Why Frida Kahlo show will be a 'boon' for Glen Ellyn, Wheaton
Karen Evensen owns a downtown Glen Ellyn shop catering to anyone with an affinity for imported olive oils, balsamic vinegars and Frida Kahlo.
That a gourmet olive oil store has turned into a repository for Kahlo-themed merchandise speaks to the hype surrounding an exhibition of her paintings opening Saturday at the College of DuPage.
"It's going to be a real boon for Glen Ellyn," Evensen said.
With a mural of the Mexican artist on its outside wall, Olive 'n Vinnie's is one of dozens of storefronts in Glen Ellyn and Wheaton going all out to help their respective downtowns look their best in anticipation of an influx of Kahlo fans.
DuPage County tourism officials expect that nearly $8 million will be infused into the local economy during the three-month run of a Kahlo show ordinarily seen in a big-city museum. That money represents a spending spree on dining, overnight lodging, transportation and souvenirs tied to "Frida Kahlo: Timeless."
But the economic forecast doesn't yet capture how the region could benefit in the long term from an exhibition featuring a 20th-century artist with broad appeal.
"It also sets the stage for future events in that you don't have to necessarily be in downtown Chicago to have this really robust art experience," said Beth Marchetti, executive director of the DuPage County Convention & Visitors Bureau. "And it sets the stage for future art exhibits that draw in tens of thousands of people."
The College of DuPage is preparing for attendance to top 100,000. The estimates are a moving target coming out of the pandemic, Marchetti said, but the county has marketed the show on an international stage since it was formally announced in 2018.
"At the same time, the state is promoting road-trip getaways," she said, "and we think people will find things to see and do close by and really make an outing of it."
Business owners in downtown Glen Ellyn and Wheaton are encouraging exhibition guests to extend their visit by offering specialty menus, festive storefront displays, painting classes and a full event calendar.
"This is the Super Bowl of art exhibits," said Dawn Smith, the executive director of the Glen Ellyn Chamber of Commerce.
Here's a sampling of how the two suburbs are celebrating Kahlo:
The village of Glen Ellyn is sponsoring free screenings of the 2002 "Frida" biopic, starring Salma Hayek in an Oscar-nominated role, at 7:30 p.m. every Thursday starting June 10, through August, at the Glen Art Theatre downtown.
Tickets sold out in less than five hours for margarita crawls in downtown Wheaton on Friday and July 9.
With COVID-19 restrictions still in place, the event was limited to 700 people per night. But organizers may add another crawl date on Aug. 6 due to the popularity, Executive Director Elle Withall said.
White benches - Kahlo posed on one for fashion photographer Nickolas Muray - will be set up around the core shopping district. Traditional folklore dancers and mariachi bands will entertain crowds for "Frida Fridays." Aurora artist Jose Sanchez has painted some 40 storefronts bearing Kahlo's likeness. And papel picado, brightly colored cutout buntings, have been strung up in outdoor dining tents.
"It is going to be so colorful in our downtown," Withall said.
Take a selfie
... in front of the candy-covered masterpiece created by Sue Johanson, the owner of the Glen Ellyn Sweet Shoppe, and her employee Ruth Boccuzzi.
The two re-created the image of "Frida on White Bench," the photograph taken by Muray, using only candy and a poster board as their canvas.
Kahlo's red-painted fingernails are made out of cherry-flavored Jelly Belly jelly beans. A pair of false eyelashes is the finishing detail.
"It took us all last week," Johanson said.
By the end of this week, the piece will be displayed on an easel along with a floral garland in the window of the candy shop, a Glen Ellyn fixture since the 1970s.
... for pillows, coasters, cups, tote bags and other Kahlo-branded products at Olive 'n Vinnie's, Gather & Collect and The Bookstore of Glen Ellyn.
Evensen's Main Street shop has carried the items since last year while the exhibition was delayed because of the pandemic.
Evensen has had to reorder Kahlo-related merchandise - "I can't tell you how many times" - because her fans keep coming back.
"They will definitely get the flavor of Glen Ellyn and Frida when they visit our town," she said.
ABOUT THIS SERIES: This is one in an occasional series of stories leading up to the opening of the Frida Kahlo exhibition at the Cleve Carney Museum of Art at the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn. Today, we take a look at how towns are preparing to welcome Frida fans and attract tourist dollars.
The exhibition: June 5 to Sept. 6, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Mondays-Wednesdays and Fridays-Sundays, and 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Thursdays
Frida2021.org, (630) 942-4000COVID-19 precautions: Masks required; temperatures checked at main entrance; social distancing protocols in place. The exhibit is designed for one-way traffic; advanced ticketing is required, and tickets are scanned touchless.