazz Musicians_1.JPG

Jazz musicians perform in the Newberry's lobby

Musicians Justin Amolsch (trumpet), Kristina Lee (bass), and Lisa McQueen (piano) performed jazz standards, as well as a piece inspired by the work of Gertrude Abercrombie, composed by one of the painter’s friends in Chicago’s jazz scene. 

Poems While You Wait_2.JPG

Poems While You Wait compose poetry live

Poems While You Wait, a collective of poets and their manual typewriters, invited guests to request topics and composed poetry live. By the end of the event, guests had original, typewritten poetry in hand.

Danny and Liesl_1.JPG

Daniel Greene and Liesl Olson

President Daniel Greene and exhibition curator Liesl Olson addressed guests from the main staircase.

Tara Betts.JPG

Tara Betts

Dr. Tara Betts performed the poetry of Gwendolyn Brooks and Eve L. Ewing.

Visitors Posing_1.JPG

Guests pose with masks on

Many guests posed for photographs—with masks on, of course!

“Hearing the buzz of people in the library engaging with each other and with the exhibition was fantastic,” said Greene. “This was the first donor event we’ve held onsite in many months. We’re thrilled to have been able to welcome so many friends of the library back into our building.”

Attendees included donors, staff members, trustees, artists, dancers, poets, and scholars, as well as people with close ties to the five featured women, including Nora Brooks Blakely, the daughter of Gwendolyn Brooks.

“Walking through the galleries with so many of the people who have helped to make this project possible was wonderful,” said curator Liesl Olson. “My colleagues and I are deeply grateful for their support and for the support of all who contribute to the library. We wouldn’t be here without our community.”

Visitors Explore Galleries_4.JPG

Four visitors explore the exhibition

Visitors explored the newly opened galleries of Chicago Avant-Garde.

Chicago Avant-Garde: Five Women Ahead of Their Time is on view at the Newberry through December 30, 2021. There are many ways to engage, both in person and online.

Plan your visit to Chicago Avant-Garde.

Listen to the free audio guide, designed by University of Chicago graduate students

Purchase the exhibition catalog, available in the Newberry’s Rosenberg Bookshop.

Interested in attending an onsite event at the Newberry? Check out our programs page, which lists upcoming programs, both in-person and virtual.


Chicago Avant-Garde: Five Women Ahead of Their Time is made possible through the generous support of the Terra Foundation for American Art, the Walter E. Heller Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the History Channel. Public Programs related to the exhibition are supported by a grant from the Paul M. Angell Family Foundation.

This story is part of the Newberry’s Donor Digest, Fall 2021. In this newsletter we share with donors exciting stories of the work made possible by their generosity. Learn more about supporting the library and its programs.