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Beth McKenna Brings Art to Canvas and Schools

With abstracts, landscapes, woodblock prints, and school art programs, a Libertyville artist keeps finding new things to create.

Beth McKenna of Libertyville has been involved in the arts ever since she can remember, and as she has explored her talents, she also has made it possible for her children to grow in a school system where the arts come alive.

“I always worked in the arts,” McKenna said. “In college, I ran an art camp out of my house because it’s a summer job and I’m so not corporate, and I love that.”

Her pursuit of art deepened in 2000 when she closed the women’s clothing company she ran with her mother for 15 years.

“It was a custom collection that we manufactured at a plant in Lake Forest and sold all over the country at home parties,” McKenna said. “When we closed, it gave me the opportunity to think about what I wanted to do with my time. And so I started painting.”

Starting an Art Program

At the time McKenna closed her company and was able to pursue her painting further, her son was in kindergarten at , and she got involved with the art program.

McKenna knew of the Famous Artists Program, a series of parent-taught educational presentations on famous artists, because it already had been implemented at . With the help of both Butterfield and Copeland Manor School mothers, McKenna helped launch the Famous Artists Program at Copeland.

“They go in and talk about the artist for about 20 to 30 minutes,” McKenna said. “Then for the balance of the hour, the child does a related activity or art project that has to do with some method, technique, or coloring that has to do with the artist. So they’re working in the vain of Magritte, or whoever it is.”

McKenna’s children, now 16 and 13, no longer attend Copeland and so she no longer runs the program, but she still continues to spread the program elsewhere. She says she was approached by a group that runs art appreciation and after school programs in North Chicago, and after consulting with her close friend who helped with the program in Libertyville, she decided to do an outreach program there with the Famous Artists Series.

“They don’t have the kind of programming in their schools as we do,” McKenna explained. “This is an amazing existing program for a number of children at different grade schools, and we’re just a cog in that wheel.”

Spreading the art

She says that this winter was their first experience with the outreach program where volunteers from Butterfield and Copeland schools devoted one day a month to delivering the series to schools in North Chicago.

“It went great, we’re going to continue it next year, and keep doing it as long as they’re interested and I can get volunteers to do it,” she said.

As for her own art, McKenna says she’s been featured in dozens of group shows, different galleries, and art centers and a few solo shows. She is involved with the and is a member of The Art Center in Highland Park, the Evanston Art Center, and the Art Institute of Chicago. She has curated and juried exhibits, and hopes to create a website and do another solo show soon.

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