Among the dozens of works displayed in “abOUT ART,” an exhibit at the Beverly Arts Center (BAC) highlighting artists from the LGBTQ community, is a painting called “Pride,” featuring two male lions sitting side by side.
As artist Mike Abraham explained, male lions will separate from their pride after another male has taken control. Those males go on to form their own “families.”
Abraham was among four artists featured in “abOUT ART” who participated in a panel at the BAC on June 20. They discussed their hopes for more acceptance and support for young people in the LGBTQ community.
Abraham hopes “Pride” shows that family can have various meanings.
“This is natural. It’s in the wild,” Abraham said. “It doesn’t matter whether you’re white, black, gay, straight—whatever. There are different family units out there for everyone.”
Featuring artists from around the country, “abOUT ART” is on display until Saturday, June 30, and celebrates LGBTQ Pride Month.
On the panel with Abraham, whose works mostly focus on animals and nature, were Hana Anderson, of Washington Heights; Rick Aguilar, a photographer who owns a studio on the North Side; and Samus Starbody, a painter from Chicago.
The exhibit features works highlighting the LGBTQ experience, but the panel stressed that those did not represent the overall theme.
Aguilar’s works are photos from weddings of same-sex couples.
He loves the joyful emotions these celebrations bring out.
“I just love love,” Aguilar said. “That’s the main reason why I do this—and the people.”
The exhibit, which opened on May 20, was coordinated by Steve English, a Beverly resident who runs the Geranium Guild, a floral business, with his husband, Ryan Steinbach.
English said the panel was arranged to support “the next generation” of the LGBTQ community.
Many of the panelists said art gave them an emotional release and safe haven as they grew up under difficult and emotional circumstances. Abraham said he would sit in his bedroom for hours and lose himself in creating art.
That passion continued and led him to further studies.
“A lot of it was self-taught, but I did take a lot of classes in school,” Abraham said. “My lunch breaks—in order to avoid the bullies in the lunch room—I had really great teachers in middle school and high school who would let us have lunch in the art room. … It was a place for me to express myself but also escape and be safe.”
Aguilar said using a camera allowed him to overcome being shy, and Anderson, who grew up in Hyde Park, said poetry and music helped her “escape.”
Starbody created his artistic name, he said, when he was in high school and many times felt lonely. Painting has helped him relieve stress, he said, and it gave him a healthy alternative to alcohol, drugs and self-harm.
“Art kind of helped me understand who I was,” Starbody said. “It kind of allowed me to create an image of what that meant for me.”
English, who moved to Beverly from the North Side, said the local community has displayed mixed reactions in accepting members of the LGBTQ community.
He is considering the idea of creating a small decal, featuring the word “Home,” that businesses could display to let LGBTQ people know they are always welcome there.
English and the panel members expressed hope that Beverly/Morgan Park could become a more accepting place for LGBTQ people.
English was instrumental in bringing the Chicago Gay Men’s Chorus to the BAC in recent years, and he said feedback from local residents included some calling the performance “the best thing I’ve ever seen.”
Ed Laginess, a BAC board member, said during the panel presentation that he and his partner have experienced a warm welcome while living in the neighborhood.
When they moved in, Laginess said, neighbors hosted a block party to welcome them.
“It’s a pretty open community.”