The art experience at Water Tower Place was inspired by emotions Bolingbrook native Janine Williams has grappled with for decades.
He officially opened The Exhibit House in April on the 4th Floor of the seven-story shopping mall in downtown Chicago.
“I experienced a lot of different emotions during high school,” said Williams, a 2003 graduate of Hillcrest High School in Country Club Hills.
“I was a teenage mom, so my depression actually started when I was in high school. “I was sad and depressed my senior year of high school.”
She channeled her mental health experiences to create The Exhibit House, a 5,000-square-foot space featuring interactive art installations.
“Art has always been a passion for me. However, I have focused the last 21 years on raising my children. When my children were grown, I decided to follow my passions and dreams,” said Williams, who was born and raised in Country Club Hills.
“We are excited to provide a platform that encourages open discussions about mental health within the African American community,” Williams said in a news release.
“Our goal is to create a safe and immersive experience that encourages understanding, self-reflection, and ultimately positive mental health outcomes. Through art and self-expression, we aim to break down barriers, reduce stigma, and create a supportive space for everyone.”
“(People) feel like they don’t have anyone or they don’t have space for people to understand what they’re struggling with, so it was important to me to create a safe space for those individuals.”
Exhibits include the pop-up Kites Ice Diner, featuring artist Kristopher Kites, a native of Chicago’s South Side who now lives in Los Angeles and is known for custom jewelry and popsicles.
“I wanted to be able to sell his ice creams at the restaurant since we sell snacks like soft drinks, chips, candy and ice cream,” Williams said.
“It’s popular with celebrities in Los Angeles. He sells his ice creams and products to them. I wanted to create a space where I could give him the opportunity to showcase what he was doing in his hometown of Los Angeles.
“I often visited restaurants and eateries alone. I wanted to put that experience out there. “I wanted people to feel like they were in a restaurant and be able to take photos there.”
Also available for private bookings and special events, other facilities at The Exhibit House include Disco Ball Dreamland with 360-degree photo booth, Mood Room with guided activities and Secret Garden with otherworldly environments.
“I was deeply depressed and was journaling my thoughts, so the Disco Ballroom represents me looking forward and celebrating a new beginning,” Williams said.
“The Mood Room is all of the emotions I experienced during my depression. There are activities that will touch your emotions. I explain how color affects your emotions and the psychology behind it.
“I used to travel a lot when I was depressed, so The Secret Garden was my travel journey.”
Some of The Exhibit House’s employees are young students from alternative schools.
“The goal is to continue to help change lives and I look forward to starting a nonprofit for youth,” Williams said.
“I train, mentor, coach and develop them to prepare them for the workforce.”
Daily South Town
Twice a week
News updates are sent from the southern suburbs every Monday and Wednesday
When: 11:00-20:00 on Fridays and Saturdays; Sundays 11.00-18.00; Monday to Thursday 11:00-19:00
Where: Water Tower Place, 835 N. Michigan Ave., 4th Floor, Chicago
Tickets: $30; Free ages under 5
Information: 312-285-2840; theexhibit-house.com
Jessi Virtusio is a freelance reporter for the Daily Southtown.