College of DuPage finds creative ways to engage with the community

One of the pillars driving College of DuPage's strategic long-range plan is arts, culture and community engagement. The pandemic impacted our ability to fully provide activities in these key areas at a time when they were essential to the well-being of our community, but we found creative and thoughtful ways to reach out during these challenging times.

The McAninch Arts Center at the college has done a tremendous job of moving online to provide cultural experiences for our community.

Virtual New Philharmonic concerts, livestreamed touring shows, and online student music and theater presentations are just some of the activities that have allowed us to stay connected with the arts.

Last year, we made the difficult and heartbreaking decision to postpone the eagerly awaited “Frida Kahlo” exhibition due to health and safety concerns.

While we continue to monitor local, state and national guidelines to ensure adherence to all necessary protocols, I am happy that we can proceed with the exhibit this year.

“Frida Kahlo: Timeless” will be held from June 5 to Sept. 6 at the Cleve Carney Museum of Art, located in the MAC. This multifaceted exhibition will be the most comprehensive presentation of original Kahlo work in the Chicago area in more than 40 years.

The 26-piece collection, on loan from the Dolores Olmedo Museum in Mexico City, is one of the largest private collections of Frida Kahlo's work and spans the full extent of her career.

The presentation of the exhibition reflects the college's desire to offer arts and cultural opportunities as a way to both heal and rejuvenate. Our hardworking team at the MAC will observe all applicable health guidelines to provide for the safety of our guests as they view this amazing collection.

We have responded to the pandemic in a variety of ways that have evolved as the year has progressed. During the initial weeks of the pandemic, the college donated personal protective equipment to local medical organizations that included hundreds of gowns, masks, gloves, shields and head coverings, as well as the loan of several ventilators.

In partnership with DuPage County, we created the DuPage Community COVID-19 Archive for anyone who wants to donate unique materials about finding togetherness while separated. This historical account of an unprecedented time will be available to future generations.

As the months have passed, the college and the community have focused on those hard-hit by the pandemic. COD partnered with the Glen Ellyn Park District to collect more than 3,500 pounds of food during a holiday food drive and distributed more than 4,600 pounds of food to more than 110 clients in December alone.

The college's annual “Up to S.N.O.W. (Serve the Needs of Others in Winter) Good” community giving campaign provided more than $27,500 in support of nonprofit partner agencies and families in DuPage County. The “Día de los Muertos” drive-by event, hosted by the Cleve Carney Museum of Art and MAC, collected more than 100 bags and 10 cases of nonperishable food items, diapers, baby wipes and first aid supplies.

We also continue to engage the community in important dialogue. The college's popular Speakers Bureau transitioned into an equally popular virtual series called “Dialogue Over Distance,” which featured both college faculty and staff as well as outside speakers. Topical conversations included the 2020 election, mental health, health disparities and other social issues.

On Thursday, April 29, “Dialogue Over Distance” continues its exploration of key issues by presenting “Housing Is Health Care: Examining the Benefits of Proper Shelter.” The webinar, presented live online at 7 p.m., features local community organization leaders and health care providers as they discuss barriers to stable housing and the consequent impact on healthy lives.

With many area hospitals having less than a two-day supply of blood available, COD Cares and the college's Future Physicians and Research Scientists student club invite community members to participate in the annual “Roll Up Your Sleeves” event and donate blood. In addition, all are invited to join the national organ donation and bone marrow registries.

Partnering with Versiti Blood Centers, COD Cares offers multiple convenient opportunities from April 12-30 to donate blood throughout COD's district, including the college's Glen Ellyn campus, Warrenville Dental Group, Park View Elementary School, Morton Arboretum, Naperville 95th Street Library, Cantigny, and Mariano's locations in Aurora, Bloomingdale, Elmhurst and Westmont. It is critically important that we continue to assist others during these times. One donation can help save multiple lives.

As we head into the spring and summer, I look forward to more opportunities for us to engage with the community, whether through the arts or partnerships, that help our residents in need. When we all work together, great things can happen.

• Brian Caputo is the president of the College of DuPage.

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