The History of ACE

The American Craft Exposition (ACE) has had a rich history since its inception in 1985. Each year ACE presents something new to constantly better the show and to best keep the show’s prestige.

The Beginning

ACE posters - 1985 - 001_web

In 1986, ACE had its best attendance at 4,000 people and saw profits of $8,200, a substantial amount for such a young craft show. The show saw a move to a new venue, the Henry Crown Sports Pavilion, and saw an addition of 125 exhibitors while becoming a juried show. “The Best Of” award was established in this year. Attendance continued to rise reaching 11,700 attendees. It’s in these years that lectures by ACE craftsmen were initiated, a tradition still upheld today. A craftsman’s award was added with support of area galleries.

Designated categories of giving were established in 1994, along with booth lectures, proving to be so popular that it’s continued every year. ACE was named one of the top three craft shows in the country in 1995 and booth lectures were filled to capacity. The following year saw the largest committee of volunteers and the Patron Hour was renamed the Collectors Hour. Michael Monroe of Peter Joseph Gallery in NYC, who was a former curator of the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery, was the curator of the White House Collections of American Crafts and served as a judge and lecturer.

ACE posters - 1998 - 001_web

1998 was a fantastic year for ACE. The furniture category was added and preview party tickets were mailed which eliminated lines. The purchase award was increased to $4,000 and the Benefit Preview Party saw a record attendance of 1,374 patrons. That same year held record overall attendance of 13,500. 1999 saw a new award honoring Best of First Time Exhibitors to ACE and $2.8 million in artisan sales and continued to rise in following years.

ACE posters - 2000 - 001_web

2000 saw a radical change in the way that ACE fundraised. The Auxiliary of NorthShore University HealthSystem (NorthShore) at Evanston and Glenbrook Hospitals voted for five years of ACE proceeds to benefit and fund breast cancer research. Additionally, the Collector’s Hour saw a record attendance of 300 while ACE was voted the No. 1 indoor show by the National Association of Independent Artists.

ACE raised a record of $265,000 for breast cancer research and awards to artists totaled $12,000 with the purchase award increasing to $6,000 to include Highland Park Hospital in 2001. A donated memorial quilt was hand-stitched by breast cancer patients and friends and purchased for $5,000 to be displayed at Kellogg Cancer Centers. This year saw 140 artists with 31 new to ACE and the Illinois Artisans Program had a booth display in the lobby, giving artists an opportunity to display large objects in the lobby.

Individual and corporate sponsorship gifts continued to support breast cancer research in 2002. This same year a fieldtrip was arranged to two Wisconsin Art Museums — Wustum and Milwaukee Art Museum with the curators speaking at ACE. Barbara Rinella held a book review breakfast, featuring upbeat cancer survivor stories. ACE won a Peoples’ Choice Award, sponsored by the Chicago Tribune.

ACE saw another amazing year in 2003 as the show committed to fundraising for breast and ovarian cancer research and established a goal for a $1,000,000 endowment. The Auxiliary sponsored the White House Collection of American Craft at the Block Museum of Art to raise awareness of ACE while 12 ACE artists were featured. Additionally, a Chihuly glass piece was auctioned for $13,500 and six weeks of lectures at Northwestern University were presented as part of adult education. ACE artists Karen Krieger and Claudia Reese created art pieces specifically to raise funds for breast and ovarian cancer research and five ceramists gave demonstrations on the potter’s wheel during the show. “Craft for a Cure” replaced the silent auction, in which artists could designate a percentage of sales from a piece to the funding goal and 98 artists participated.

A new “Emerging Artists’ Category” was created giving first-time applicants a chance to be juried in the show and share a booth in 2004. To heighten city awareness of ACE, a partnership evening event in the “Furniture District” with refreshments and a trolley between 16 furniture boutiques in the Furniture District.

ACE posters - 2005 - 001_web

In 2005, an interactive demonstration stage in the center of the pavilion was a new feature furnished by Sawbridge Studios. A home display vignette was accessorized with items provided by the artist’s at the show and two fashion shows, a ceramic potter’s wheel and wood turning demonstrations ran throughout the weekend. ACE hosted the opening of “Sculpture in Glass” at the Block Museum. The next year saw streamlined award judging by changing to Awards of Excellence and Honorable Mentions. Additionally, increased patron awareness of cancer research with presentations and Q and A by hospital research scientists continued throughout the show, allowing patron participation.

The Joan Kowing McGregor Memorial Award was established in 2007 and the artist mixer moved to Thursday and popular demand exceeded lunch supplies. The Coffee and Conversation Saturday morning event with physicians and WGN’s Dean Richards drew positive community feedback and attendance. The following year marked the completion of the $2 million endowment for breast and ovarian cancer research and Robin Roberts, ABC Good Morning America, spoke at a special event about surviving cancer. Kat Szymanski, Project Runway semi-finalist, emceed a Friday night fashion show.

2009 was a celebratory year recognizing ACE’s 25th Anniversary and as such, a program/tea at Fortnightly Club promoted ACE featuring the ACE founders. Additionally, celebratory lunch for past ACE chairs was hosted by Mr. Mark Neaman, President and CEO of NorthShore. A Sunday morning seminar for exhibitors discussed the effects of the recession on their livelihood and Skokie Hospital joined as a Purchase Award donor.

Funds were awarded to Dr. Selker at the NorthShore Research Institute for a Clinical Research Coordinator for breast and ovarian cancer research in 2010. Additionally,  a WTTW Saturday morning event at the Gene Siskel Theater in Chicago highlighted the Craft in America series on PBS, while the Saturday morning artist event with Dr. Katherine Yao highlighted breast cancer research.

In 2011, additional support was raised for Dr. Gus Rodriguez’s research project for ovarian cancer risk assessment and prevention. The show was expanded by adding two additional booths with the option of adding two more booths in 2012.

In 2012, $190,000 was raised for Dr. Gus Rodriguez’s research project for ovarian cancer risk assessment and prevention and two larger booths were combined which expanded the booth count to 154 plus 10 emerging artists. Wi-Fi, new floor covering and a large permanent sign for the corner of Sheridan and Lincoln were new investments for the show.  Finally, ACE was featured on “Around Town” with Ana Belaval of WGN morning news.

ACE has changed a lot over the years, from deciding to fundraise for cancer research to increasing booth space, and the show has only gotten better thanks to the dedicated committee members and wonderful patrons like you! Here’s to many more great years of ACE!





Comments 1

  1. Used to go to the show at Northwestern. The new venue is confusing with many different rooms spread out and it is difficult to remember what you have seen. Way too much clothing and jewelry which is almost exclusively women’s. Much less crafts than previously, a great disappointment. Prices for items more expensive than previous. $25 just to park and then the admission fee. Very disappointing compared to previous.

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