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Voices & Visions

Spertus exhibit pairs art and Jewish wisdom 

Voices and Visions x image

Jewish artists and Jewish wisdom have combined inspirational forces in "Voices & Visions," a poster art exhibit making its way to Spertus Institute this month.

An initiative of the Harold Grinspoon Foundation, Voices & Visions began its quest to communicate Jewish ideas through art by pairing Jewish graphic design artists with quotes from Jewish luminaries and classic texts. The result is a collection of 18 posters that will be open to the public at no charge from May 12 through Aug. 11.

Madeline Calabrese, director of Voices & Visions, said the project was inspired in part by feedback Grinspoon had received on his PJ Library program, which circulates Jewish literature and music to families all over the country.

"His reaction [to the feedback] was, 'what more can I do for adults to keep Jewish values in front of them in public spaces?'" Calabrese said.

According to Calabrese, Grinspoon was inspired by the Container Corporation of America's various poster series that began in the mid-20th Century that combined art, words, and text.

Calabrese began to assemble a team that researched, discussed, and voted on 18 quotes that represented a variety of time periods, values, and both male and female voices. The quotes range from, "Man's life depends on the trees of the field" from Deuteronomy to the Susan Sontag quote, "Silence remains, inescapably, a form of speech."

The Grinspoon Foundation then hired renowned graphic designer and filmmaker Arnold Schwartzman to serve as the project's creative director. He recruited 18 respected artists to design the posters using the quotes and their values as inspiration.

Calabrese's personal favorite is the Tom Geismar poster inspired by the Baal Shem Tov quote, "from every human being there rises a light." She says its color and message convey the purpose of the project.

"The concept speaks to the Voices & Visions idea that every voice and every vision is important," Calabrese said. "An individual's journey through life is discovering their own light, their own strength; I think our series represents touching everyone's journey in some way, one that captures how we want to engage people. Without the people element, the voice and the vision don't go anywhere."

The posters helped open London's JHub social action and cultural center early last year, and they were recently on display at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles.

Spertus Curator of Collection Ilana Segal said the posters were a clear fit with Spertus' mission and goals.

"[The collection] felt very familiar with the sort of work that we do: looking at Judaism as something with timeless, enduring messages that are really relevant to contemporary audiences," Segal said.

For Calabrese, part of the appeal of the project was how it reclaims certain universals truths for Judaism.

"I feel like the core of values that have come out of Judaism, the world has built its structure upon it and yet not necessarily credited the origin," she said. "I felt this, in a small way, would say 'this really came out of the Jewish heritage.'"

In addition to formal exhibits, Voices & Visions have printed several versions of the posters to make available for Jewish organizations, schools, and individuals. The posters can be ordered or purchased in two different sizes or in the form of note cards. Spertus will also make them available through their gift shop.

Segal said she hopes the collection will be just the beginning of a greater discussion.

"[The posters] hopefully will spark conversations and encourage a richer, deeper, engagement," she said. "I think there's a lot here for all kinds of audiences and I hope people will come in and take advantage of it."

Voices & Visions is currently in the process of expanding its website to allow educators to share ways they've used the posters in their work. There are also new poster series in the works, including a collection geared toward young adults and a series using the same quotes from the original, only in Hebrew and interpreted by Israeli artists.

In addition to the exhibit, Spertus, with the Grinspoon Foundation, will host a free program called "Jewish Graphic Design from the Talmud to Today" on June 23 at 2 p.m. Daniel Belasco, formerly of The Jewish Museum in New York, will discuss the ways typography and graphic design have been used to innovate in Jewish life for many centuries. A reception featuring Mr. Grinspoon and poster designer Art Paul will precede the program starting at 1 p.m.

For more information, visit

Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership is a partner in serving our community, supported by the JUF/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago.

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